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kazakhstan pour les enfants

Erikaexpat shares with us her feelings in bringing her daughters to Kazakhstan.

It certainly sounds terrible when being told, but in the end, children always withstand any situation, perhaps better than the adults. This was exactly the thought going through my mind when I heard that we were to be relocated in Kazakhstan.  Kazakhstan for children (and for adults as well) is a country full of contradictions, like all countries that are expanding quickly. Being such a vast country, it offers many choices. Extremes in temperature, sea and mountains, welfare and poverty, but also the steppes, rivers, and the youngest capital in the world.

So we left for our new destination, Atyrau, a newborn city divided between two continents. With a suitcase each containing our lives, we started almost from scratch. The three women in the family, mother and two little dwarfs, 2 and 7, went on the road to join the missing element (husband and dad), each of us starting over again. After years we were back (finally) as a united family in a new place, on a new continent, in a new house, making new friendships, experiencing a different culture and language in a different climate.

And then came the most difficult time. We arrived in Kazakhstan exhausted by the detachment from our daily lives, realising that this choice would be a “turning point” for the girls. Every parent dreads involving their children in anything quite so challenging. There is always a lot of apprehension when it comes to starting over again and we live in fear that our most valuable assets, our children, might not be able to cope. But these amazing expat-children always come up trumps.

We landed as the temperature hit 48 degrees above zero and soon after it plummeted to 34 below. Temperature extreme is very fast here, and within a few days temperatures can change in tens of degrees. My girls went from playing with water guns throughout the summer and to make snowmen during this long, long winter as if the change were the most natural thing in the world. We never lost heart though. There are swimming pools, sports centers, and some very active moms who organize playgroups, dance classes or tennis for children. In winter it’s skating on the ice in the covered rink or on the river Ural, which with its 50 inches of ice, is accessible from December to March.

We arrived without speaking any other language except Italian and today, after 14 months, we speak fluent English. Whilst one child enjoys the Kazakhan language, the other takes me to the market showing off by speaking Russian. There are a few major cities in Kazakhstan, but each is growing and you can find international schools quite easily (in our city there are two, almost exclusively for children of expatriates). American schools are not recognized in Italy, so when they arrive back home children have to take an exam to proceed in their course of study. The schools though are very good. For Kazakhs there are many local schools which are free of charge up to university. If the student is exceptional, the government may cover university expenses.

Services are there, but sometimes you have to use your imagination as this country is in continuous evolution. There are good doctors and pediatricians (although for emergencies expats are always sent abroad), excellent dentists (I tried personally, alas!). The private health care is quick and efficient.

Not everything is always that simple here and it may not be the best place in the world. But, we have adapted and if nothing, we have constructed a new identity. To end our story is a phrase that my daughter uttered a a few days ago. She declared : “I’m glad I came to live here, I’m fine…“, and this for me this is enough to know that moving here was the right thing to do.


Atyrau, Kazakhstan
September 2012

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