Astana, Kazakhstan on short notice
May 18, 2016 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I've been offered a short-term job in Astana, Kazakhstan that I probably to accept or turn down before the end of the work day, and I don't have nearly enough time to begin researching Astana, or Kazakhstan properly! Plus, accepting the job would upend some summer plans I've already made (otherwise I'd say yes instantly), and would require a lot of pre-departure prep work. Is Kazakhstan, or Astana in particular, amazing? Tell me all your Kazakhstan stories, recommendations, or snark. But also help me figure out whether to accept the job in the first place!

I'd be working 9-3ish everyday day. Housing and probably some meals would be taken care of. I have no idea where in the city I'd be, but I had a similar position about a year ago and stayed in a just-built luxury hotel on the ugliest outskirts of Pudong, in Shanghai--which is to say probably one of the least-lovely parts of the city. I assume the situation would be similar here: uninspiring, foreigner-friendly accommodations far from anything I'd be interested in as a tourist, although I have no idea. The pay is fine but not great, though I'd probably be able to extend my trip by an extra two weeks to do some traveling afterward, but I'm not certain about that yet.

For what it's worth, I'm a white American woman in my mid-thirties. I've traveled a lot, and in quite a few "off the beaten track" places. I'm an experienced traveler, but I don't enjoy traveling solo and never do a good job exploring new places when I do. I don't speak any languages that are useful in the region. The summer plans this would be upending, for what it's worth: a bicycle tour from Vancouver home to Berkeley, where I live. I've been really looking forward to the bike trip, and in general I love bike touring much more than exploring a newly-moneyed city via taxi or minibus. Plus the amount of prep work I'll have to do before leaving for Kazakhstan would shorten the bike trip considerably, and make me anxious while I'm on it. Still, it feels absolutely insane to turn down the chance to go to Kazakhstan!
posted by tapir-whorf to Travel & Transportation around Astana, Kazakhstan (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'll just leave this bit on Astana's climate here
posted by argonauta at 11:47 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

This 2012 National Geographic article and gallery gives a fair impression. "Just-built luxury hotel" is sort of the theme of the entire city.
posted by theodolite at 11:56 AM on May 18, 2016

Best answer: I can't speak to the country or city itself or the job, but I know literally exactly what you mean about living on the ugly outskirts of Pudong. I did that almost a decade ago and I'm almost the same age as you (early 30s). All this is to say I think we might have some similar outlooks on traveling and living in different countries (although I think you have it "easier," in terms of how people perceive you as I'm not white).

This makes me think that the things that you mention not being a fan of— being far away from fun, touristy things, living in "foreigner-friendly", sterile environments, and having to travel solo become less and less amusing as I get older. Although this sounds like a it could be an interesting opportunity to experience a new city and country (without knowing what the implications are for your career), I would vote for not taking it and keeping the summer plans you've been looking forward to, and visit Kazakhstan when you're able to on your own terms, with people you enjoy traveling with.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 11:56 AM on May 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: And I will leave this inspired New Yorker piece on Astana here.

I would personally not do it. Almaty....maybe. That's at least a bustling city with business, transport links, things happening. Astana is a million miles from anywhere, a bizarro world of a manufactured ghost-town city rising out of the steppe. It is worth happening upon once for the sheer weirdness value, but I would not voluntarily spend time there. After the novelty wears off, it's not exactly situated well for fun weekend trips around the region. I am also not a huge fan of plov. But I did have some decent horse meat in Astana, so if you're into that...?
posted by oneaday at 11:58 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Previously on metafilter, an academic job in Astana in Ask with quite a bit of info about life there; the new capital of Kazakhstan and its strivers; and planned cities.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:01 PM on May 18, 2016

You need to read the whole blog "How to be a Librarian in Kazakhstan" which is about a twenty-something Canadian (female) librarian who lived there for a year or so on a job.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:08 PM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: How long is short term? Weeks? Months? The shorter it is, the more likely I would say that you should say yes. But really, I think you should say yes anyway.

You can always reschedule a bike tour, since the west coast will continue to be accessible to you in the future, whereas an offer to go live in Kazakhstan (I assume) will not likely be repeated. I also assume from your short bio that you are single and childless, so you are able to take these kinds of opportunities without uprooting other people.

I don't really regret anything I did in life, only the things I didn't do. That might sound trite, but I mean it genuinely. I am older than you, partnered, and have kids. I envy your freedom to do these kinds of things. I think you have an interesting paid travel opportunity, so you should take it.
posted by Joh at 1:29 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Honestly I'd say no just because it's an exploding offer. You have a few hours to decide? That raises so many red flags for me: do they not care about who they get, have they drastically screwed up planning on their end, or are they actively trying to hide something?
posted by danny the boy at 2:10 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: BTW: This isn't a red flag situation; I know the org making the offer and have worked with them before. It's only a two-week project.

I've mostly been feeling anxious about all the work I'd have to do--to polish off my frighteningly lengthy pre-existing to-do list before I leave on the bike trip, and to prep for this job before leaving (which would be significant but doable if I weren't the most scatterbrained person in the world). I'm leaning strongly toward taking it, and hopefully extending my ticket to stick around in Asia for part of the summer (I'll be going to HK for a while next year for research purposes, and it'd be nice to meet up with some acquaintance-contacts there beforehand, and maybe I could spend my relatively small salary on one of those intensive summer Mandarin classes at Shanghai Jiao Tong University..?).
posted by tapir-whorf at 2:27 PM on May 18, 2016

Only two weeks of work? Take it if they're willing to make your other travel plans work out!
posted by hollyholly at 2:32 PM on May 18, 2016 [11 favorites]

For only 2 weeks, I would do it, definitely. It seems pretty low-risk.
posted by hootenatty at 4:18 PM on May 18, 2016

oh for two weeks definitely go! It looks so weird and otherworldly.

(I'm female, a little older than you, and know what it's like to live abroad on one's own, although I have not been to Kazakhstan. If it were three months I'd be on the fence, and six months would be a no. But two weeks, hell yeah, just for the novelty.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:11 PM on May 18, 2016

Two weeks in a bizarre city with most expenses covered? Plus two weeks in Central Asia's prettier bits - Kyrgyzstan maybe? India, Iran, or Istanbul on the way back? I think you have to say yes.
posted by mdonley at 6:40 PM on May 18, 2016

Two weeks?

For me -- someone who admittedly loves to travel -- there would in fact only be a short list of places I wouldn't be willing to go for that period of time for free with housing provided (Syria or Somalia spring to mind).

Worst comes to worst, the novelty wears off and you get bored near the end of your stay. But it's only two weeks! I would bet you go longer between times that you see some of your friends. Do it!
posted by andrewesque at 7:26 PM on May 18, 2016

I hope that you decide to go! Travel adventures at your age? Yes, please!
posted by lois1950 at 9:01 PM on May 18, 2016

2 weeks? - go! I was thinking 3 months and that could be insanely boring trapped out the outskirts of somewhere but two weeks is doable and will be an interesting experience!
posted by kitten magic at 2:19 AM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Whoa! I can still respond to this!

In the end I turned down the Kazakhstan job because I didn't feel like I had enough prep time to do it well, and was later offered a similar short-term position somewhere less mysterious but more dreamy, but with a month of extra lead time. Anyway, I heard through the grapevine from someone who would've been my colleague if I'd gone to Kazakhstan that "her hotel was lower quality than a Motel 6, with a round bed and heart shaped pillow. [...] There was no Internet access there, and few [in the org] spoke English." So caveat emptor, I s'pose!
posted by tapir-whorf at 9:09 PM on November 2, 2016

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