Jolene is a South African expat who moved to Kazakhstan with her husband and toddler early in 2019. She is a big fan of the WiFi, local cuisine and the diverse people. She and her husband now work as teachers while their daughter attends a private kindergarten. To keep up with the family's activities, follow Jolene on Twitter.
Read more about expat life in Kazakhstan in our Expat Arrivals Kazakhstan country guide.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: South Africa.
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Astana- I mean Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. The city actually changed names while we were here.
Q: When did you move here?
A: We arrived in Astana in February 2019, luckily missing a cold snap the previous week which dropped temperatures to -38°C. We were fortunate and arrived in -20°C weather.
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: It is, yes.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I made the trek with my husband, Rudi, and two-year-old daughter, Nimmer.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I am a Consultant Editor and English/German teacher. Rudi is a veteran of the ESL industry and spent many years teaching in Kazakhstan. When the opportunity presented itself to join forces with his old mentor, Natalya Mukhamedjanova, we jumped at it. He had grown to love the diverse people and the rich cultures and always spoke about it fondly. I am delighted that Nimmer and I can agree wholeheartedly!
Living in Nur-Sultan
Q: What do you enjoy most about Nur-Sultan?
A: Definitely the highly accessible and fast WiFi! I jest. Although the native Kazakh and Russian people seem very standoffish, I felt surprisingly welcomed. Students, colleagues and the little old babushkii in the small downstairs shops, or duken, regularly offer food. They are very proud of their cooking and always share. My personal favorite of the native cuisines is shorpa, a rich creamy soup traditionally enjoyed during the Naurys festivities. A close second is the Turkish chichivichni (lentil) soup, especially when enjoyed at the historical Turfan restaurant overlooking the Ishim river.
And definitely the WiFi.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: The adjustment was not too big. Kazakhstan is actually a very cosmopolitan country. My family had no problem settling in and finding a natural rhythm. The people are generally accommodating and eager to help. The greatest hurdle has been the language barrier. English is spoken more widely now, so you won't search too far to find a conversation. And of course, all attempts at using Kazakh or Russian to communicate encourage the locals to offer a quick tip and support.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Nur-Sultan?
A: Nimmer is attending a lovely private kindergarten, Danyshpan. And we live five minutes by foot away from her school and the office. Our apartment came fully furnished, and we have a very good WiFi connection. The cost of living is very reasonable.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Nur-Sultan?
A: The monorail is still under construction, but luckily Nur-Sultan can boast with efficient bus routes throughout the city. In many areas the buses now have digital displays that indicate the arrival times of the buses. Or for even more convenience, you can download the AstraBus app on your phone and check the progress of all the available buses.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Nur-Sultan? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A:Our experience with healthcare professionals and clinics has been overwhelmingly positive. When we first arrived, Nimmer had to get a full physical check up before she could join the kindergarten. We saw a whole host of doctors, who were all efficient and professional. Later, when Nimmer was under the weather, a lovely doctor paid us a home visit, which was also very affordable. Even when going to the pharmacy, the pharmacists are always eager to help.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Nur-Sultan?
A: The locals are extremely welcoming and Nur-Sultan has many rich and diverse groups of people living here.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: I often chat with other parents when dropping off and picking up Nimmer. And in most places, people want to talk with you. You can meet new people wherever you go.
Getting your visa sorted
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: Apart from the usual hubbub about having documents apostilled, translated and notarised, it was fairly straightforward. I handled the documents and applications on our end and the language centre handled everything on their end. They sent me templates with clear instructions to be followed for our reference letters. Shortly thereafter, we received our invitations and applied for our visas.
Family and children
Q: How has your spouse or partner adjusted to your new home?
A: Rudi already thought of Nur-Sultan as his home, so he's just like a fish in water.
Q: Did your daughter settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for her during the move?
A: Nimmer has been a trooper during our travels. Kids are so resilient. She made friends almost straight away. The kids and all the teachers and the lunch ladies all love her and call out to her whenever we see them.
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in the city?
A: I'd recommend the Aqua Park. It has an aquarium, a large indoor water park and rides. Nimmer loves swimming and a day at the pool always proves a winner. You'll find many playgrounds, fenced in to various degrees, where kids can play safely.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: The kindergartens offer a warm, family feeling. They do a range of activities with the kids, from dancing and gym class to art and, for the older kids, robotics workshops.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Nur-Sultan or Kazakhstan?
A: Don't be afraid of going to the small shops and cafeterias. Or of going to the underground basaar to haggle prices. You'll often find the best experiences and the friendliest people there.
► Interviewed October 2019