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Yuri Ito from Japan about Kyrgyzstan: You can feel nomad’s spirit everywhere

Yuri Ito is 33 years old. She is a volunteer of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The English teacher at elementary and junior high school came to Kyrgyzstan in July 2022 and continued her professional activities. She shared her impressions about her new experience with 24.kg news agency.

— To be honest, I didn’t know much about Kyrgyzstan — only that it is Central Asia, Kyrgyz and Russian languages are spoken here and there are mountains here... That’s all. The country is full of magnificent nature, it’s really easy to access the mountains.

— How did you adapt to the new working and living environment, new country?

— My colleagues and friends in Kyrgyzstan help me a lot, even now as well. Without them, I couldn’t do anything. Of course, many friends (I mean volunteers) help me and give some advice to me.

In my daily life in Bishkek, it was really hard to get used to «mixed» language. People speak Kyrgyz and Russian and they switch languages easily, that was quite new to me. People from Kyrgyzstan are so nice and helpful.

— Have you experienced a culture shock?

— When I meet people from Kyrgyzstan for the first time, they often ask this question: «Are you married?» In Japan, we rarely ask this question to people who we meet for the first time. It was really surprising to me.

— Do you learn Kyrgyz? Do you find it difficult?

— I’m learning Kyrgyz. First, it was so difficult to understand, especially pronunciation is quite difficult for Japanese. But nowadays it’s really interesting to learn. Kyrgyz is deeply connected to Kyrgyz culture, which is passed from generation to generation.

— You work as an English teacher in one of Bishkek schools. What are the differences between the education systems in the Kyrgyz Republic and Japan?

— In Japan, we have three schools: elementary school, junior high school and high school. Every time students move up a grade, they will be put into new classes. That sometimes means new chance to meet new friends, but sometimes means being separated from their best friends. On the other hand, in Kyrgyzstan, all the students know each other very well. Because of this, students can build a firm relationship in Kyrgyzstan.

— Was it difficult to find a common language with the children?

— I always speak to my students in English. Sometimes they don’t understand my English, but with some gestures, they can understand and try to say something in English with gestures. Language is just a tool to have communication.

— What regions of Kyrgyzstan have you visited during this time?

— I’ve been to Issyk-Kul, Talas, Osh, Jalal-Abad, and Naryn. I especially liked jailoo. We have mountains in Japan as well, but no grassland «jailoo» like in Kyrgyzstan. When you see a picture of Kyrgyzstan, you may think it’s a country which is rich in nature. Once you come to Kyrgyzstan, you can feel nomad’s spirit in the wind, the food, the environment, the language, people’s way of thinking, atmosphere and sounds of traditional music instruments!

— What do you think about Kyrgyz national cuisine? Do you have any favorite national dishes?

— I still can’t believe that Kyrgyz people use only salt and pepper for seasoning. All the meat and vegetables are so tasty, that’s why they don’t have to add any other spices than salt and pepper. My favorite food is dymlyama, which is cooked by my Kyrgyz language teacher. I also learned how to cook boorsok.

— Does anything in the Kyrgyz Republic remind you of your hometown?

— All the cute animals in Kyrgyzstan remind me of my cat at home!

— What does volunteering mean to you?

— It’s a way to learn «thinking from a neutral perspective.» Without this perspective, volunteering might be self-satisfaction. Through volunteering in Kyrgyzstan, I gradually learn how to be objective and how to put myself in another person’s shoes.