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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

One expat shares her experiences adjusting to life in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She appreciates the folk music and handicrafts, but has had lots of issues with food poisoning and squatting toilets!

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?


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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

No. I have been trying to learn the language.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?


How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Not that significant.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Yes. I liked it a lot when I first came, got confused at the no flushing toilet paper, and upset at the lack of sit down toilets, refused to go to the bathroom anywhere that didn't have a sit down toilet, and yesterday (after 4 months) I peed in a squatter toilet. I guess that was my cultural adjustment. lol.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

I have lost weight, started eating less, and been unable to keep most food in me -- I'm not sure if it's because of improper sanitation and constant food poisoning or the oil/fat content of the food. Other people I know have had a similar problem, they say it's food poisoning, I'm not sure.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

I like the folk music, the handicrafts that everyone makes here, the way they use everything that others would see as trash to make something new and interesting.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Not flushing toilet paper. Squatting toilets. Burning rubbish -- even plastic. People always running late. People come late to show that they are important by making you wait for them. How men don't shake the hands of women, even in business. Always having to offer something to someone at least 3 times because they will refuse it unless you insist on it, even if they want it.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

If I have, no one has told me. I learned that you shouldn't sit cross legged if you're a woman. Don't clean the table with a napkin or sit on the corner of a table because it will mean that you are not going to get married.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Learn to squat before you come to KG. Be prepared for the smell of burning rubbish, and a lot of greasy/oily food. Vegetarian options are limited in most restaurants/cafes.

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Comments about this Report

May 13, 2015 16:03

I worked in KG (Bishkek) for 4.5 months as a volunteer with an NGO. I didn't have any language or cultural training before I went. The toilet situation was never an issue for me because (1) I'm a guy and (2) I've traveled extensively in Central America where flushing of the TP isn't cool either. I, too, lost weigh but never because of being sick. There were times I just couldn't eat much of what was on the table. I resorted to Coke and Snickers for calories. Variety in food choices is not what I was use to. Only canned peas and corn, no familiar breakfast foods, etc. I felt very isolated at times because of the language barrier. Eventually I learned enough on my own to feel comfortable going out by myself to eat, get a taxi and the like. I found the people pleasant but no one really went out of their way to invite me to do things. All that said, I liked it enough that I am returning in late July 2015 as I was offered and accepted a teaching position at AUCA.

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