An American twenty-something businesswoman/shutterbug in Kyrgyzstan

Many of the locals were shocked that American expat Kirstin and her husband would want to move to a country like Kyrgyzstan. But move there they did, almost a year ago. Read on to learn about the business they put up, Kirstin's observations about the people and the cost of living, and why she thinks the place is a photographer's dream!
 

Kirstin Styers

-Where were you born?

Pennsylvania, USA

-In which country and city are you living now?

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Chon-Kemin, Kyrgyzstan

 

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I'm living with my husband, Farrell, and our newest addition, a cat named Mamajan.

-How long have you been living in Kyrgyzstan?

Since August 2010, so about eight months now.

-What is your age?

22 

 

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Kyrgyzstan?

The idea first came to us when we were working in Baghdad, Iraq. My husband and I both studied Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies in college, but we felt the market for regional experts and fluent Arabic speakers was already saturated. We didn't want to continue working in Iraq or for our current employer for longer than the contract we were on at the time, so we decided that after our contract expired we would move to a new region for at least a year, studying and working, and then move back to the States.

We wanted to move somewhere we thought needed more global attention, and that's how we decided on Central Asia. The more we considered our plan, the more we agreed that we'd need to stay longer than one year and we decided on Kyrgyzstan because it's the most accessible for foreigners starting a business.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

Yes, considering it's been seven months and I'm still working on getting my work permit and one-year business visa. One-month visas are easy to get on arrival in the airport in Bishkek, which is why I once had to drive to Kazakhstan and fly back to Bishkek to be able to legally stay in the country. Now we're having a lawyer take care of that whole process for us, and so far it has been an excellent decision.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

I don't have medical insurance, which is probably not a smart move.

Ala-Too Square, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

-How do you make your living in Kyrgyzstan? Do you have any type of income generated?

I teach a photography class to make some money, which I got spontaneously when the head of the journalism department at the university suddenly needed an English-speaking photographer to start teaching in less than a week. I happened to be the first person she spoke to about it! And then there's the business, a media research organization called Oxus International (www.oxusinternational.org), which is not profitable yet, but is giving us enough work to live off of.

-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

I am learning Russian but right now I'm очень плохо (very bad). I think it's very important to speak either Russian or Kyrgyz here because English can be rare to come by otherwise. There is a decent-sized expat community here, so it's possible to get by without Russian/Kyrgyz, but you really have to isolate yourself from the local community to do so. I can't wait until I can go through all of these simple, daily interactions on my own without needing somebody to translate for me!

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.

I definitely get homesick for the U.S. sometimes, especially when it comes to food; Bishkek is lacking the variety of produce and food products that I had in DC (like leafy greens or baking supplies). I do enjoy figuring out ways to occupy my time here in Bishkek, usually I'll just end up wandering around the city on a beautiful day taking pictures. Or I'll steal away for the weekend with some friends to a village just to hang out in a new place.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

For now I plan on staying in Kyrgyzstan for at least a few more years to build up the business.

Kyrgyz boys, Kochkor, Kyrgyzstan

 

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

I'm currently renting a furnished studio apartment that costs about $250 a month. A ballpark estimate for most 2-3 bedroom apartments in Bishkek is probably $300-600 a month.

-What is the cost of living in Kyrgyzstan?

It is easy to live cheaply in Bishkek. Basic food stuffs are cheap, like bread, milk, rice, and locally grown vegetables. Cable TV is less than $10 a month, utilities are heavily subsidized, public transportation is about $0.15. A modest restaurant can cost under $5 per person (although there are plenty of fancy places as well, $20+ per person). Internet service is expensive and slow, starting around $25 a month for 128 kbs. Consumer appliances and any electronics also have a ridiculous mark-up. A basic drip coffee maker can start at around $40! 

-What do you think about the locals?

Unfortunately I don't interact with locals as much as I would like, other than people who know some English, because my Russian is so bad! Generally locals treat foreigners fine, though I've run into some who don't seem to have patience to deal with those who don't speak Russian or Kyrgyz (completely understandable). Kyrgyz people have excellent hospitality and I've been lucky to be invited to a few Kyrgyz dinners where I was stuffed with delicious food. Mostly they just seem shocked that an American would want to move to their little country.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Kyrgyzstan?

Positives: it's very cheap, summers are beautiful, there are tons of outdoorsy activities to do and a lot of natural beauty (a photographer's dream!).

Negatives: crippling bureaucracy and corruption, the food usually ranges from mediocre to bad, and Russian is hard to learn!

Post Office, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Kyrgyzstan?

Study some Russian before you arrive, or at the very least make sure you know how to read Cyrillic. There are many things that are shockingly cheap and others that are shockingly expensive like electronics (cell phones, coffee makers, etc.), clothes, and toiletries/make-up products, so pack carefully. Bring nice clothes; wearing sneakers, baggy jeans, sweats, or worn-in coats will really make you stand out! Make sure your apartment/house/guesthouse has a hot water heater for the month of May when the whole country's supply of hot water is shut off for maintenance. 

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Kyrgyzstan?

I blog weekly about living in Bishkek at www.ivorypomegranate.com. Others I've come across include: