ASTANA – Fifty geography students from the Netherlands’ Utrecht University visited Kazakhstan for their annual study trip. The Astana Times learned how they were enjoying the good old hospitality, friendliness and kind-heartedness of the Kazakh people.
“We are geography students from the Netherlands on our study trip here. We do this every year, chose a country to visit and go. We have a day programme, visit museums and the university. In the evening, we can go out and dance a little bit,” said Chiara Fakkel of the group during the visit to a national museum in the capital.
“We see a country we have never seen before. Kazakhstan is very big; we cannot relate to it, our country is very small. People are very nice, open, very welcoming and everyone is willing to help us. We met a girl who was helping us with everything when we were here in February,” she added.
The study group was invited April 13 to the capital’s KazGUU University, where Dutch Ambassador in Kazakhstan Dirk Jan Kop and Kazakh Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Roman Vassilenko gave a lecture.
They made friends with other students at KazGUU who helped them when they needed a taxi or translating when they went out together. The Dutch students also met people in Almaty who want to visit the Netherlands. Fakkel noted she felt good about meeting new people and making new friends.
“I think it is really good for your country to have an expo exhibition. Sustainability is really important. I think it [the exhibition] will attract a lot of people. At first, one may not want to visit because he or she doesn’t know Kazakhstan, but now people may consider having a look and find it nice,” she added.
While in the capital, many students went to Khan Shatyr; others walked across the city eating local food. All have different interests, so they made a small book with highlights where students can choose places they want to visit. Some would like to have a seat somewhere, while others like to explore the city and walk around, according to Fakkel.
Student Dionne Melskens, a board member of a Dutch study association, organised the trip.
“Every year we organise a study trip. This year we wanted to do a really big one and we thought Kazakhstan may be nice, because you don’t know a lot about it and it’s a big and a fascinating country. This is why we chose Kazakhstan,” she said.
She noted the students heard a lot about the expo and are being advised to visit it. Melskens believes coordinating such an event is good for Kazakhstan, because people will know more about the country and its activities.
“People here are very sweet. Most don’t speak English a lot and as good, but they try to help us with phones and other things anyway. They are very nice and helpful,” she said.
The students met two people during their winter reconnaissance visit who helped them find a good place to go out and eat.
“They helped us when we had language troubles, sharing their phone numbers with us. Everybody is really friendly and we have made a lot of friends; it is very easy to make friends over here,” she added.
Melskens does not have a lot of free time during the busy moments of the programme because of preparations, but she enjoys going for a walk on the streets, looking at buildings and observing how people live when she is in cities she has never visited before.
The group has already been to Borovoe and was preparing to leave for Shymkent, Turkestan. They will then have a five-day stay in Almaty, where they plan to spend some time at Medeu Skating Rink and hiking in the mountains.
“The weather in January was very cold and freezing, -20 degrees or something… The snow was all over in Borovoe. It is funny to see the temperature change rapidly within months,” she noted.
“We are here to see the country because we don’t know much about Kazakhstan and know we are learning a lot now. It is really nice; I like it. The buildings and architecture are amazing and a little futuristic here. I have never seen such buildings before. It is very different from what I am used to,” said student Ruben Scholtes.
“People are super friendly, sharing and curious about things. I talked to students at KazGUU University about football; we went out together, it was great. I have their phone numbers now, so they will call me when they are in the Netherlands,” he said, smiling.