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I’m back home safe and sound in Chapel Hill, and I’ve been up since 3:30am with Jet Lag, so I figured, let’s make a post.

I’ve spent a lot of time my first day back on Facebook, uploading all of my photos from my #ibmcsc trip to Almaty into our CSC Kazakhstan 1 Facebook group. It’s awesome to have great internet connection again, and even more awesome to be able to access my blog!

I’ll keep this post short – what I wanted to share was one photo of me at Kok-Tobe, which is a mountain viewpoint in Almaty, where unexpectedly, we came across the same apple statue that’s in my blog homepage. When I selected the photo originally, I didn’t know where it came from— I just liked the fact that it was an apple.

It meant a lot to me to finally face the real Almaty Apple and get a photo next to it. I hope you all like it too!

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It’s hard to believe that the four weeks in Almaty, Kazakhstan for our #ibmcsc project has come to a close. We delivered our final presentation to our clients at Kaznex Invest yesterday, and then attended a press conference today in which all of the IBM teams and their clients participated, sharing our projects and recommendations for all to hear.

I still have a little piece of work left to do – we’re helping them with a brochure and our clients asked for a few more edits. Fortunately, I can do that next week when I return and have time to settle back into my life in Chapel Hill.

As I sit here reflecting before beginning to pack, a few thoughts come to mind:

OUR CLIENT
First off, our client, Kaznex Invest, struggles with similar problems to other start up organizations and large organizations around the world – doing more with less, incorporating best practices into their business operations, and collaborating and sharing ideas and information effectively within the organization, especially as they are located in two different cities now, and plan to open representative offices in other countries in the future. While they have country-specific and organizational-specific cultural factors, issues and obstacles, at the end of the day, our client is filled with people who are passionate about their mission and eager to take in ideas and best practices from all over the world. This last part is what impressed me the most, and of course how gracious, hospitable, and welcoming they were to our IBM team.

THE IBM VOLUNTEERS
The 13 of uscame from USA, India, Brazil, Korea, and Japan, and all share a passion for contributing to our global community, as well as learning about new cultures. The irony is that for some, it was very hard to give up their own culture or habits and immerse themselves in the Almaty ways of eating, being etc. That is to be expected of course. Others were much more eager to try anything once – whether it was food, an excursion, a local restaurant, etc. I really admired these people who have the gusto to put themselves out there, and at the same time, I could also relate to the folks who found it more challenging to try new things because of personality, dietary restrictions, budgetary restrictions of whatever the reason may be.

I have learned a lot from my teammates and colleagues here – that we’re very similar in many ways, even though we may come from different cultures. I’m looking forward to continuing our CSC Kazakhstan Facebook group postings and funny comments, and keeping in touch with each other’s lives in the months and years to come.

ALMATY
Over the last four weeks, I’ve come to believe that Almaty is a paradox. You can buy the latest electronics, cars, makeup, clothing, and home furnishings from the all over the world (as most things are imported here), yet basic infrastructure such as health care, water drainage, traffic management and internet/broadband still needs a lot of work.

And while the residents of Almaty seem to be very modern and Westernized in their style of dress and behaviors, they are also quite traditional in many ways. Many young people still participate in arranged marriages, and live at home until they get married. Others I’ve spoken to have chosen to part from their roots, and marry someone from another ethnic group to the disgrace and disappointment of their parents. These issues are common here as Kazakhstan is a country full of 130+ ethnic groups who were brought here by force years ago or arrived by choice for a chance at a better life.

People also eat very traditional foods for lunch and dinner. Lunch is a BIG deal here. People eat soup, then salad, then a meat course with some kind of vegetable and grain or potato. The portions people eat are enormous compared to the size of the people, who generally are quite thin. In general, people don’t snack here a lot or eat a lot of junk food. Unfortunately, many American fast food chains are making their way to Kazakhastan. It broke mine and Sandy’s hearts to see KFC and Hardee’s here.

That being said, it seems that folks in Almaty are eager to taste the foods and fruits of foreign lands, and still maintain their identity of their individual ethnic group and their pride in being Kazakhstani.

PARTING WORDS
I’ve very much enjoyed my time in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and am eternally grateful to IBM for giving me this opportunity to participate in the Corporate Service Corps Program. It’s given me an opportunity to learn more about my own teaming and leadership style, learn about the cultures and work styles of others, and come back to America with a lot of fun stories to share.

I promise to upload more photos to my blog and do a few more posts once I get back to the US and can access www.wordpress.com fully.

My friend Nicole commented to me on gchat that I had dropped off the grid. That’s sort of true. I haven’t been blogging or tweeting or doing much of anything the last 5 days except for sleeping as I was pretty ill with this head cold, and what turned out to be an acute sinus infection, which has caused pretty bad pain in my left ear and a lemon-sized swollen lymph node on the left side of my neck. The tricky part is I haven’t slept well, which makes it difficult to recover.

The CSC program and all the websites warned not to get sick in Kazakhstan as the state of medical care is not very good, and there’s limited access to Western medicine. There’s bound to be one of 13 #ibmcsc participants who gets sick in a foreign country, and it turned out to be me. I’ve been sick with much worse situations in foreign countries, so all in all, it’s totally not as bad as it could be, and I’m taking it in stride. It has been uncomfortable and unfortunate as it’s limited my ability to go out and do fun stuff with the group as well as contribute as much as I could to our team project over the last week or so. But I’m learning a ton about international remedies and the health care system in Kazakhstan.

My IBM teammates have been wonderful caregivers to me. I’ve received the international TLC (tender loving care) and remedies that would make anyone smile when sick.

  • Bruno gave me the most amazing cold medicine called Benegrip from Brazil. This is the stuff that broke my fever last Friday. He also gave me this cough medicine called Dexason.
  • Roseann offered her honey and propolis throat spray from Brazil
  • Tae-Hoon gave me herbal cough drops/throat lozenges from Korea
  • Asha contributed some ayurvedic oils from India that I used to breathe in from a hot towel to help clear the sinues. Vaidy and Desikan helped with instructions on how to use.
  • Nayana and Jorge covered my portion of the work for the project
  • Sandy and Eric provided much needed moral support and of course chocolates from Raxat for when I’m feeling better
  • Anjana gave me Vitamin C tablets from India
  • Tatiana, our IBM CSC representative from Russia, brought me delicious honey from Russia to help coat my throat and help me sleep.

Everyone has offered their sympathy, support, and home remedies and stories of how they heal themselves from colds and sinus infections from across the world. I’ve had an interest in holistic healing for years, so it’s been fascinating for me to hear the different remedies and approaches from across the world.

I did decide to visit the SOS International Clinic on Monday, July 4th because my ear ache and swollen lymph node was pretty bad, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to fly home on the 9th of July. In total, with taxi, doctor visit, CBC blood count, and strep culture, and medicines, the visit cost me US $765. WOW! I had to pay out of pocket because there was some kind of misunderstanding with the agreement that IBM had with the clinic. That added a bit of stress to the whole visit, but fortunately, IBM has agreed to reimburse me.

The clinic was clean and pleasant and the doctor after reviewing my white blood cell count from the CBC panel, told me I have a very bad infection – an acute sinus infection. She said she was surprised I didn’t have a fever still. She prescribed anti-biotics, anti-histamine (Claritin), mild pain reliever – Tylenol and Codeine, and some nasal sprays – one with saline and one for the plane ride. She told me that there’s very limited access to Western medicine so this is the standard protocol ENT’s use for sinus infections. On the way home in the taxi, I was sure we were going to get into a car accident and I would wind up in the hospital. That would have been the icing on the cake. The taxi didn’t have seat belts and there was this maniac drive weaving in and out of the traffic lanes, causing quite a stir. Good news – I came back alive and in one piece to the hotel.

The next day, after taking the meds, I still felt the same – in pain, hard to swallow, with a huge lump in my neck.

I went to the office with my team to meet our head client who had returned from vacation. I mentioned to Guzel, my other client, whose mother is a doctor and trained in acupuncture, how I’ve been sick, and wondered if her mother could do acupuncture for me. Guzel called her mom and arranged for me to visit the state-run health clinic where her mom works. We took off right away and went to the clinic, which is nearby on Gogol Street. It’s an older building and inside like a typical government building.

We quickly found her mother, a lovely woman with blond hair and green eyes. Guzel translated my situation to her mother, who then brought us upstairs to visit an ENT doctor. I got the special 4 star treatment instead of having to wait, because her mom worked there. I was a little worried as this ENT doctor started poking at me with metal instruments, which appeared clean and sterilized as they were under a towel separated from a dish with all sorts of other used ones.

Unlike the SOS International Clinic doctor, this ENT said that my ear is infected. She recommended a bunch of different items, which I already had from the first doctor, plus the medicated ear drops. She then referred me to the electro-physio therapy treatment.

Guzel whisked me off to another room, where coincidentally we bumped into her cousin, who was also getting treatment for a cold. Then this older Russian woman started using this electro-physio thingy on my lymph nodes and ear, and then brought me into another room for light therapy in both my nostrils and my throat and left ear. I didn’t feel anything really from the treatment, only a little heat. The whole treatment and consultations were free, which was a bonus, and an interesting cultural excursion to boot.

When we were done, I was able to chat with Guzel’s cousin for a bit. She’s a young woman, 25, always laughing and smiling, and she told me all about their family, which is Tartar, another ethnic group in Kazakhstan, and how the Tartars were spread out across China, old USSR countries, Kazakhstan, etc. It was a fascinating story of how her grandparents and parents met, and how they came to live in Almaty.

While we were waiting for Guzel to come downstairs, I started feeling a bit queasy, dizzy, and clammy, so I asked for the driver to take me home after we returned to the office. I slept for the rest of the afternoon, and was awakened at 5pm from the hotel reception calling me to tell me that Guzel had brought me the medicated ear drops and some frozen cranberries as a healing fruit.

Guzel was so generous with her time, and I feel so lucky that she was willing to help me. Plus it was really cool to meet her mom and her cousin and hear her family story.

Now a day later, I’m feeling a little better but still have pain in left my ear.

My fingers are crossed, I have knocked on wood, and I’m praying I will be able to fly out on Saturday.

It seems that I must have a weaker constitution than the other #ibmcsc participants or that I brought the wrong vitamins to fend off this head cold that I caught in Week #3. Boo-hoo.

It started with a sore throat and swollen glands, and then today, I have a fever, so I spent the day resting, sleeping, drinking tea, and working a bit when I could despite our spotty internet connection in our hotel. Then our power went out again in the hotel, so I did what should do when the power is out, I took a nap.

It may seem like I’m taking it pretty easy here, but actually, I’ve been working very hard, along with my teammates and other colleagues, on assembling our key findings and recommendations into a coherent report we will deliver both to the client organizations in long form on July 6, and in short form, to a wider audience on Friday, July 8th at a press conference here in Almaty.

Our internet connection is not strong enough to support the three of my teammates and our client at their office on Gogol Street, so our team has decided to work at the hotel, where we can be a little more comfortable as well. Some folks from other teams also work in the lobby of Hotel Astra as that’s where the best Wi-Fi strength is. Others, like myself, prefer to work in the room.

Working while being sick is always a challenge, and even more so with an impending deadline, it is especially uncomfortable when you’re stuck in a hotel room. I’ve come up with a few comfortable spots in my room to work and tried to make the best of my situation.

I keep the window wide open, looking out on the great view of lovely trees outside, as my room faces a private road, rather than the main road out front. It’s a great spot to see the sun or watch the trees prepare for a looming storm.

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My routine is pretty simple. I wash my clothes by hand in the morning, and hang my laundry in the window to dry as I get some great morning sun. Who needs a dryer in this weather! Plus I’m saving myself a fortune as laundry (and everything) is SOOOOOOO expensive here.

I go down for breakfast, come back up and make my tea in the kettle, and settle into work.

I work for a few hours and then the hotel cleaning person comes in to tidy up the room in the late morning. She’s a very sweet woman and each day looks at me the same way – as if I’m crazy to spend every day in my room, and even crazier for having my things are all cluttered on top of each other! I’ve included photos of my room so you can see how little space there is for my stuff. No shelves anywhere.

Space or no space, I’m like this at home too. I need to see everything on one surface, or else I’ll forget about things. I mention this as quite a number of my teammates have commented and teased me about the array of items I have on display for their viewing pleasure.

Most of the work day, I hear birds chirping and occasionally, throughout the day, I hear some really weird bird calls. I have this long hanging pipe, plus some electricity cables, and other exciting perching spots, just outside my window where the birds enjoy chilling out together, or waking me up at 5am or earlier in unison when the sun rises here.

I hear the traffic from the street, the occasional siren, and all too frequently, the irritating car alarms that filled my youth growing up in Bayside, Queens in NYC. Children’s laughter or cries are intermittent throughout the day, and I can also hear the drone of the nearby Almaty 2 train station announcement system in the distance. Sometimes I hear the street dogs barking, but that’s usually at night, when they seem to go on the prowl together in packs, wandering the streets for who knows what. Hearing them makes me miss my two dogs, Oliver and Kizzy, so much!

As the day passes, out of nowhere, someone will blast their music, and it’s usually really awful Techno or some other kind of club music, that’s really not conducive to the concentration I need to work on our report. And then the music disappears…semi-silence returns while the chirping of the birds resume, peppered with the whish of a car driving by on a nearby road.

Nighttime has become somewhat of a challenge, as I haven’t been sleeping that well for whatever reason – it’s too hot, I’m thinking about things, there’s noise outside my window. To help reduce unnecessary light in the room, I unplugged the TV cable (see photo), because this incredibly strong yellow light on the TV would illuminate the entire room.

In terms of room temperature, we do have AC in the room and the panel says it’s 18 ºC or 64.4 ºF, but in reality, it’s feels like 24ºC or 75ºF. I know because my alarm clock thermometer says so 🙂 I feel very suffocated in the stuffy room if I close the windows with the AC on.

So I sleep with the window and curtains open to get maximum air. I’ve received many a lecture from my IBM colleagues that sleeping with the windows and shades open is why I can’t sleep (as the sun rises so early) and the mosquitoes eat me alive at night.

Even so, I love waking up to the warm morning sun and a fresh breeze, and I’m even getting used to the maniacal chirpers outside my window – well ,maybe only a little.

Now my mission is to get well so I can contribute my best effort to the final report and enjoy our last weekend in town. Stay tuned for a post on that.

What an experience today! A bunch of us worked from the hotel as our internet connection is better there than at our respective offices. Around 1:30pm we ventured out for lunch despite the rain. We arrived our the local Chinese restaurant partially soaked, and watched as it poured cats and dogs outside.

About 1.5 hours later, after a lovely meal, we emerged to a different Almaty, one that was flooded both in the streets and the sidewalks.

Almaty streets have these gigantic gutters that are about one foot wide – maybe more, about 4 feet deep, and extend the length of most of the side walks. On a normal sunny day, if you’re not watching your step, you’ll fall into the ravine of the gutter, and brake a leg and maybe your neck! I didn’t quite realize what purpose these gutters served until today, when I saw the muddy rain water overflowing from all of them, like rushing rivers.

Unfortunately, we all had to walk back to the hotel in the muddy water that was covering the sidewalks in gigantic pools. Thank goodness I was wearing my Keens (although mine are old and not waterproof like the ones in this link).

As we walked back to the hotel, ankles covered in water, Asha from India described to me how these kinds of floods are normal for her back home in Bangalore. For us in the USA, this level of flooding is not normal for a regular afternoon thunderstorm. However, I told her about many of the emergency situations in the US right now with the unusually heavy rain and flooding rivers in various parts of the US, such as in the South.

All the same, it was a fun yet gross way to return to our hotel from the restaurant. I squealed as Asha laughed at me as we walked through the muddy water, watching the local Almaty folks take off their work shoes and brave the waters themselves.

The Almaty drivers didn’t seem to notice the rain, or if they did notice, they didn’t care. They just plowed ahead through the flood waters in their normal Almaty choatic, aggressive way of driving.

Our #ibmcsc group successfully and safely navigated our way to the hotel to discover there was no power – an accurate prediction of mine at the Chinese restaurant. I did what work I could until my laptop battery ran out, and then enjoyed a nice afternoon nappy on a rainy Almaty afternoon, safe and dry in my room.

RELIGION IN KAZAKHSTAN
In researching our #ibmcsc trip to Almaty, we learned that Kazakhstan is a mostly Muslim country. In reality, few people in Almaty seem to be strict Muslims. It seems that most people are secular Muslims – maybe a holdover from the Soviet anti-religious sentiment. I’ve only met one practicing Muslim so far, one of my office colleagues.

In terms of dress, very few women wear hijab and we haven’t seen anyone wear a burka. It’s actually the opposite, with most women wearing western-style clothing, in fact, many young men in Almaty wear quite revealing clothing much of the time – short skirts, short shorts, with high heels, etc.

Kazakhstan is known for its 130 ethnic groups living harmoniously, as well as the 46 religions practiced within the country. The President of Kazakhstan recently commissioned a marvelous religious center – Palace of Peace and Accord – to be built in Astana, the country’s capital, for religious leaders across the world to meet every three years to discuss tolerance and harmony amongst the world’s religions, and promotion of human equality.

BEING JEWISH in KAZAKHSTAN
As a Jew, I was curious about the estimated Jewish population in Kazakhstan, roughly 0.2% of the population, and the local Jewish scene in Almaty. Apparently, there used to be no Jews living in Kazakhstan or no formal synagogues or other facilities to support the Jews that may have lived here at one time.

In my research prior to the trip, I found an Almaty Chabad house with a welcoming Rabbi by the name of Rabbi Bezalel Lifshitz [3rd rabbi on the list]. I am quite familiar with Chabad, as I used to go there regularly on Friday nights to the Chabad house in Chapel Hill, to meet other young Jewish people in the area. My local Chabad Rabbi in Chapel Hill, had made the introduction to the Almaty Rabbi months in advance. Because Rabbi Lifshitz had grown up in America and of course speaks English, he was the one who responded to my notes.

CHABAD IN ALMATY
Chabad has opened several centers in Kazakhstan to provide basic services and beyond to the estimated 10-30,000 Jews in the country. They offer Kosher food, mikvah (ritual bath), Jewish learning, prayer services, and support to the needy and to the elderly, etc.

Last Friday night, Roseann, the other Jewish colleague on the trip, and I, went to Chabad in Almaty for Shabbat prayer services and dinner. Fortunately, the Chabad house is pretty close to our hotel.

Roseann and I dolled up for Shabbat

The Chabad house is situated on a small gated compound, with a large building with a synagogue and store offering kosher meat and wine produced locally, and then several other buildings, including a large apartment building that they are in the process of renovating. The Rabbi’s and their families live on the top floor of the building.

When we entered the main building, we quickly found Rabbi Lifshitz, who greeted us with a big warm welcome. He’s a lovely, hospitable person, with an easy laugh. He’s been in Almaty for about 8 years, with his wife from Israel, and now has a large family of 5 small, gorgeous children. He told us that we had arrived a bit early, that things generally get started around 9pm. It happened to be the latest shabbat of the year, he had informed us.

We waited for a little while in the lobby, and then he came to get us, and brought us to his apartment building next door, across the compound. We walked up about 4 flights of stairs in this run down (currently-being-renovated) building and arrived at a fully finished floor, where he and his family live.

He introduced us to his wife, Sarah, from Israel and his children, none of whom speak English. At home, he speaks Hebrew with his family. Sarah is a lovely woman and seems to have endless patience raising and home-schooling 5 children.

Rabbi Lifshitz invited us to light candles, and then Roseann and I hung out with the kids in this large playroom/dining room while he and his wife prepared for the rest of shabbos. While we waited, he brought us some Jewish learning books in English to help us bide the time.

Chabad Center in Almaty

SERVICES
He then invited us to go down for services in the synagogue. We followed him to the other building, and he directed us upstairs to the “women’s section.” In Orthodox shuls, women and men pray (or daven) separately, and in many synagogues, the women sit in a section upstairs, while the men pray downstairs. One can also see this at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. For more information about a woman’s role in prayer, see The Role of Women in the Synagogue.

I don’t read Hebrew so it was pretty difficult for me to follow along with the prayer service, even though the Rabbi had given us a Siddhur (prayer book) in English/Hebrew. About 30 minutes later the services ended, and we were certainly read for dinner at this point. It was almost 9:45pm.

AN INTERNATIONAL CROWD at DINNER
We met the Rabbi downstairs, and then he led us along with a group of men and one woman up to his apartment for the shabbat dinner.

The rest of the dinner was really fun, although we all were boiling in there without AC. Altogether, there were 7 of us: the Rabbi, his wife (who spent most of the dinner tending to the kids and the food), myself and Roseann, a Russian woman, three men from Georgia (who all now live in Almaty), and one man from Uzbekistan. They spoke Russian together, and on occasion, the Rabbi would translate to us in English or converse with us in English. A few of the guests knew a little broken English and made an attempt to chat.

What is so remarkable to me is how people outside of native-English speaking countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia), has such facility with language, and know two, three, sometimes, four or more languages. It’s normal and a natural part of life. I wish it were like that in the US, but unfortunately, unless you’re born to an immigrant family, people just know English.

Sign in Hebrew and Russian

After the kiddush (wine blessing), the Rabbi informed us that he makes the kosher wine we drank on site, and sells it at the store and to the larger Kazakhstan community. The wine was actually really good (and no, they don’t use their feet – I asked :). They have proper wine-making equipment, which turns out a really strong, dry, red wine – the kind of like! It probably needed a little aging and to be bottled in glass vs. plastic bottles to make it taste even better. All of that aside, I was very impressed.

The food was yummy too. We started off with a large selection of salads including carrot/apple salad, chopped veggie salad, egg salad, potato salad, cooked salmon with herbs, and tuna in oil, with delicious Challah bread. The main course was stewed chicken with potatoes, carrots, etc. And for dessert, two small sponge cakes with chocolate and strawberry syrups, along with a large selection of local, seasonal fruit of cherries, nectarines, and fresh apricots.

The other guests were warm and welcoming as well, giving us toasts celebrating the unity of Jews from all over the world, coming together on Shabbat in a land foreign to us all. Even though I am thousands of miles away from my home, I was welcomed into someone else’s home as if it were my own. It was very touching, and made me really happy that I visited the Chabad house for shabbat that evening.

Q&A with the RABBI
During the course of the meal, I asked the Rabbi a bunch of questions and learned some neat facts. He said they actively serve about 4,000 Jews in Almaty. They estimate about 20,000 Jews live in all of Kazakhstan, although not all are practicing.

Another really interesting thing is that the Chabad house in Almaty has a kosher meat operation, distributing Kosher meat to all of Kazakhstan and one or two of the other -Stans (I can’t recall the details). They sell the kosher meat in the onsite store in Almaty. Also, Jews can’t eat the beloved horsemeat of Kazakhstan because horse is not a kosher meat.

They have a mikvah on site, which makes the Rabbi’s wives lives super easy compared to many women who have to drive hours to go to the mikvah every month. The mikvah or ritual bath is required for Orthodox women to resume sexual relations after menstruation. If there is no mikvah, the couple cannot resume relations. This is critical part of Jewish life and has a fascinating history documented by Rivkah Slonim‘s in Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology.

I asked why Chabad chose that particular location in Almaty and he said it’s because the grave of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson is located blocks away from their compound. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson was exiled to Kazakhstan during Josef Stalin’s dictatorship for practicing Judaism. He was also the father of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the revered rebbe of the Lubavitch movement. Every year, on the yahrtzeit, or anniversary of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson’s burial, Jews from around the world come to visit the grave and pay their respect. The Chabad house offers these visitors accommodation in the large apartment building that they’re renovating for such purposes.

The son, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also thought to be a mystic, is the rebbe that encouraged the Chabad rabbis to become schluchim, or emissaries and move to parts all over the world to create Jewish centers for people in lands both remote and populated.

This is exactly what Rabbi Lifschitz is – a schliuch. He left his home in America and then Israel, and set up shop in Kazakhstan, a place so far away that he hardly ever gets to see his own parents or other family members. He and his wife and (and their children) have dedicated their lives to help Jews in Kazakhstan, with an entrepreneurial spirit that reminds me of pioneers of the Old West in the US.

For more information about the Chabad movement and the schluchim, read The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch, which is another fascinating read.

Finally, I asked about his children’s education, and Rabbi Lifschitz informed that they attend online courses in the afternoons taught by a Chabad instructor in Israel. This is incredible! The two oldest boys are 7 and maybe 5 and they’re already doing distance learning by computer. His wife homeschools them for the rest of the day, and teaches the younger ones elementary Hebrew and Jewish learning. As his other kids get older, they will also start the e-learning courses for their Jewish education. It just goes to show that as long as you have an internet connection, anything is possible these days.

All in all, it was a really fun, cultural experience, one for which I am very grateful.

OUR CLIENT
In a nutshell, our #ibmcsc client, Kaznex Invest, is an investment and export agency for the government of Kazakhstan. It seeks to attract foreign investors for investment projects in Kazakhstan, and provides services and research reports to help them invest in the country. The organization also aims to help local Kazakhstan manufacturers of non-raw goods export to other nations, and in that process, tries to match these companies with foreign buyers/importers.

OUR PROJECT SCOPE
The client asked for our team of three to overhaul their corporate website and their investment microsite, as well as build an internet marketing plan for them. Part of our scope is to deliver a two-day training on internet marketing for a few of the Kaznex Invest staff. We will also develop a brochure on these topics for the organization to distribute to their clients, the “exporters.”

Our team will also make recommendations on how the client can improve its websites, as well as its business processes that leverage the website. For example, we have suggested that the client can use web forms to create online applications for the export and investment processes, to streamline the current manually intensive processes.

DAY 1 – TRAINING
Today our team delivered the first of the two day training on internet marketing including persona development, website design best practices, and social networking. Tomorrow we will cover Search Engine Optimization, Web Analytics, and finish the social networking component of the training.

To kick off the training, I covered persona development, Jorge covered website design best practices, and then I delivered the training on social media marketing and social networking “how to’s”. Overall, I walked away with a few observations and takeaways from the session today, plus a very funny story to share.

The clients we trained today were definitely overwhelmed with the information on social networking as it’s a lot to take in at once. I covered the following topics today:

  • Social Networking & Media Marketing – Influencer Marketing, Ecosystem Mapping, Goals, Metrics, Social Computing Policies, etc
  • Linkedin
  • Twitter (microblogging)
  • Blogging
  • Youtube
  • Flickr
  • Slideshare
  • Facebook

and tomorrow, I will cover the following:

  • Mobile Marketing
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars/Virtual Events
  • Social Bookmarking Sites

INITIAL REACTIONS
Similar to many organizations around the world embarking on their social networking journeys, our clients commented “We need to change the mindset of our management.” I wasn’t surprised to hear this at all, as often the younger generation sees the value in social networking for business, as they use these tools in their personal lives too.

The clients raised a few other concerns that I hear frequently when I train people on social networking:

  1. “Are they going to pay me more for this, as it seems like a second job?”
  2. “When will I find the time to learn all of this and then do it?”

These reactions are very common, and, I too felt these same sentiments myself in my early days of learning social media marketing. I also had the same panic-stricken, dear-in-headlights look as I stared at my future on my computer screen.

I tried to be as reassuring as I could that their feelings and reactions were very normal, and that this process is about baby steps, and mastering one step at a time. And of course, I’m only “one tweet away” for help 🙂

UNIQUE CONSTRAINTS
What was new for me was hearing about the legal obligation that Kaznex Invest faces (and all other organizations in the country as well), requiring them to put all written content into three languages:

  1. Kazakh – is a Turkic language written in Cyrillic script with many special letters. Many people today don’t speak Kazakh any longer, except in rural areas or in the South. However, the government wants to revive this language and have everyone be able to fluent in it.
  2. Russian – this is the language that most people speak and is considered the language of inter-ethnic communication, as there are 130 ethnic groups in the country. The street signs, restaurant menus, school system, etc. are in Russian.
  3. English – in my experience in Almaty, most people don’t speak English, not even a little. Fortunately, our clients do, which has been immensely helpful for our project interactions.

While day to day things around the city are mainly in Russian, and some things in Kazakh, such as street signs, the government would like all official written materials to be available in English as well. For Kaznex Invest to achieve its mission and goals, the organization needs to write in English to attract foreign audiences. The tricky question is: do they need to execute their social networking activities in both Russian and Kazakh and English to comply with the law, or can they chose the languages that best match their target audiences of investors, exporters, and buyers?

We chatted with the clients about a few options to address the challenge of social networking in three languages, given the legal climate. It’s not an easy question to answer, but one I am confident our trainees will address with finesse.

On a side note, although the government in Kazakhstan would like everyone in the country to speak all three languages, in my experience in Almaty, most people speak one — Russian, or maybe two of the three. The government does have plans to help make this goal become a reality by providing language training in Kazakh and English.

HIGHLIGHT – CULTURAL CONFUSION
As always, when explaining new concepts and showing new websites to people from a foreign land in a language that is not their native tongue, there’s bound to be some kind of misunderstanding or cultural confusion. In our case today, the misunderstanding that occurred was HILARIOUS!

I was explaining to our clients the basics of Linkedin, the professional networking site. We were discussing Linkedin’s various applications, including the “Reading List by Amazon.com” app, and the benefits of using it. The clients didn’t understand why someone would use this app because they had never heard of Amazon.com before. To help educate them, I quickly pulled up Amazon.com to show them the vast online store, and how we can buy items from numerous categories such as books, music, etc.

I clicked on the drop down menu to illustrate the array of goods one could purchase, and the “BABY” category caught our client’s eye. He asked in disbelief, “You can buy babies on this site?”

We all burst out laughing when we realized that he thought that people go to Amazon.com to buy babies. We quickly explained that this is where people go to buy items for their babies, NOT the babies themselves!

All in all, the training today went very well and the clients seemed to learn a lot and be very pleased. We’re looking forward to Day 2 tomorrow, and maybe I’ll have an even funnier cultural confusion to share.