English content about Kazakhstan is scarce. Foreigners who move to the country for the first time voice their struggles with finding a source of insight – and comfort from someone like them. Someone who speaks English and can give honest reviews of their experiences here.
On her first weekend in Kazakhstan four years ago, Raquel Reinagel, who goes by Rocky, recorded herself talking about her first experiences in Kazakhstan and shared the candid video on her personal YouTube channel for her friends and family to see.
Fast-forward to now, RockyJourneys has nearly 28,000 subscribers, most of whom are local viewers fascinated by her fresh and authentic persona. Today, the blogger appears much more confident in navigating her way through life here. She has visited every site, cooked using only Kazakh instructions, and dated Kazakh guys on camera. Twice.
QazMonitor spoke to the expat about what she has learned and her impressions of people after four years.
How did it all start?
I’m from Texas but I moved to Hawaii for university, where I started making YouTube videos just about my life. I came to Kazakhstan in August 2018, almost 4 years ago. I’m 27, people don’t believe that, they think I’m a bit younger. I work for Nazarbayev University in the center for preparatory studies. I teach academic English in the foundation year program. I’ve been doing it ever since I came here. My working environment is absolutely great. That’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed in Kazakhstan for so long.
Lost in translation
When I first came here I had a lot of anxiety with social interactions with people, because I didn’t know the language. I look like I know Russian, so in most situations, when I go to a store to buy something, they assume I know Russian, and then I [used to] punch them with English. I would see this shock on their faces.
I had briefly lived in other places, but they all were in East Asia, where nobody looked like me. So, as soon as I went into an establishment, people knew that it was going to be ‘a foreign interaction’.
In Kazakhstan, on the other hand, I blend in. I hated that look of disappointment or even frustration from people when they realized I didn’t speak Russian. I had no idea what was going on.
Kazakhs don’t fake it
Is customer service different in Kazakhstan compared to the US?
Compared to the US, people in Kazakhstan are less friendly to strangers, unless they have a positive view of foreigners. In the US, there is a bit more of service culture. I’m used to people being friendly because it’s their job. But people don’t have to act friendly here, sometimes they do, but it’s not a requirement. That was a bit difficult for me.
Kazakh people are not actually mean. They are just not required to be ‘fake nice.’
There is a different work culture here. I prefer people being friendly and nice, even if it’s fake or not. It makes the experience better for everybody anyway. Whenever I have good service Kazakhstan, I feel so happy. ‘OMG, the waiter is smiling? This is so nice’ [laughs].
Have you managed to make any genuine friends here?
Here is something controversial. Kazakhs think they’re very hospitable, which they are to a certain extent. But not always. Hospitality in my mind is that you are hospitable in all ways: to the strangers you meet, your family and friends.
Kazakhs are a bit guarded, and it takes time for them to warm up to you and open their hearts. I feel that it’s true.
It’s been hard for me to make very good Kazakh friends. I have a few, but it’s not always easy. Of course, this is also because we are adults and have our own lives. Especially at my age, everyone is getting married. It’s harder to maintain a friendship when someone is expecting children, for instance.
Are people in the US reserved in their personal relationships?
I think it’s true. I haven’t noticed it as an American pattern. But I definitely think like ‘this person is my friend, that one is an acquaintance’. I keep them all separate until there are some signs that we are getting closer as friends.
Not the final destination
Have you thought of settling down in Kazakhstan?
I don’t hate Kazakhstan, and I don’t mind staying. But I don’t see it as a place for me forever. It’s really much more conservative or religious than I ever intend to be. Even in friendships I see some kinds of limitations. It’s differences of opinion. A few Kazakh girls asked me: ‘why do you hate men?’ I don’t. I like them. Just the ways these guys react.
Once, I cut off all my hair and a lot of my friends were like you’ve ruined yourself. One guy told me that I shouldn’t have done this until after I got married.
Not everyone is like that, of course. There are some very open-minded women. [On the other hand] because of some things, men feel like they have to be ‘men’ in some stereotypical way.
If I want to be in a relationship, it is most likely not going to happen in Kazakhstan, unfortunately. Socially it’s hard for me to find like-minded friends.
There are other things to like about Kazakhstan. It’s not like I want to run away. [laughs] Just long-term, it’s not really my thing. The way I view the world and people in Kazakhstan view the world are a bit different.