November 27, 2002 - Atlanta Journal Consitution: Kristin Besche is the new Kazakhstan director for the Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kazakstan : Peace Corps Kazakhstan : The Peace Corps in Kazakstan: November 27, 2002 - Atlanta Journal Consitution: Kristin Besche is the new Kazakhstan director for the Peace Corps

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Kristin Besche is the new Kazakhstan director for the Peace Corps

Kristin Besche is the new Kazakhstan director for the Peace Corps

Family thankful for Kazakh experience

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
Margaret Coker / AJC
The Besches--Dave, Brianna, 10, Jay, 8, Kristin and Joelle, 3--are adapting well to their new life away from Atlanta but they do miss favorite foods. Kristin Besche is the new Kazakhstan director for the Peace Corps.

Almaty, Kazakhstan -- The apartment is not quite the same as the house in Doraville in metro Atlanta, but Kristin Besch points to one big advantage her family's current home has over their old one: a Ping-Pong table.

It's going to come in pretty handy on the family's first Thanksgiving celebration in this Central Asian nation 5,000 miles from Georgia.

"It's doubling as a dining room table," says Besch, who will cook her first ever Thanksgiving turkey as host of an 80-person potluck for Peace Corps employees and volunteers.

Add to the menu mushroom soup filled with ingredients from the nearby Altai Mountains, and Thanksgiving will have a ring of the familiar and the new for the Besch clan this year.

The family of five arrived in Kazakhstan, where Besch took over the job as country director for the Peace Corps, in April on a three-year posting. The Besches are loving the experience, despite the occasional twinge of homesickness.

"It's great," says 8-year-old Jay, looking up from his homework, which is a picture of the human body with parts labeled in Russian. ''We're having a lot of fun.''

Although the move was the first for Jay, 10-year-old Brianna and 3-year-old Joelle, it was but one of many for their parents, who met 20 years ago when they were Peace Corps volunteers in Swaziland.

In those days, Besch, 41, and her husband, Dave, lived like all volunteers do: in the same conditions as their hosts. In Africa, that meant sleeping in mud-brick houses and going without electricity.

As the Kazakh country director for the Peace Corps, Besch gets more perks. There are indoor plumbing and heating in their spacious three-bedroom apartment, for a start.

But some adjustments have had to be made from life in Doraville: Jay and Joelle have to share a room instead of having their own ones. And the family has gone from having two cars in the United States to none in Kazakhstan, relying on public transportation instead.

"It [mass transit] works so much better than Atlanta's [system]," says Kristin Besch. "You can ride anywhere downtown for 15 cents, and get there in 15 minutes. There's hardly any traffic."

There's the language, too. Despite Kazakhstan having its own traditional language, Russian is the tongue heard most often on the streets because of the country's 70-year history as part of the former Soviet Union.

Learning Russian is a challenge that the Besch children are mastering better than their parents.

Brianna, who went to Christ the King school in Atlanta, and Jay, who attended Atlanta Speech School, now go to an international school in Almaty where classes are taught in Russian and English.

Learning Russian "is high on my personal agenda, but it's hard to find the time. My job has become my life. I never know when my cellphone is going to go off," says Besch.

The Besches arrived in Kazakhstan prepared for most emergencies, packing medicines and even favorite food items, like a 5-pound can of powdered Gatorade. In Almaty, American staples such as Coca-Cola and Snickers bars can be found on every corner. But Brianna still suffers cravings for cheese steak sandwiches.

Still, as much as possible, the family tries to immerse itself in the local culture. Weekends mean trips to museums or the mountains that ring the town. They even visited the ancient Silk Road oasis towns in neighboring Uzbekistan.

"It's good for the children to experience all this diversity. We hope it's good for the Kazakhs, too," said Dave Besch.

Margaret Coker, based in Moscow, covers Russia and the former Soviet republics for the Journal-Constitution and other Cox Newspapers.

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