My Friend from the Plane June 30, 2017

My Friend from the Plane
By: Kelly Pysmennyi

On May 29th, 2017, I set out on an adventure unlike any other I had ever experienced. I boarded my flight to Kazakhstan; the country where I am spending the summer working as a Student Ambassador at Expo 2017 in Astana. Though I had previously traveled to several countries, I had never been to Central Asia, so of course there was some uncertainty that clouded my mind. I was going to a country that I knew little about, aside from a bit of its history and location.

This sense of uncertainty was quickly transformed into pure excitement after boarding my flight from Amsterdam to Astana. I was luckily seated beside a twenty-year-old Kazakh man who had been studying in Manchester, and was returning home to visit his family for the summer. At first, we did not speak to each other; he listened to his headphones, while I tried to sleep, both to no avail. He had just as little success with listening to his music as I did with getting any rest, as the flight attendants were constantly going up and down the aisles serving drinks and snacks. An hour or so passed, and then it was time for dinner. After the flight attendant asked me what I wanted to eat and drink, it was evident that my identity had been revealed to him by my thick American accent. We began speaking to each other, and continued to for the remaining four hours of the flight.  Though he had met Americans studying at his University in Manchester, it was clear that he had never come in contact with an American traveling to live in Astana for three months.

Our conversation, as aforementioned, was extensive and consisted of a broad array of topics. Though the subjects were many, there were two distinct parts of it that stuck out to me. First, he exclaimed that he could not wait to tell his parents that he met an American on the plane to Astana who would be living there for three months. The second most exciting part of our conversation was when he exclaimed that he now did not have an “excuse” not to visit the US. He said that he would no longer allow his fear of flying long distances across water stop him. If I could leave the U.S. to live in Astana for three months, then he had to pursue his dream to visit the U.S..

While I came here with the desire to make a positive difference, it was in that moment that I knew that I could! In just a few hours we went from being complete strangers to knowing more about each other and our, in many ways, differing cultures than all of the Google searches I had done prior to boarding the flight ever taught me. Kasym was no longer just the gentleman that sat next to me on the plane, he was my first of many Kazakh friends I am sure to meet while I am here. Kasym exemplified the genuine hospitality of the Kazakh people that I have experienced time and time again; in fact, I even attended a traditional dinner at a Kazakh friend’s home!

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