Packing list for Kazakhstan
This section of the Welcome Book has been thoroughly debated among Volunteers in Kazakhstan. Previous versions written by Volunteers have been described as “misleading and useless” by other Volunteers. There is no perfect list! Having received input from a number of current Volunteers, it is safe to say that everyone agrees that you can buy everything that you need in Kazakhstan and that bringing less is actually better. With that caveat, this section contains several lists of the “basics” and the most common recommendations from Volunteers.
Remember you have a 100-pound baggage weight restriction and that Kazakhstanis have been living here for centuries without imports!
During training, you will primarily need “business casual” attire, though there are occasions (such as the swearing-in ceremony) when more formal attire is appropriate (jackets for men, dresses/skirts for women).
Your luggage should be durable, lightweight, and easy to carry. Duffel bags and backpacks without frames are best. When choosing luggage, remember you will be hauling it around on foot. There are no “Red Caps” or luggage carts in this part of the world. If you cannot carry it by yourself, do not bring it!
The clothing you bring should be durable and versatile. The weather in Kazakhstan varies quite a bit. The summers are very hot. Spring and fall are rainy and the streets get pretty muddy. The winter is cold and windy with snow and rain. Kazakhstanis dress more formally than Americans, and there will be many occasions where you can dress up. You will probably be hand washing all of your clothes in a bathtub, so do not bring too many white things as they will get pretty dirty (though bleach is available).
Professional dress is required, but this does not mean expensive dress. As long as your clothing is neat, clean, and conservative it should be acceptable. A foreigner in Kazakhstan wearing ragged, unmended, unironed clothing is likely to be considered an affront.
Overall, your clothing and shoes should be comfortable and warm, keeping in mind that there may be little heat in the winter and no air conditioning in summer. Both men and women should bring one basic sport jacket/blazer. You may want to bring one suit or dressy outfit, but keep in mind that dry cleaning is not available in many places and you may get only occasional use out of these items. However, business and school dress here can be similar to that in America. Be sure to bring a good supply of lightweight, short-sleeved dress shirts. Tank tops can be worn on occasion, but they are not generally acceptable.
You will be walking a lot, and all of your shoes should be comfortable and, if possible, waterproof. Good shoes are hard to find, and imported shoes are very expensive, so do not skimp on these. Your shoes will take a beating and wear out quickly, so bring shoes with sturdy soles. Consider bringing an extra pair or two. Also be sure to bring shoes appropriate for all seasons (i.e., sandals, boots, etc.). Locals wear high heels with incredible skill on uneven surfaces and ice. Unless you possess this skill, high heels are not recommended. You will be taking your shoes off and putting them on as you enter and leave homes here, so slip-on shoes are much easier.
Note: It begins to get cold in Kazakhstan in October. Although you can purchase winter clothing in Kazakhstan (you will receive $200 at the end of pre-service training for this purpose), make sure you bring some warm clothes with you (i.e., sweaters, jackets, gloves, and hats). During training (October), you will visit your permanent site. If you are assigned to the northern part of the country, it may already be snowing with temperatures in the 30s.
Do not pack any work clothes that you hope to use after two years! After two years of your hand washing and sun-drying, the clothes will be rags, especially if you end up in a village. Do not, however, come like some Volunteers do, thinking that looking like a pauper in the third world is the norm just because it is the Peace Corps. People do dress up regularly, and clean, ironed clothes are a must in this culture. People may have only two outfits (some of your students will have only one), but they will look like they were just store-bought even if they wear them every day in a given week.
- Warm winter coat—full length is best, especially for women (can be purchased in Kazakhstan; black or gray recommended)
- Waterproof, lightweight jacket (black or gray recommended)
- Three pairs of warm socks—white is impossible to keep clean and should be avoided
- Winter gloves (extremely warm and waterproof), scarf, and hat
- One/two sets of thermal underwear (tops and bottoms—some Volunteers recommend polypropylene; others recommend silk); you will wear these under clothes for warmth and for sleeping
- Three warm flannel shirts or sweatshirts
- Several good sweaters and turtlenecks
- Sturdy, well-made shoes—sandals, sports, dress and winter (good shoes are hard to come by and they’re expensive when you find them, don’t go cheap on this), including:
- Waterproof hiking boots (there are some great mountains for hiking here). They should have good traction, be warm, and be durable. It gets very messy in the winter with a lot of ice, slush, and mud. Thick soles will help keep your feet warm.
- Sneakers and walking shoes
- Outdoor sandals (Tevas and Birkenstocks are acceptable, but not for work)
- Thongs for the shower
- Dress shoes
- Insulated durable professional looking water-proof boots
- Extra shoelaces, one can of waterproofing, and a tube of good shoe glue (a real must!)
- Bathing suit
- Baseball cap
Men here dress in suits for business meetings, weddings, and work. It is appropriate to wear a shirt, tie, and pants (not jeans) to work. Sports jackets with nice pants and dress shirts are acceptable. Most local people wear the same ties daily. You probably do not need more than two to four ties. The acceptability of shorts will depend upon your site. Shorts are usually only worn here by men for sporting events or exercise. A cultural point to consider is that hair is worn short by men in Kazakhstan, and beards on younger men are rare.
- One suit
- One or two sport coats
- Three ties
- Three dress shirts (long and short sleeves—bring short sleeves even if you do not wear them in America)
- Three pairs dress slacks (chino/khaki type but dark colors)
- Three pairs of shorts
- Three T-shirts/regular shirts for everyday wear
- One pair of slacks/shorts that zip off at the knees (you cannot wear shorts to training events and if you have afternoon plans these will be a life-saver; also great if you know you will be visiting a mosque in Kazakhstan or if you go on vacation to another Muslim country like Turkey or the UAE and don’t want to wear pants all day.)
- Two pairs of jeans (not usually acceptable for work attire)
- Six pairs of socks, preferably not white
Kazakhstani women are very fashion conscious. Don't let any pre-conceived notions deceive you; most of the women dress in modern clothing-- diverse in colors and extremely chic. Any advice about black and gray are remnants of a Soviet Era. Don't feel constricted to funeral colors, but don't buy clothing suitable for a clown, either. American women should wear skirts that are at least knee length. In a few communities, schools do not approve of women wearing pants in the classroom. Also, blouses and upper portions of dresses should be modest (in terms of cleavage). In certain cities and towns in Kazakhstan, you will see women in mini-skirts and other scant attire. While acceptable for locals, be aware that for Kazakhstanis, this sends a certain message about your character. Generally, Kazakhstani women wear dress boots to work in the winter and sandals in the summer.
Hair is styled in all sorts of ways, and shouldn’t be a problem. Local hair-coloring products are not up to par, but that depends on location. In big cities, you can expect to find a respectable amount of hair dyes. Although, we’ve seen some interesting interpretations of henna and even blond hair coloring. It's best to go with your natural color, or bring what you need.
- Dress jackets
- Plenty of mid-length and long skirts and dresses
- Jeans (acceptable in larger cities)
- Dress pants
- Dress shirts
- At least one good outfit for formal occasions
- Comfortable walking shoes that also look a little dressy
- One or two pairs of shorts and a short skirt or two (for American social occasions)
- Tights and leggings (thick leggings are extremely helpful for layering in winter)
- Jewelry and makeup (both are worn here, and available)
- Slips (cotton, lightweight)
- Sturdy winter boots, which can be worn with skirts and dresses and dress pants
- PLENTY of undies and good bras.
It's important to keep in mind that clothes are line-dried. Many areas of the country lack washing machines as well, so prepare for the possibility of hand washing.
A special note for younger women: What here is defined as "fashionable" to local women is not necessarily the same meaning as in the West. Young women of the former Soviet Union tend to consider shiny patent leather, high boots with thin heels and tight-fitting sheer tops fashionable. Although it has been warned that you don't want to give off a certain impression here, you are able to get away with a "sexier" look than is typical in professional environments in the United States. If you don't at least adopt a slicker and more structured look, you will look like a twelve year old, which will do nothing for the level of respect that you will receive. Unless you are planning to dress like an older professional by US standards, your best bet for increased respect is to think "sexy professional."
This may sound challenging if you are a young woman larger than a US size 8, and there are added challenges of finding clothing locally if you are bigger. In the United States, women are not considered "bigger" until they are bigger than a US size 14 or 16, but in Kazakhstan, bigger comes at a lower number and availability of inexpensive clothing is limited up to about a US size 10 (size 48 locally). While there are European clothing stores in the cities that carry a more "normal" range of sizes, women who are "bigger" by local standards should think more strategically about bringing a more substantial set of clothes under the guidelines of "sexy professional."
People typically wear black and gray in winter, especially as far as jackets are concerned. Having a brightly colored jacket will make you stick out as a foreigner. It is also not a bad idea to avoid white (especially in the case of socks) because this will be the hardest to keep clean.
Pert Plus, Gillette, and even Herbal Essences can easily be found at the smallest bazaars, so don’t go overboard on the toiletries unless there is some aftershave, shampoo or whatever that you can’t live without for two years.
- One washcloth and one towel (these are available locally, but quality is often not that great)
- Razors or electric shaver, shaving cream
- Shampoo and conditioner (might not be your favorite brand, but many types are available here)
- Nail clipper
- Toothpaste (Crest and Colgate are available)
- Good toothbrushes
- Soap (if your skin is sensitive, you may want to bring a good supply)
- Deodorant (available here)
- Feminine hygiene products are available at all sites in Kazakhstan so there is no need to bring an extensive supply
Odds & Ends
- Flashlight: very powerful and illuminating (power outages are regular which makes it a pain to shave or make posters for a lesson, so this will help tremendously)
- One of two sturdy water bottles (e.g., Nalgene)
- Battery charger and at least four rechargeable batteries
- Electricity converter kit (the voltage is 220 and is uniform across Asia. It should have a pair of parallel, round prongs)
- A lot of good books (Note that the Peace Corps office has a library from which you can check out books)
- Random House’s Russian: Living Language audio program
- Copy of Lonely Planet: Central Asia
- Lots of music
- Laptop (if applicable) with DVDs if you want to watch movies
- Leatherman or Swiss Army knife
- Office supplies
- Two luggage locks
- Day planner
- Toiletries bag and initial set of toiletries
- Digital camera (great for e-mailing photos home and you do not want to carry pictures around for two years)
- High-quality backpack (will need to get your stuff to Kazakhstan, as well as for vacation out-of-country and when you go camping in-country; there are lots of beautiful places to go camping in the eastern and western parts of the country)
- Hand sanitizer (important to have when eating out since many places will not have bathrooms or you wouldn’t want to use the facilities if they did. Clean hands will help you avoid sickness during pre-service training. Your body will have enough things stressing it out already.)
- Pictures, Pictures, Pictures—People in Kazakhstan, especially your students if you are a teacher, love to see pictures of their Volunteer’s life in America. Pictures of the close major cities to you and your family to things as mundane as the local supermarket and the car you drive will all be crowd pleasers. They will also be a great icebreaker with your host families, which you will be desperate for since you will have all of two Russian lessons under your belt on the day you go to live with them.
- Gifts for host families
In your haste to prepare for the brutal Central Asian winter, do not forget to prepare for the equally brutal Central Asian summer, especially in the south. It tops off at 110 F out here and AC is pretty hard to come by. Have good summer stuff, too. Don’t worry about sun block or mosquito netting as both will be provided by Peace Corps.
The only medical supplies you should need are initial supplies of prescription medications—Peace Corps will provide the rest.
After a couple of weeks here you will miss flavors other than fat in your food. Bringing spices you like with you is an excellent idea both for yourself and for introducing yourself to locals. You will get requests to cook things from locals and also it is a nice thing to do for people who will no doubt be cooking for you repeatedly. Do not use them for a while after you arrive even though you may be tempted. A few other hints: ranch mix and barbeque sauce are always missed by Volunteers.
Office supplies are of poor quality here and having Sharpie pens that do not run out the third time you use them, three-ringed binders/folders, and clipboards are all luxuries foreign to this land. They will also be great tools for your class if you are a secondary English teacher and the folders you will need for the copious amounts of paperwork that Peace Corps will give you during training and expect you to hold on to.
Gifts for Host Families
While it is not something you have to bring it is a nice thing to do and will endear you to the family. If you go visiting at someone’s house (which you will do a lot in the next two years), it is polite to bring a gift and this is a great way to start since you will be living with them for three months. The best gifts are often the most useful ones. The two most popular gifts I have given to date are a high-powered flashlight (due to the power outages) and a large scented candle. For many of the families, money is tight so lavish, luxury items aren’t as big a hit as they would be in the U.S. Candy or something that can be consumed the first night you are with them is also a nice icebreaker. Remember, you will have two host families in Kazakhstan.
Many of you have just gotten out of college and cannot afford to blow a thousand bucks at REI as some of the other people will. Things in Kazakhstan are significantly cheaper than they are in the U.S. and the people here had to survive the winters long before you decided to come here, so finding heavy-duty winter clothing here at a fraction of the price is totally feasible. However, the selection of sizes and colors may be limited. Some of the larger-sized trainees who arrived in 2006 found it very difficult to find coats that fit. They ended up having coats sent from the U.S. Additionally, the quality may not be as good. It is advisable to buy gloves, silk undergarments, and winter shoes at home and bring some sweaters and at least a jacket with you.
If you are thinking of buying one before you come pay the extra cash if you can for a DVD burner.