“A Month at the London School in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan”
by Sydney Lazarus
Over winter break I studied Russian at the London School in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The program was recommended to me by various students for its flexibility and one-on-one instruction. Like theirs, my experience at the London School was also excellent.
The London School building
I arrived in Bishkek right after the ASEEES conference last December and started classes the next day. The typical schedule goes something like this. Students start their day at 8:30 with an 80-minute grammar class, then a 10-minute break, then an 80-minute reading class, then a 10-minute break, then a 60-minute conversation class, then a 40-minute break, and lastly an 80-minute writing class. This schedule provides 20 hours of instruction a week (students have Wednesdays off). There is also a less intensive schedule providing 4 hours of instruction a day for a total of 16 hours per week.
A typical classroom
All of the instruction is done using online textbooks provided by London School. Students have the option of taking a placement test before starting their program, or they can — as I did — simply estimate their level and move up or down depending on how hard the material is. Each lesson corresponds to a chapter of the textbook, and there is a set of vocabulary that serves as the basis for the grammar, reading, conversation, and writing classes. I found the vocabulary to be very useful. Many times I learned some new word or phrase in class and then heard it spoken on the street a few days later or saw it used in a magazine article.
Downtown Bishkek, where Chuy Ave. intersects Yusul Abdrakhmanov St.
London School offers homestays and dormitory living. Because I was in Bishkek for such a short period of time, I stayed in the one of the dorm rooms on the second floor of the school and shared a kitchen and bathroom with a young couple who was working at the London School as English teachers. During the academic year, the London School is primarily for local students who are studying English. Summer is when foreign students tend to come to learn Russian or Kyrgyz. Over winter break, I was the only foreign student at the London School. The School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS) blog has a lot of entries on studying at the London School during the summer, and I would recommend anyone who’s considering London School to check out that blog. Things are livelier in the summer, there are more excursions, and it’s a great time to go hiking in Ala-Archa National Park or go to Issyk-Kul. Bishkek itself also has a lot of parks.
I went on a London School-organized excursion to Burana Tower. The rest of my free time was largely spent exploring Bishkek. I went to the National Opera and Ballet Theater to see “The Nutcracker,” watched a Kyrgyz-Uzbek film, “Delbirim,” at the Ala-Too Cinema, and had a misadventure involving the kontrol’nyi listok at the National Library. But the place I probably went to more than anywhere else was Faiza, a restaurant that serves Central Asian and Russian dishes and that was filled every night with people dining in and getting takeout.
Bishkek was extremely charming in the winter, and I expect it to be even more so in the summer. My only advice is to arrange a long enough stay so that you have the chance to explore other parts of Kyrgyzstan.
Sydney Lazarus is a second-year M.A. student at REEEC. Her research interests include language and education policy in contemporary Macedonia. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and Slavic languages and literature from Northwestern University.