Vignettes that reflect the warmth of the season

24 декабря 2013, 18:41

Sights and sounds of the holidays:

* * * *

She was only about 4 years old.

When she walked into the Ramstor at Kenessary and Imambayev ahead of me, she was proudly holding her grannie's hand.

She chatted softly with grannie until she saw the tree.

Then her eyes shone, and for a moment she was silent, mesmerized.

The tree was draped with tinsel, and its colored lights were twinkling. And at the very top was a silver star. The scene had this warm glow about it, as if the world were right for a moment.

It was too much for the little one.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

She began chirping with excitement about the glittering wonder, pulling her grannie's hand toward the tree to give her a better look.

Grannie didn't say much. She didn't have to. Her looks said it all. She smiled down at the girl adoringly.

It took several minutes for the little one to leave the tree – and you could see it was with reluctance.

This scene of pure childhood innocence made me think of the magic of the Christmases and New Year's I'd spent in the States as a child.

For a moment I felt the urge to rush up to the little one, scoop her into my arms and give her a huge hug.

Then I thought better of it, worried that both she and grannie would think the foreigner deranged.

* * * *

It was my last day of class at Nazarbayev University before the winter break, and I'd planned to give my students a review of the subjects that would be covered on the final exam.

I found two girls blocking the door to the classroom, however. One was holding her hand out like a traffic cop giving pedestrians a “stop” signal.

“Please come back in 10 minutes,” she smiled.

When I did, I found a metallic-blue holiday wreath draped about and colored lights twinkling, and cake and juice on the desk.

And faces full of rapture.

Sometimes you have to ad lib when you're a professor.

“I 've posted the review online,” I told the students. “You can study it on your own, without a classroom review.”

They beamed and waited with anticipation for what I would say next.

I confess to being misty-eyed at that moment.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

“I love you,” I said. “And I can't tell you how much I admire you. You've been pioneers in this grand experiment with Western education in Kazakhstan. I know it's been hard for you to adapt to a totally new approach to education and to professors who think differently because they're from other countries.

“But you're doing it – and in a language that isn't your own. I can only imagine how hard it would be if I were trying to get through a university in Japan, with all the coursework in Japanese.

“There's been added pressure on you because this university is very high-profile,” I continued. “It has President Nazarbayev's name on it, and the people of Kazakhstan are watching, and they have high expectations. But you're meeting those expectations. You first group of students at this university are setting the tone, paving the way for all of those coming behind you. And you're going to be doing great things for your country after you graduate in 2015. I salute you.”

The students cheered  

“OK, let's start the program,” I said.

We cut the cake and poured the juice.

Then we sang some holiday songs.

When the two girls had barred me from the door, I knew something was up, so I went to my computer and printed out the lyrics to my favorite holiday song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

We sang that, and “Jingle Bells,” and two or three others.

A couple of students offered toasts to me – with juice, of course. One was to me as a teacher and a person. Another was to my health.

After a few more festivities it was over.

Everyone knows that the best part of holidays is being with family.

Nazarbayev University students have become family to me.

It's a joy to be around them.

And I know they're gonna be family forever.

* * * *

Happy holidays, everyone!

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Photo courtesy

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