An international student in Kazakhstan: Tips on settling in | Top Universities

An international student in Kazakhstan: Tips on settling in

By Baurzhan Irisbayev

Updated May 3, 2022 Updated May 3, 2022

I moved to Shymkent in Kazakhstan to study at JSC South Kazakhstan Medical Academy from my home city in Uzbekistan. I was nervous about moving to a new country on my own, but I had a dream to study medicine at a reputable university and I had to take the leap for my future. 

After five years of living in Kazakhstan, I’ve overcome the challenges of settling into a new place while studying abroad. I have loved my experience as a student and plan on living here after I graduate.   

As an international student myself, I’ve provided my top tips for settling into university life in Shymkent, Kazakhstan.  

Learn the Kazakh language 

Student learns Kazakh language

The first thing I did when I arrived in Kazakhstan was to take steps to better understand the language. Most of the local population speak Kazakh, so to be able to get around and find out what I needed, I had to converse with local people.  

Thankfully, the people in Shymkent are very friendly and were willing to help me when I struggled to communicate. This meant I could learn new words when I moved around the city. My university friends have also been incredibly helpful in learning the language. They’d often speak to me in Kazakh and help me with words I didn’t know.  

At JSC South Kazakhstan Medical Academy, there are different language clubs where people get together and communicate from varying levels of fluency. These clubs helped me to improve my English and Kazakh skills and I can now say that I’m proudly fluent in Kazakh after five years of studying in Shymkent.  

The Kazakh language is easy to learn because words are written the way they are pronounced. I can also speak Uzbek, which is a similar language to Kazakh, so that made it easier for me to understand.  

Navigate the city 

Navigating Shymkent by bus

Shymkent is a beautiful city, so there is lots to explore. The first places I found were the best supermarkets and bazaars to shop in for the cheapest, quality foods. Very important for students! Luckily there’s lots of choice in the city, from Magnum to Verkhniy to the Avtonur supermarkets.    

Thanks to recommendations from my university friends, and from finding my own favourite places, I began to discover the best spots to relax and have fun in between my studies. Mizam Café serves delicious, freshly cooked food and Abay Park is a huge outdoor space that’s never too crowded.  

I also studied bus routes and the location of polyclinics and hospitals because some of my classes are taught in medical settings around the city. I downloaded an app to find my way to any destination in the Shymkent, which was very helpful when I needed to get somewhere on time.  

Get involved in cultural events and social gatherings 

While studying can feel intense at times, I managed to find time at weekends and on major holidays to have fun and get involved in social activities in the city. I found a student organisation called Birlesu (Unity) which runs tours around the city like hiking in the mountains, visiting historical landmarks and more.  

For the annual celebration of Nauryz or ‘New Day’ in March, people cook food, make treats and dance in the street. It’s the most important holiday in Kazakhstan and so it was great to join the people of Shymkent to celebrate.  

Find friends who help you 

Friends hanging out in the city

Having moved to a new city in a new country, making friends from Shymkent and from around the world helped me to feel settled and adapt to life in a new place. Even though I moved to Kazakhstan on my own, I didn’t feel alone when I had lots of friends to spend time with.  

It’s easy to make friends in Shymkent, especially when I joined my university’s student organisations, and from attending events in the city and meeting people in the streets as I explored. Friends were always there in difficult times. With them, I walked in a variety of places without fear of getting lost. There were times when, like many students, I experienced financial difficulties and my friends helped me to overcome them when my parents were in my home country.  


I didn’t take me long to settle into student life in Shymkent, Kazakhstan. With lots of friends to show me the ropes, social events to attend and knowing where to find the best food, the city became my home pretty quickly. I even decided to become a citizen of Kazakhstan. When I graduate, I will continue to live in Kazakhstan and become a rehabilitation specialist. 

This article was originally published in May 2022 .

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