To apply, first read the following description carefully. If you’re interested, you find a link with further information at the bottom of the page.

  • Application deadline

    July 7 2019

  • Price

    CHF 995

What’s awaiting you

A black spot on many people’s minds, Kazakhstan is a remarkable country certainly worth exploring in depth. Its history, rapid economic development, tumultuous political situation and complex societal fabric invite a more nuanced examination in close interaction with local people. A visit would not be complete without appreciating the country’s natural beauty as well, not least since its vast size and seemingly endless steppe is very much part of Kazakhstan’s identity. Nevertheless, this trip will give you an experience that goes beyond the image of horses on a plain, hoping to reveal that what lies below that plain is equally rewarding to explore – or far more so in fact.

We will be accompanied by a local resident throughout the trip, most of the time by co-organizer Aima. Being able to exchange and calibrate our own experiences with a local’s perspective shall ensure that we can contextualize and understand better what we see and through this hopefully get a more valuble, longer-lasting, more responsible and ultimately richer picture of Kazakhstan as a replacement for the black spot.

Apart from the more concrete meetings and interactions with institutions (as outlined below), we will along the way have plenty of opportunity to discuss in more informal settings topics such as the ethnic and cultural diversity in the country and possible tensions arising from it, the role Islam plays in people’s lives (or rather how different a role it plays for different people), the amalgamation of languages in everyday life and in which way the political system might and might not affect residents.

All transportation will be overland by train, bus or minibus. The country is big, distances are long. But the rides are beautiful. Bring patience, appreciation for seeig landscapes unfolding slowly and some good music. At times, the programme is quite dense, likely offering you lower-than-used-to amounts of sleep. That’s ok; you can rest after the trip.

Accomodation will be partially simple twin/double rooms, partially more rudimentary multi-bed dormitories and one night of camping.

Meet the Organizers

Aima Seitova

Aima is a simultaneous interpreter and a translator of English and French into Russian. She works for the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan. Born in Almaty, but most of her life has been living in the capital city of Kazakhstan. Aima graduated from the Eurasian National University. After her graduation, she spent a month in France, La Baule, where she went for a cultural internship and became friends with 45 people from 27 different countries. She has always been passionate about foreign languages, meeting new people, communicating with them and also travelling. And this determined her career choice. Aima is eager to help other people to discover her homeland, to learn about Kazakhstan from a different perspective and make new friends!

Kaspar Tobler

A two-months internship at the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Almaty last summer brought Kaspar in touch with the highly interesting, complex and beautiful country that is Kazakhstan. Attending several conferences and meetings where he got in touch with numerous fantastic people – including Aima – he already then started to think about a potential study trip and is now extremely happy to indeed organize one together with Aima. Kaspar studied Environmental Sciences in Zurich and currently works as a research associate in the area of natural catastrophe risk modelling. He has been part of the IFIL board for many years, ever since attending a memorable study trip to China in 2013.

Detailed Programme

Note that the programme is preliminary and might be subject to change.

  • 13.08.

    Almaty; welcome and intro

    • Offical start of trip 11am
    • Introduction presentation; meet and greet
    • Informal city walk together; get a feel for the place
    • Big Kazakh-style welcome dinner with local friends
  • 14.08.

    Almaty; student life

    • Visit leading public university Al-Farabi Kazakh National University; meeting students and a representative of the UNESCO Kazakhstan Chair.
    • Visit leading private university KIMEP; meeting students and internaitional student office representatives
    • Interactive workshop with students on local customs of Kazakhstan and Switzerland.
    • Dinner on beatiful Kok Tobe (“Blue Hill”).
  • 15.08.

    Almaty; its past and present

    • In-depth city walk with expert on Almaty’s history and architectural fabric, including suburban settlements which were established in Tsarist times and have maintained their old village structures.
    • Visit the city’s most bustling market.
    • Talking politics I
    • Evening: boarding night train, heading south-west to Shymkent.
  • 16.08.

    Shymkent and Turkistan; leaving the metropolis

    • Early morning arrival in Shymkent, where we will only stay a few hours to break up the long journey.
    • Free time in Shymkent. Roam the city and examine how it differs from Almaty.
    • Move further west to Turkistan.
    • Explore the city’s main sight, the breathtaking Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasavi; strolling around the quaint city an enjoying its calm evening atmosphere.
  • 17.08.

    Turkistan and Shymkent

    • If possible making an excursion into the surrounding desert, potentially exploring the ancient ruin city of Sauran, once Kazakhstan’s largest city, learning about the region’s past going back to the Mongols and Tamerlane.
    • Return to Shymkent. Rest.
    • Evening: heading back to Almaty by night train.
  • 18.08.

    Almaty; Soviet stories and great transformations

    • Half-day free to rest or roam, depending on individual energy levels.
    • Meeting a septuagenarian who will tell us about life in Soviet times and how the economic boom since independence has changed daily life. Aima will do simultaneous translation which also makes a Q&A session possible.
    • Early rest – the country is big, getting around takes time, tomorrow we’re on the road again.
  • 19.08.

    Altyn Emel National Park; the serenity of true remoteness

    • Ride to Altyn Emel National Park (one of the country’s largest).
    • Visiting and climbing the remarkable Singing Dune, which towers lonely over a mostly sand-free environment.
    • Moving on towards the uniquely beautiful Aktau Mountains, where we can hike, chill, dance and discuss. Setting up tents for the night (tents will be provided).
  • 20.08.

    Aktau Mountains; the silence of Aktau, the sounds of Almaty

    • We enjoy the fact that we have some more time around the mountain range.
    • Driving back to Almaty.
    • In the early evening, we start an exploration into Almaty’s music scene, together with a local musician.
    • If energy levels allow, why not contrasting the night before with some good-old rooftop bar’ing. This is optional, of course.
  • 21.08.

    Almaty; talking politics

    • Slow start into the day. Getting a good rest.
    • For the rest of the day, the guiding theme will be politics and civil society. We  meet up with someone from the sphere of civic engagement, an NGO or a grassroots movement.
    • Evening: night train to Astana/Nur-Sultan.
  • 22.08.

    Astana/Nur-Sultan; a new capital

    The four days in Astana are not yet fixed in terms of what happens when, but will contain the following meetings/activities, each approximately a half-day:

    • Visiting the highly selective Nazarbayev University, a corner-stone in the country’s strategy for technological and scientific advances.
    • Astana Hub: a start-up and IT hub at the forefront of Kazakhstan’s innovation sphere; feeling the pulse of Astana’s up-and-coming start-up scene.
    • Visiting a leading local art space, learning about the region’s dynamic contemporary art scene, if possible meeting local artists, learning about what is driving them.
    • Meeting an architect who can give an insight into the gargantuan effort of building an entire new city in two decades and into some of the perks and peculiarities of the capital.
    • Meeting a highly experienced nature conservation expert, learning about the complex and difficult challenge of environmental protection in a natural resources-dependent economy.
  • 23.08.


    • See above.
    • In the evening attending a cultural event; theater/concert/opera, depening on availability.
  • 24.08.


    • See above.
    • Checking out the city’s Saturday nightlife. Optional of course.
  • 25.08.


    • See above.
    • We will finish the trip with a group session, looking back on the trip and trying to draw some first conclusions about what we have learnt and seen.
    • We will really finish the trip with a nice dinner “on the house”.


    Note: the trip officially finishes on the evening of the 25th, but the hotel for the night to the 26th is included in the price.

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