Making it Big On the Air, in Kazakhstan

Mar, 2018

It’s Friday night in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, where locals are catching the latest episode of "Hello, Птича!" (“Hello, Little Bird!”), Kazakh broadcaster Novoe TV’s weekly English-language educational show, created and hosted by Humboldt State alumnus Benjamin Taylor.

For Taylor (‘15, English--International Program), the road to Kazakhstan has been a long and rewarding one. Taylor served as both an Americorps and Peace Corps volunteer before joining the U.S. State Department’s English Language Fellow program.

As a Fellow, he spent a year at Eurasian National University in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana, and then moved on to Karaganda State Technical University in 2017. There, he works in close cooperation with the U.S. Embassy and his host institution to improve English-language learning throughout the region. “My job as a Fellow is to reach out to underserved communities and make English language learning accessible and available for as many people as possible,” Taylor says.

Taylor’s latest project shows how seriously he takes that responsibility.

Looking to reach out to new groups beyond his university students, Taylor started “Hello, Птича!,” a weekly TV and radio show. Building on a year’s experience producing educational videos with the U.S. Embassy in Astana, Taylor partnered with a Russian-speaking co-host, Valentina Babiruk, and two students to produce a fun and engaging broadcast focused on practical English.

The show is so successful, it has its own YouTube channel. And the show just received its biggest kudos yet: Taylor and his team have been nominated for an award in TV excellence by a Kazakh national media organization, slated to be announced at the end of February.

Taylor is honored by the nomination, but doesn’t care much about winning. “The fact that our show is being recognized on a national level in Kazakhstan is a big win for Novoe TV and Zhana FM, for the English language in Kazakhstan, and for the visibility of American people and culture in Kazakhstan,” he says.

Being an English Language Fellow is a challenging job, one far from home and everything familiar. Relocating from the plains of Southern Illinois to the steppes of Central Asia and teaching across language and cultural barriers can be a tough adjustment. But change and diversity work for Taylor. “Every student is different and each day unlike the one before,” he says. “Those differences compel me to focus on becoming my best self in and outside of the classroom.”

Taylor will continue his work as a Fellow through 2018, then stay on in Kazakhstan to pursue English-language video and radio work full-time. “Bridging the gaps between American culture and those I’m interacting with here and around the world has been one of my greatest joys,” he says.

Summing up his journey, he settles on a single word in his newly adopted language: “Рахмет!” As any loyal viewer of “Hello, Птича!” could tell you, it’s the Kazakh word for thank you.