Phillip Bell, CPS teaching fellow: “Even the feeling of life became different here”

Phillip Bell joined NU team in 2010, he has been teaching at the Center for Preparatory studies since the very beginning of NU. He witnessed all the changes in university life. And today he shares his memories and thoughts in his interview to the university website.

Phillip Bell has a very interesting professional background. Before coming to NU he has worked in the United Kingdom, in the United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia in different organizations including UN HQ in New York, USA. Mr. Bell has 30 years of teaching experience, and nine of them he dedicated to NU.

– It seems that you are a light-feet person, always ready to grab your things and move to a new place…
– Well, as long as I have a quiet apartment, a good shower and my books or some books. Wherever I live, my daily routine is much the same: it is about doing some exercise, running or going to gym and reading.

– What influenced your decision to join NU?
– That was a time when I was ready to leave Saudi Arabia, so I was looking for a place to go. This position was advertised by UCL (University College of London – first partner of the Center of Preparatory Studies). It was really exciting for me to come to Kazakhstan. I grew up during the Cold War so travelling to a part of the former Soviet Union was just impossible that time. I was always interested in Russian and Soviet History, I liked Russian literature, so in Kazakhstan the native language is Kazakh, but Russian is still widespread, therefore it was very interesting for me. Another interesting fact: one of my first student in the UN was a Kazakh diplomat from Almaty, called Murat – when I was working at the UN there were quite a few people from the former Soviet Union.

– Did it met your expectations?
– I would say I did not have any specific expectations. Probably this is my philosophy: to be open minded and ready for something new. Everything was very pleasant, students were great, the University was fine.

– What do you teach?
– I teach EAP which involves academic writing, referencing and developing research skills of the students.

– How would you describe students in Kazakhstan? Do you think that students are the same everywhere?
– They are not. On the whole, NU students are very motivated, diligent, respectful. I have worked here for 9 years and I am always amazed that most of the students here have never been anywhere except for Kazakhstan and at the same time they have such good language skills, and so well prepared. Of course, they have the internet, and this is a real advantage now, however, they seem to be very culturally aware about things going on in Europe or America. From the first year till now the students are very good. Every year we have first rate students with excellent language skills.

– What is your regular schedule here?
– I try to get up early and go to the gym, do some exercises. I like to go to Fitness Palace. After work I spend the rest of my day reading, trying to study Russian, listening to BBC radio. I call my children in the US and in Istanbul. It is the same every week. Reading is exciting for me. I like Russian poetry, popular science books, history, philosophy, literature.

– So you are not a social person.
– Not so much. After work I need to be alone, to recharge my batteries.

– Any mindful techniques?
– That is something I am always working on. I would like to practice yoga, but I need a good teacher. I am not flexible, and I have no patience. I can exercise vigorously, running etc. But if I have to stretch, hold it to 10, exhale and inhale: this is difficult for me. I am still hopeful that I can force myself to do it one day.

– Who is your favorite philosopher?
– I guess David Hume, his philosophy makes sense to me. Schopenhauer is interesting.

– Karl Jung?
– Not really, he is more psychologist to me, not a strict philosopher.

– And you said, you like Russian poetry? Any specific poets?
– Obviously, I have to say Pushkin. Pushkin was a very good observer of nature, seasons, very sensitive to them.

– And to females?
– Yes, he has a lot of poetry about love and romantic. But I also liked Fet, Blok is kind of mysterious to me, Akhmatova – she writes about personal relationships, Tyutchev. But Pushkin is the best. My Russian is not good enough to read novels, but I like reading poetry. Sometimes I need to look up some words, but I can understand the feeling and the meaning.

– Interesting, because these poets use old-fashioned language
– Yes. For example, ‘KRASA’ is beauty. You know, poetry is good for studying grammar. For example, Fet wrote ‘chudnaya kartina – svet nebes vysokih’. So ‘nebes’ – genitive plural (roditelnyi padezh), and there is no ending, and ‘vysokih’ is adjective. So if you learn poetry, it is very memorable, and it is better than a big table in a grammar book. I remember now that a word in genitive plural has zero ending.

– It is a good advice to learn Russian grammar with poetry
– Or another example from Fet: “Ya prishel k tebe s privetom’…

– Rasskazat, chto solnce vstalo…
– Yes. So he says ‘k tebe’ – datelnyi padezh. ‘S privetom’ – tvoritelnyi padezh. So the best way to learn grammar is to learn sentences. Real sentence, because they mean something.

– It’s been nine years you have been living in Astana, what changes can you notice in the city? Are there any things that you miss here?
– I can only speak about only small part of Astana and NU campus. For me it seems quite safe, pleasant, public transport is good and not expensive. I do not use taxis, I prefer buses. I have noticed that traffic got worse in Astana since I moved there. It used to be a very quick journey to get on campus from Northern Lights. Today it’s not. I like the part of the city located on the right bank of the river, close to the train station at the old Soviet memorabilia. I bought there a nice old Soviet clock, which is just great. And I bought a bust of Yessenin, and the owner also gave me an old copy of Pravda newspaper and an old book of Alexander Blok’s poems. What I miss here – it is a flea market. And I also miss English bookstores. Yes you can find English books in Astana, but not so many.

– Next year NU will celebrate its 10th anniversary, and you are about to celebrate your anniversary as well. What motivates you working at NU?
– I remember how NU started with 500 students in Block 2. And now we can see as the university has expanded in many ways. There are more buildings, students, staff. The library has more books. There are more cafes, so many places just to seat and talk. I would say, just more things are happening here. And even the feeling of life became different. You asked about motivation. The classes and teaching are very rewarding. I have good relationships with students, I keep contact with the students, even from the first graduated class. The students often are very appreciative, they express gratitude. I receive a lot of satisfaction from my work. I enjoy teaching!