What kind of language training do you get? What should I do to prepare now?
Every month you will get a living allowance deposited into your Kazakhstan bank account, provided to you by Peace Corps (CitiBank). You can use a wide variety of popular Kazakhstan ATM providers for no fee, such as KazKom and Alliance. Your monthly allowance will consist of living allowance, “leave allowance” (very small) and transportation allowance. During PST, PC pays your HF for food and lodging directly so you don’t have to worry about that (you get VERY little though on top of it so extra groceries the first 3 months will honestly not be that affordable for you). The solution I think is to mention some things you may enjoy eating to your HF and see if they will buy it, but honestly we are mostly expected to eat whatever they eat (which can be difficult…a lot of dough and meat and oil). In the summer at least groceries are cheap though so you can afford to buy those famous Kazakhstanian apples 🙂 As for when you get to site in November…you will pay your host family a lump sum for housing and food that PC gives you, equal to ~60% of your total monthly payment, whatever tier you are on. One of my sitemates is vegetarian and she asked her family if she could take some $ out of that budget and buy some of her own groceries, and her host mom agreed — so she is able to supplement what her host mom feeds her with cereal, yogurt, fruit and some veggies she likes. It kind of depends on your HF’s flexibility and whatever agreement you work out. The 60% figure is also flexible because you can take out money to buy your own lunches at your work cafeteria for example and not be fed lunch at home. On months when you travel extensively you can also ask to take out money for food/utilities (though your group will only be required to be in the HF for 4 months, Nov-Feb, well before summer travel months, so this may not be as relevant for you. However you can stay with the HF as long as you wish, and of course in some of the smallest villages there may not be the option of moving out).
Once you move out into your own place, rent will usually cost a bit less than 50% of your allowance. Thus you should be left with about half to spend on food, transportation, entertainment, or whatever else (like I said other than food, there won’t be much else to spend on in a village). So it’s not enough to eat out every day or live like an expat by any means, and when you go into Almaty it will be very hard to afford things (especially during PST, when your budget is considerably smaller and you may have to supplement a bit — many in our group did). Most volunteers though save up at site and then are able to go out with friends during Almaty visits (for mid-service physical, IST, MST, etc.).
If you economize, you can save enough for a plane ticket back to America after a year (~$1500). If you’d rather use that money to travel in this region, you definitely can. Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan (if things there stabilize) trips can run as little as $300-400 each total for a week’s vacation — including travel by bus, visas, lodging and food! Other popular international destinations are Turkey, India, Thailand and China, for which you can get $400-500 flights if you buy early (though China you will also need $150-200 for a visa). Local travel within Kaz by train is pretty cheap, and teachers especially can take advantage of summers and take “business” leave to go help other PCVs around the country run camps — then you don’t even have to use vacation days! A train ticket from one side of the country to the other won’t be much more than ~5000 tenge ($33) one-way. You will have plenty of opportunity to see various parts of Kz while you’re here if you so desire (e.g. the Nauryz traditional Kazakh holiday in Shymkent/South Kazakhstan in March, or Kresheniya, the winter Russian Orthodox holiday in January where people dunk themselves into the ice up north by Russia).
Will I have a lock on my door at my Host Family?
You should — it is one of the requirements of PC HFs. Whether or not this is always the case is another matter. If it is extremely important to you and you don’t have one, push for it. There have been problems with theft before in volunteer HFs, either by HF members themselves or outsiders. Overall though this is definitely an exception rather than the rule — more common is just a general lack of awareness of personal space and the idea that the Volunteer’s things are “communal” for family use. Discoveries by PCVs that their markers or lotion are mysteriously diminishing from inside their drawers is more common than actual theft of valuables. If you’re worried, bring a luggage lock or two — I left my room unlocked, but locked all my important or personal things up in my big suitcase. That should cover you against anything except for the most egregious robberies (which probably wouldn’t happen unless someone from outside broke into the actual home anyway).
Should I bring a laptop/netbook?
Honestly, my opinion is that everyone should bring a laptop/netbook to KZ. During long cold winter nights you will want something with which you can watch movies to take a break. You may also need it for work because you have no idea what your school/workplace will provide you. For example if you want to write a PC grant to fund a project but you live in a village with no internet cafe, it will be nice to have your laptop to work on just for word processing. There is no guarantee your school will have those facilities for you, though they might. I also use my laptop to exercise, as I put on exercise/yoga videos. I recommend the Kindle too but without a laptop to download new media, it’s going to be hard to even use it (you can’t get the 3G wireless network in KZ, sadly!;). Nearly every PCV I know here has their own personal laptop for media and personal use, writing blog posts, doing work, etc…even if they aren’t regularly plugged in to internet. Also with your own laptop the few times you will be able to get internet in wireless cafes or the PC office in Almaty, you will be able to do so.
How close were you to the luggage limit?