Hey Kirstin, what do you actually do?

April 8, 2012 · 3 comments

in daily life, Kyrgyzstan

My family thinks I’m in Russia. My friends think I’m a journalist. A lot of people I meet in Bishkek call me a spy (and I think they’re jerks). The House Hunters episode said my husband, Farrell, and I moved to Bishkek to start a media analysis company and cut out my brilliant explanation of what that means. So, here’s as easy of an explanation as I can possibly think of. Everything in this post is based on questions that people have actually asked me before.


(‘Research Facility’ photo source: Katie Quinn Davies)

Farrell and I started a research company. We do research of all kinds. At our former, pre-Bishkek jobs, we did media analysis, which is a subject that is near and dear to our hearts, and we’re constantly trying to convince clients of its importance.

Media analysis, does that mean you’re a journalist?

Nope. At our former job, it meant we both spent our days reading the news, not writing the news. Farrell, as a quantitative media analyst, would turn news articles into data that could be turned into fancy charts and graphs and used to spot statistical trends. My work was more qualitative (read: less math-heavy). Since moving to Bishkek in August 2010 and registering the business in February 2011, our work has focused much less on media analysis than we expected, but from time to time we will do some research projects related to media. To date, we have no plans to produce any media ourselves.

What kind of research do you do?

Mostly social research.

Social research, does that have anything to do with Twitter or Facebook?

No. It means research about people, about society. Lately a lot of our work has focused on researching the social impacts of gold mining in Kyrgyzstan, so we conduct surveys and focus groups in communities located near gold mines (or potential future mines) to determine how the mine affects different aspects of people’s lives.

Wait, but you don’t speak Kyrgyz. How can you research Kyrgyz-speaking people?

I hire employees who do speak Kyrgyz.

Back to the original question, what do you actually do then?

I run the business. I look for potential projects and clients, I write some proposals, I liaise with clients, I maintain the company website, I hire consultants and employees for projects, I delegate tasks, I do some desk research, I put the finishing touches on reports and deliverables, I provide native English skills for every single document that has to be produced in English (surprisingly, this gives us a fantastic edge against our competitors), I constantly freak out over taxes, I work weekends, I stress out, etc.

Umm. Okay, so what do you actually do on a day-to-day basis?

Now you’re just getting pushy. I work in an office. I don’t know if it’s a Bishkek thing or a general expat thing, but people I meet here are sometimes too focused on wanting me to explain every little detail about my work schedule.

Just asking! Anyway. What is Farrell’s role in all of this?

His role is pretty much the same as mine. I’m the owner of the company, he’s the director. Being a bit older and wiser than me, he probably has more face-time with clients than I do. Also, since he’s a nerd for statistics, I usually rely on him more to deal with those aspects of proposals and projects.

So how’s it all going?

Looking at the general picture comparing where the company was more than a year ago and where it is today, I can see things have definitely improved; we’re winning more projects, we’re more professional and generally know better about what we’re doing. The day-to-day reality can vary wildly, from awesome to awful. Suddenly our landlord is threatening to kick us out of the office. Suddenly we win a new contract and have to mobilize immediately. Suddenly we have three proposals to write in a week. Suddenly a contract employee is accused of stealing fieldworkers’ salaries. Suddenly a project is put off for a few months, more than a year, or indefinitely. Overall, I think the company’s success is trending upward, but it’s hard to tell after less than two years.

How long do you think you’ll keep it up?

Not sure, our time in Kyrgyzstan doesn’t currently have an end date. The big, dream goal at the moment is to build up the company to a point where it can mostly sustain itself, allowing Farrell and I to rotate between living in the states part-time and living in Bishkek part-time. It’s nowhere close to that at the moment though. Maybe a more short-term goal is just to earn a salary.

Wait, you don’t earn a salary?

Not yet, but, gosh, it would be wonderful.

Ok. Last question. Will you give me a job? I think I’d really enjoy having a job in Central Asia.

Subtle, right? Check the company website for job postings.

As exciting as it sounds sometimes to say, “Yeah, I started a business in Kyrgyzstan,” I hope this goes to show that I’m actually more normal (and boring) than people might think. I work in an office, I do my taxes, I deal with malfunctioning printers, etc. More questions? You’ll have to buy me a coffee first.

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