At Piqosity, we’re building an adaptive e-learning platform with content developed by experienced educators and writers. School counselor, writer, and artist Tim Suchsland is the archetypical renaissance man from whom his Seattle-area students and now Piqosity users are lucky to have.
Two reading comprehensions passages from our ISEE Middle Level test prep course are excerpts from Tim’s recently published book about his time volunteering in Asia after college: A Five Finger Feast: Two Years in Kazakhstan, Lessons from the Peace Corps.
Feast is a must-read for new and experienced travelers alike—eager students preparing to study abroad, would-be Peace Corps volunteers, or just anyone curious about the opportunities and obstacles that an unfamiliar land offers and metes out. Tim adroitly leverages the dual lenses of experience and time to immerse the reader in a strange, far-away world of laughing, crying, and cringing more than ten years after his transformative time in Kazakhstan. He uses often-comedic vignettes of his daily routine not only to explore complex geopolitical issues but also to articulate the challenges in simply growing up.
This read will leave you hungry—hungry to learn more about Kazakhstan, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and America’s role in the world, hungry to see what challenge Tim tackles next, and hungry to go out and involve yourself in countries and communities with which you are unfamiliar and uncomfortable. This read will inspire you to plan, prepare, and cook up your own banquet of indelible adventures.
A Nevada native with a master’s degree in counseling and educational psychology, Tim currently lives in Seattle where he counsels middle school students and paints. We asked Tim about his background, experience in Kazakhstan, and what he’s up to now.
Why He Joined the Peace Corps
“I caught the travel bug in college, and I’ve traveled extensively around the US, Europe and Central Asia.” Tim describes that his love for travel was part of his motivation to join the Peace Corps, “I have known about the Peace Corps since having teachers in middle and high school who served, so it had been in the back of my mind for a while.”
Tim reflects on the impact of the Peace Corps: “The work of any individual Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) is rather minuscule when put into perspective, and I often think PCVs get 10x more than what the locals we serve get. But I do firmly believe that the institution of the Peace Corps and the 200,000+ volunteers who have served is one of the greatest forces of good the US has ever put forth. Millions around the world have been positively impacted by a relationship with a PCV.”
He adds, “I thought – not only can I live in places less traveled through the Peace Corps, but I can have a unique post-grad experience that many don’t get. So, I joined the Peace Corps… back in 2007, you were assigned a country of service by the Peace Corps, so I didn’t have much choice on where I went,” he describes. “Nevertheless, Kazakhstan was the perfect fit for me.”
How Volunteering in Kazakhstan Shaped Him
“The country was such an unknown for me before I left for service, because most Americans don’t really know much about that part of the world,” Tim reflects. “I fell in love with so much of Kazakhstan and its culture.”
The excerpts from his work in our ISEE Middle Level test prep course include one piece that narrates his first few days in Kazakhstan, in which he describes his initial impressions of the country and locals. The second passage included in the course details the difficulty that comes with living across the globe from family.
“The closer we got to the city center, the bus began to slow down, and the mercury steadily rose. Inside it was hot, and outside the traffic was maddening. Vehicles swerved around each other in a yo-yo of bursts of speed and a caterpillar’s crawl.” (A Five-FInger Feast)
“I worked as an English teacher in a small village called Yavlenka, where I lived with host families and had to learn Russian,” he recounts. His time in Kazakhstan was far from a vacation, however: “It was also a hard experience in a lot of ways. Being dropped off in the middle of nowhere to work and learn a new culture and language is tough.”
Ultimately, his two years in Kazakhstan came to an end – “The experience was life-changing, and the people I met there really made a lasting impression on my life.” He continues, “Being in Kazakhstan showed me people are the same everywhere. We all have families, friends, and careers that we care about and want the best for. Some of the best people I ever met were in Kazakhstan.”
How He Became an Author, Artist, and Educator
Tim explains that his career as a middle school counselor are directly related to his time in Kazakhstan. “After volunteering as an English teacher in Kazakhstan, I realized how much I enjoyed impacting students and decided on a career as a school counselor back in the US. The Peace Corps experience has helped to ground me and provide perspective in my job as an educator.”
As a way to better understand and share his experience Tim photographed and wrote extensively about his daily life in Kazakhstan. “I had a ton of fodder for my artwork and writing because I took so many pictures, videos and I wrote a lot of emails home during my time there. I just felt like I wanted to record this unique experience, so I began drawing and writing a lot about Kazakhstan around 2012-13.”
When asked why he makes artwork, Tim says, “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve just liked to create. It’s an innate need for me.” Inspired by the comic Calvin and Hobbes, his work focuses on the impact of travel and the roles history and place play in our views on life, memories, and ideas. He uses humor and irony of the mundane – “…and sometimes not so mundane,” he adds – to integrate social commentary in his art. “My work tends to have an illustrative quality, and I work primarily in water color and sumi ink.”
How did he get his stories published? “It took me several years to get many of my stories completed and I didn’t do much on them for about 3-4 years,” Tim adds. “Then, after lots of editing during the Covid Pandemic, last fall, Peace Corps Writers took on my book through their imprint.”
Tim’s book, A Five Finger Feast: Two Years in Kazakhstan, Lessons from the Peace Corps, has just been published in May 2022, and quickly rose to a number one new release on Amazon where you can buy it!
Head to Tim’s website to view his art and learn more about his journey.
Online ELA and Test Prep Courses with Piqosity
The adaptation of Tim’s writing as a reading comprehension passages is available in our ISEE Middle Level test prep course along with other original works by authors like McSwazey and Robin Owens. Throughout all of Piqosity’s ELA and Test Prep courses, there are hundreds of passages like these that aim to entertain students while helping them practice their reading comprehension skills!
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