I will be spending summer 2016 in Kyrgyzstan learning Russian, and this will end 10 days before university starts again. Where should I fly to while I'm on that side of the globe? The only limitation I have is that I can't take multiple flights (like visiting 5 cities in a short span of time). At the most I can visit 2 cities (like Istanbul and Rome, for example).
What is the best place to go? I can stay in Kyrgyzstan and just see various tourism destinations in the country, which include skiing, trekking, and visiting bazaars.
It's basically a police state, there is nothing to fear as a foreign tourist. (I'm British and was there a couple of months ago). I found everyone immensely hospitable and friendly, and curious about me, but in a nice way, even in Tashkent, which has a real totalitarian vibe. What happens when the (very aged) President dies is an open question, though. The UK foreign office advises against travelling to some areas bordering Afghanistan, while the Ferghana valley in the NE of the country has a bit of a shaky history. But everywhere else is fine. I would be far more concerned about safety in the south of Kyrgyzstan (Osh, Jalal-abad), although as an American you'd not be in any special risk. Tajikistan is mostly a bit dodgy right now though
I may be totally wrong, but as far as I remember it's quite an autocratic regime, and they cracked down any subversive elements, stamping out islamic culture along the way. Stable as far as I know, but you'll have to verify because I may be confusing it with another country.
I just used cash in Uzbekistan. Even in Samarkand and Bukhara not many places accept credit or debit cards (Tashkent is possibly a bit different). But my impression was overall that it's strictly a cash economy, and really you'd be a fool not to exchange your dollars on the black market (illegal, but everyone does it, as the rates are two or three times as good as the official one).
No, not in Uzbekistan. Seriously people will approach you everywhere- outside railway stations, taxi drivers, in markets, tourist places. Everyone is at it. Trying to find places to exchange money legally is MUCH MUCH harder - even at the airport. Honestly. Basically Uzbekistan is a non-market economy -in some ways it still the USSR - the rules that apply in Western economies really don't exist.
That will help greatly, especially if you stay with a family there. But it's tough. I only became fluent in Russian (studying it for my degree) after living in a Russian-speaking part of Ukraine for several months, and that was after two years of college, and a month course in St Petersburg. So good luck!