I’m officially a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). I flew home on 1 August on a direct flight from Beijing. This time my suitcases were under the 50 pound limit as I mostly carried home my Mongolian clothes, gifts I received, and all of the goodies I bought in Ulaanbaatar. 

July was simultaneously a slow and fast month. It was pouring during the Naadam festivities. Then during one weekend, my entire town lost power. Last time this happened Mongolians had been forewarned about it and had told me, so I could pre-download movies and charge my external battery. However, this time, there was no warning. My closest friends had either left for the countryside or were in the city. I was standing in a dark supermarket with other Mongolians looking glumly at what we could buy that wouldn’t require electricity to prepare: a jar of pickles, canned fish, carrots, crackers. Ultimately, I dropped my shopping basket, walked out, and went straight to the bus station to buy the next ticket to the city. 

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Trying to avoid getting drenched at the Naadam stadium.
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A ride around the government square.
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Went out for dinner with Tuya’s family. 

Clearing out my apartment was a month-long process. For future Peace Corps Volunteers in Mongolia, don’t wait until the last few days to begin organizing, donating, and selling your items.  You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll accumulate. My apartment wasn’t going to have another Peace Corps Volunteer living in it so everything had to go. 

Peace Corps offices around the world have a special bell which volunteers are allowed to ring when we have successfully completed our service of two-years. It signals the end. My group decided to wait until everyone had finished their end of service interviews, medical exams, and other miscellaneous paper work in order to ring the bell together. We were a little too enthusiastic as a piece of the bell fell off.  

“We came in together, we’re leaving together.”

 

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With 5 out of 9 of the Yeruu gang/my training group from 2016.

 

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Returned Peace Corps Volunteer 🙂 

Now I’m happy to be home, but my time in Mongolia will be with me forever. 

Watch my video at the top for my last summer in Mongolia. 

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Lake Khövsgöl with the Junior Rangers

In June, I traveled to Khövsgöl Lake to help at a Junior Ranger camp hosted by the Mongol Ecology Center.

The arduous trip took seven-hours to Ulaanbaatar, followed by another seven-hours to Erdenet, and ending with a 5 hour drive to Hatgal in Khövsgöl.

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The 25-minute rest stop between my town and Ulaanbaatar.

Due to Mongolia’s ever turbulent weather, my bag was packed with a combination of rain gear, clothes for when it was hot during the day and clothes for when it got really cold in the evening.

While growing up I didn’t attend any camps as a child. Every season, I was always on a sports team, but camps I didn’t do. I was lucky to always have a parent at home and close friends nearby. As Tina Fey jokingly wrote in her book Bossypants, “I never went to summer camp, as I was neither underprivileged nor Jewish nor extremely Christian nor obese.” So consider this my first. 

The Junior Ranger camp was a 10-day event. First, we had to wait in Hatgal for the rest of the campers to arrive from Hanh soum. A small amount of campers are from Hatgal but most arrived from Hanh soum. The soum is further north up the lake. Their drive took 14 hours through the rain. All the kids were young with the youngest being 9 and the oldest being 12.  Once we were all united and introduced, we hiked to Murun where our camp site was on the eastern shore of the lake.

The boys slept in gers, the girls all slept in one large house, and the adults slept in two A-frame houses.

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The group of adult leaders consisted of three Peace Corps Volunteers, two Americans visiting from Texas (who are related to the founder of MEC), and three Mongolian high schoolers.

The point of the camp is to make campers environmentally conscious and to love and protect nature. Click here to find out more about the program and of Mongol Ecology Center. Activities included:

  • Water monitoring
  • Wild onion planting
  • First aid kit training
  • GPS training
  • Leave No Trace
  • Trash pick up
  • International special protected areas and tourism
  • Developing environmental projects to pursue at their schools
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Need advice for how to entertain 30 children or more? Just find a long piece of rope. They’ll be entertained for hours playing jump rope, limbo, etc. etc. etc. 
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Picking up trash at Wishing Rock.
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Hiking through the woods to Wishing Rock.
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Volleyball games everyday, all day. 

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Monitoring the water from the lake.
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Chuka and the Executive Director of MEC, Chimgee. 

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Additional games and activities consisted of:

  • An hour and a half of English lessons every day. Me and Chuka were in charge of the 5th graders
  • Felt making
  • Yoga which I led every morning 
  • Mental and emotional lessons
  • Volleyball
  • Disco night 
  • Jump rope
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Felt making with Bolor.

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Hiked to the top of the hills for wild onion planting.

The first half of the week was very busy but tapered off at the end. When the kids were busy and the adults weren’t needed, we went hiking, took naps, and even went swimming in the lake. The lake water was 12’C. There’s no WiFi and all the kids had to hand in their phones at the beginning of camp. We found various ways to entertain ourselves (e.g. when the kids were inside writing an essay, the rest of us were down by the lake skipping stones and seeing who could throw the most rocks into a hollow tree trunk). 

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The camp ground on the eastern side of Lake Khövsgöl. 
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A 6th grade camper.
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Skipping stones over the lake.
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Swimming in 12’C. 

The Junior Ranger program is meant to be enjoyable and exciting. However, the kids did have to write an essay and take a test to prove that they did learn something and were paying attention during the sessions. There was also no tolerance for unruly behavior. One camper was sent home for faking heat exhaustion. 

On the last day of camp, kids got certificates. The kids who placed the highest in their test scores received an automatic spot in the program for next summer. We took a boat across the lake back to Hatgal. We spent an hour hugging and saying goodbye to everyone and went home with scarlet skin from sunburns due to the wonderful weather we had all week. 

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Hanh soum kids before leaving for home.
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Sometimes I woke up at 7:30 AM to enjoy the surroundings while the kids were still sleeping.

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Two-years in Mongolia

Two years have come and gone. I’ve been having long phone calls with friends reminiscing about our time in Mongolia. I will be going home in two months. All that’s left to do is to go to Lake Hovsgul where I’ll be working at a Junior Rangers Camp, visit my host family one last time, last-minute exploits around UB, empty my apartment, find a car to take me to the city with all my bags, and ring the bell in the Peace Corps office.

Just like last year, here’s a summary of all that’s happened during 2017-2018:

SUMMER

summer

June 2017

  • My first year working at school ended and my second summer in Mongolia was beginning.
  • Solo traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia. 
  • Had a new blue deel made for me.

 

July 2017

  • Celebrated Naadam in my new deel.
  • Me and Jenni, my M26 site mate, went to a concert of some popular Mongolian band. 
  • Re-arranged my entire apartment because PCVs have to find any way to feel productive and active when the days are long and your counterparts have left you for the countryside. 
  • Walked to a different restaurant every week to use their wifi in order to watch Game of Thrones season 7. I got a lot of curious and strange looks as I sat in the corner.

 

August 2017

  • My parents came to Mongolia. We traveled around the Gobi and explored UB.
  • Rode a camel.
  • My school never paid for my power when I was gone for two weeks. I came back at 10pm to no electricity and an awful smell coming from my fridge.
  • Had MST (Mid-service training) in Terelj National Park. Nobody was expecting how cold it was going to be.
  • Rode a horse.
  • Finally got unlimited internet in my home.
  • When Andy spilled M&M’s, causing them to clatter everywhere, while people were sleeping at 2AM in the guesthouse: “OH F###!”

 

 

AUTUMN

autumn

September 2017 

  • School began.
  • Signed up for the GRE.
  • Teacher strikes were happening all around the country.
  • Special Olympics was held in my town.
  • Celebrated Teacher’s Day.
  • Met Zaya, owner of Friends Café. My new favorite place and an amazing person.

 

October 2017 

  • Finally got hot water in my apartment.
  • Drove to Kharkhorin for a Halloween race.
  • Started my English club at the Children’s Center for 5th, 6th, and 7th graders with two counterparts, Uugunaa and Saikhnaa.
  • Because my shower hadn’t been working for two-weeks due to a burst pipe, an entire bucket of water I was filling up as my “shower,” tipped over the edge,  cracked, and spilt EVERYWHERE. Neighbors below came running up when they saw my water leaking into their apartment. When the repairman also came he could see how exhausted and defeated I looked, laughed, and said he would finally fix my shower the next day.
  • Read 12th grade essays. Here’s an actual excerpt from one: “Policeman is light, criminal is night!!!! We stop crime. May be we!!! Can be!”
  • Bought my ticket to Japan.

 

November 2017

  • Finally bought a yoga mat.
  • Almost had an electrical fire in my kitchen.
  • Began Write On preparations.
  • Hosted Thanksgiving for my counterparts in my home.

 

WINTER

winter

December 2017

  • Finally took the GRE with 3 other people in a small room at the University of Science and Technology. There was a power outage right in the middle.
  • Attended a Peace Corps PAC meeting to talk about the TEFL program (Teach English as a Foreign Language).
  • Began reading “War and Peace.”
  • No longer being afraid to call out people when I could hear them talking about me in Mongolian.
  • Began an air pollution project to raise money for face masks.
  • My apartment door broke. Neighbors would know I was leaving or entering my home because the action was accompanied by 5 minutes of kicking, slamming my shoulder against the door, and growls of frustration.
  • Had my counterpart and her family over for Christmas Eve dinner.
  • Had a really fun New Years party with my school.

 

January 2018

  • Traveled to Japan and visited Kyoto, Nara, Hemeji, and Osaka.
  • Turned 25 years old in UB.
  • Ran a study abroad session at a Career Fair with Miga.
  • A month-long winter break from school.
  • When school resumed, I held writing workshops.

 

February 2018

  • Traveled to my host family to celebrate Tsagaan Sar, Mongolian New Year. I was so happy to see them all again.
  • Write On competitions were held throughout the country. The medals I received to give to winning students were so awful – it was like a 5-year-old child DIYed it in her kitchen. Uuguanaa told them, “If you want to get your medals fixed we can go back to the store after Tsagaan Sar,” but they all thought the ugly medals were so funny no wanted to get new ones. “Charming,” as an 11th grader put it.  
  • At 6AM on 12 February, I woke up to a very loud “POP” followed by great stream of boiling hot water spraying all over my bathroom. It sounded like a geyser. The pipe connecting to my shower head to the hot water pipe quite literally exploded. While getting showered in blistering hot water I had to turn a rusty knob that hadn’t been turned in 3 years to turn the pressure off. The adrenaline, fear of a flooded bathroom, and being burnt alive gave me the strength needed to crank it. 

 

March 2018

  • So many sand storms. Nothing but brown murkiness as you look outside.
  • Schools and the market were shut for one-month because my town was under quarantine. 
  • Spent a weekend at the Shangri La.
  • Cheering on the Loyola Ramblers during March Madness.

 

SPRING

spring

 

April 2018

  • Held a weekend long girls camp with Adiya. 
  • Began receiving the first emails about COS (Closing of Service).
  • Sporadic snow storms and dust storms throughout the month.
  • Taught myself how to gut a fish. 
  • Created a reading nook with all the donated books from America.

 

May 2018

  • Had our COS conference at Mongolica outside of the city. 
  • Finished “War and Peace.” 
  • Received my ticket to fly home at the end of the summer.
  • Helped a 10th grader apply for a week-long English program in the city during the summer. 
  • No longer have hot water in my apartment. It’s back to the bucket!
  • Attended a hair cutting ceremony for Uuganaa’s daughter.

 

Today, I had my last day of work. Let the summer begin! 

 

Peace Corps Mongolia

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When you have to sit through a very long meeting in Mongolian.
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When PCVs feel underappreciated by their HCAs.
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When it’s spring and sand storms are a thing.
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When a student who has been mute all year suddenly reads perfectly or answers a question fluently.
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When it’s finally the weekend and you don’t need to answer those “Where are you?” messages.
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When you find someone who can speak fluent English.
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When you put on a Mongolian deel.

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When you have a great idea for your school and it’s got some traction for a day or two but then slips away as people lose interest.
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When it’s the COS lottery for who gets to go home during week 1 or week 2.
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When the people you work with believe everything they read on Facebook.
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That determination you feel when your second year begins.
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When you’ve got to mingle but you have no idea what anyone is saying.
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When you begin work at your HCA.
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When you go to the countryside for the weekend with your school.
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When you try to make a dash to the store next door before anyone sees you. 
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When you’re in the Shangri La. 
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When you can say a sentence in Mongolian.
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When you arrive at staging and meet your friends who are embarking on the same crazy adventure as you.
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When you’re finally on that plane back to America.
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Whenever you go out in public.
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When you make it to COS.

 

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When you go shopping after a really long time and something actually fits you. 

 

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When you’re in the city and you’re debating if you really should spend all your money on food and drinks.
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When no one tells you anything.
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When it’s the middle of winter.
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When you have a terrible singing voice but everyone at karaoke says otherwise.
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When you get that call or text saying your package from America has arrived.
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When people go “OY” or whistle for your attention.
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When it’s only Monday.
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When you have food poisoning or any other ailment that brings you down.
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When people at work are surprised that you’re still here.
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When nothing is going according to plan.

 

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When you think sticking a face mask on will solve all your worries.
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When you haven’t seen your American friends in months.
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When people back home ask if you really ate a goat’s head.

 

 

This is simply a humorous post about PC Mongolia.