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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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! 

 

Closing of Service

Our Closing of Service ceremony (COS) at a nice hotel outside of the city felt a lot like having a big party on a Sunday night and then immediately returning back to work on Monday. 

On paper, we are finished as Peace Corps Volunteers in Mongolia but technically we still have another three months left in country including one more month left of work.

I think I’ve done the best I could in my situation. I don’t think my school ever wanted a PCV or if they did they didn’t know what to do with me. During my first year, I was more polite asking, “Can I do this?” During my second year I was more, “I’m going to do this now!” 

I came to realize that if no one at school was asking for help, proposing ideas, or telling me what I should do, I had to take the bull by the horns so I could stay busy and feel productive. I believe without that attitute my girls camp in April never would have happened.

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Seeing friends again and receiving our certificates was both exciting and bizarre knowing that two-years has flown by. Unfortunately, my name on my certificate said Anne. I will get a new one before I leave. We received a lot of information about what we need to do before leaving our villages and towns such as closing our bank accounts, alerting our landlords, having a final interview with the country director, and visits to the doctor’s office.

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Mongolia’s Peace Corps Director, Gene

I also received my departure date to fly back home. My flight leaves Mongolia at 6 AM. I’ve been mentally preparing a feast to eat as soon as I land – (seafood, seafood, seafood, seafood, seafood, seafood). The plan is to reacquaint myself to the big city, to Amerian life, and a different time zone. Then possibly followed by a trip to visit both my grandmothers in Sweden and Scotland. 

This time last year I was planning my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. My parents were also visiting for the summer. Now I’m eyeing everything in my apartment that either needs to be sold, donated, or thrown out. Work at school has been slowing down. My last project I’m trying to finish up before the end of the month is recording all the reading passages in textbooks teachers can use next year when I’m gone.

 

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June 2016
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May 2018

I can still clearly remember arriving in Seattle in May 2016 and seeing other people, who were complete strangers at that time, struggling to leave the airport with all their bags. We would look at each other and go, “Peace Corps?” “Yep.” “Niiiice.” 

Only one person from my training group was absent as we took pictures together in our deels and with the Mongolian flag.

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August 2016
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May 2018

 

A weekend with the girls

As my school’s very first TEFL volunteer, some ideas are considered to be too radical. Met with indifference or confusion that later get swept away under the rug. 

As my second (and last year) was starting in Mongolia, I thought how I wanted to do something at my school so I could end my year with a bang. A high note knowing I’ve accomplished something different and new. 

With the help of one counterpart, Adiya, we organized and prepared a weekend-long Girls Empowerment workshop/camp/training/call it what you will that occurred on March 13-15. The second semester of school in Mongolia is thwarted with many long breaks – winter break in January, Tsaagan Sar break in February, and a Spring break in March. Suffice it to say…time was running out and I knew I had to begin early. 

Powerpoints and worksheets had to be translated into Mongolian, subtitles added to videos, activities had to be thought of, and what type of topics to be covered during the weekend. I then turned into a part-time health volunteer when an 11th grader said: “We are told we should do something but not told the importance of why we should be doing it.” Thus health was included into the schedule. 

What impressed me the most throughout the weekend was the amount of English the girls wanted to use despite the difficulty. They were free to discuss amongst themselves in Mongolian and write in Mongolian but they all wanted to speak and write in English.  

Some of the topics and activities we did from Friday to Sunday, 10 AM to 4:30 PM:

Girls learnt about Mongolian and foreign role models. Malala Yousafazai was very popular.

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The girls learnt about non-profit organizations and in teams created their own non-profit. The winning team was about human rights while the runner-up was about an environmental issue. 

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After kicking out the boys who were playing basketball, we did yoga in the gym. For most of them, this was their first time ever doing yoga. Lots of giggles erupted when we were in happy baby pose. 

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An art project. Girls drew and painted themselves after describing themselves with adjectives and connecting those adjectives to specific colors. 

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In addition, we talked about the importance of goal setting, stereotypes, leadership qualities, and created bucket lists. An 8th grader said she wanted to visit Genovia and was sad when I told her the country doesn’t exist. While all the girls said they want to travel to another country, goals ranged from the lofty to the simplistic. Having purple hair, wanting to meet Emma Watson, becoming a doctor, learning how to swim and to wanting to walk through a haunted house during Halloween.  

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This weekend wouldn’t have happened without the incredible help of Adiya. She met with me every week, helped make applications, and did her best to understand everything. As a result, the entire weekend went smoothly and I went home happy. 

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However, not all projects will have so much preparation time like mine did. You have to judge your school’s vibe. Either you are a very busy PCV or you fall into the same hole as me and your school doesn’t utilize you enough. As a result, I had plenty of time to bring this weekend with Adiya to fruition. 

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Tsagaan Sar with my host family

Сайхан шинэлээрэй!

For Mongolia’s New Year, Tsagaan Sar, I traveled back to Yeruu in northern Mongolia to visit and celebrate with my host family. I hadn’t seen them since we last hugged goodbye in August 2016 when Peace Corps training was finished.

Summer 2016

Now flash forward two years and it’s a long trip back. I took a seven-hour bus ride to Ulaanbaatar. Followed by a four-hour bus ride to Darkhan and ending with a one-hour car ride to Yeruu. There are now paved roads that shoot straight to Yeruu. During Peace Corps training, there had been a lot of cross-country driving over bumpy terrain.

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I was so happy to see my host family. My host siblings immediately wanted to play and my grandmother was tottering about making sure plenty of food was on the table. This family has been there with me since the very beginning. They were there during all the highs and lows I experienced during that summer. They were witnesses to when I first began learning Mongolian as I tried to (very poorly) make the KUUUHH and x sounds. Despite this, I have the most success understanding and communicating with them. They know we need to speak slowly with each other and we all patiently make huge efforts to make ourselves understood. 

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Two years later, Winter 2018 with my host family.

During my first night, everyone came to the house – all of my host mom’s brothers and sisters and their children. The kids thankfully haven’t changed much and are still chubby and adorable. Together, we drove to a hill and went sledding. 

I felt pathetic as I fell asleep dressed head to toe in under armor underneath three blankets while my host family fell asleep in t-shirts with only one blanket. This was my first visit to the countryside during winter and from now on I will only be visiting in the summer. I was like a cockatiel sitting perched on a stool by the stove where the only source of warmth was coming from. 

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Friday was the first day of Tsagaan Sar. We were all dressed in our Mongolian deels. Every house we visited had salads and buuz on the table with milk tea and vodka. We stayed at each house for at least an hour. There was a lot of: “Back in the car, Anna!” “ZAAAAA!”

I had to leave Yeruu at 5 AM on Saturday morning. Not a lot of transportation leaving during the New Year and having to leave at that ungodly hour was my only option. However, my trip out of Yeruu felt surreal. It was pitch black and snowing. I was stuffed in the back of a small car between luggage and another girl. ABBA was playing on the radio. We encountered no other cars. These small moments of my time in Mongolia are what I will oddly remember the most. 

I hope to visit again in the summer! 

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One year in Mongolia

1 June was Children’s Day in Mongolia, a national holiday.

With no school, children were outside playing and families were in the government square where there were toy cars for kids to drive around in, a swing set, and the museum had free admittance.

1 June is also another significant day for me.

I have been in Mongolia for one-year. I have completed one year of Peace Corps service.

When I looked back on what I have written during my service – (I have written more than 500 uncensored pages of my Peace Corps experiences) – it has been fascinating to see how I have transformed in this country.

Here’s brief one-year summary of my first year. Let us precede down memory lane.

June 2016

  • Arriving in Mongolia with 52 PCVs.
  • My Peace Corps training site was in a small soum in northern Mongolia where I lived with a host family and 8 other PCVs.
  • Peace Corps training was like a boot camp: early mornings, a nightly curfew, long hours of lessons, and if you screwed up, you were sent home.
  • Being hit hard by homesickness, being sick for 3-weeks, and the long hours of language class.
  • My first Mongolian sentence I learned was, “I eat egg.”
  • I feared the outhouses because I thought I was going to fall through and learned the importance of emptying your pockets.
  • Numerous ducky-showers in my blue tumpun.
  • The “Where’s Nancy?” moment during ping pong.
  • Driving to the Russian border.
  • Thunder storms that took out the power.
  • Our sacred wifi spot on the 2nd floor in the school hallway.
  • Not being able to keep a straight face during mico-teaching or saying/hearing the word, “болох уу.” We were the worst.

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July 2016

  • The hottest month of the year.
  • Being given a Mongolian name, Анхмаа (Ankmaa).
  • Celebrating Naadam in my new summer deel.
  • Having our trainer saying she needs to buy somethings before visiting the Mother Tree and coming out with ice cream, “Does the Mother Tree also need some pizza?”
  • River day!
  • Being told that I didn’t have what it takes to live in Mongolia due to its “rough” nature: “Winters are tough. It’s not for everyone.”
  • Getting food poisoning from ice cream.
  • Obtaining a closer relationship with my host family.
  • Having a mouse infestation in my home.
  • Andy: “Everybody, I have an announcement. I’ve decided to resign myself from Peace Corps……Just kidding, tomorrow morning, we’re having a river cleanup day.”
  • Karaoke night.

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August 2016

  • Exploring Darkhan with Emma and her host sister.
  • Host Family Appreciation Party by the river.
  • My host mom’s farewell text message after saying goodbye: “Love you my family. Good luck. See you come back soon.”
  • Getting my official site placement in western Mongolia.
  • Waiting three hours for our food in a Korean restaurant:“This is like prison food.”
  • Officially becoming 46 Peace Corps Volunteers during Mongolia’s 25th anniversary.
  • Meeting my counterparts and having my first teacher party where they spoke in Mongolian. Not knowing the language, I found myself intensely watching a high jump competition on TV.

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September 2016

  • The beginning of the school year.
  • Moving Jenni into her new home and having to carry a mattress up the stairs: “Pivot!”
  • Walking on the outskirts of the ger district with my site mates.
  • Seeing a yellow Labrador.
  • Pizza night with the Catholic nuns.
  • Receiving the devastating news that Angelina divorced Brad.
  • Weekend in Kharkhorin and visiting Erdene Zuu Monastery.
  • 25 September was the first snowfall.

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October 2016

  • Celebrating Teachers Day.
  • Starting our Saturday speaking club, The Chatty Bunch.
  • My friend Zulmka getting accepted to study abroad in Luxembourg.
  • Buying a bottle of wine and figuring out later, as we took our first sips, that it was brandy.
  • Celebrating Halloween with Bookbridge students.
  • Celebrating Tuya’s birthday.

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November 2016

  • Consolidation day drill: “Happy Drill Day. Hope nobody is illegally traveling.”
  • The 20-hour drive to Khentii and the Bookbridge English Festival.
  • Seeing the Genghis Khan statue in all its shiny glory.
  • Celebrating Friendsgiving twice at home and in Bayanhongor.
  • My radiator bursting and leaking water everywhere.
  • Almost missing the bus that would take me to IST.

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December 2016

  • Seeing everyone again at IST and finally having a hot shower.
  • Finally getting internet.
  • Walking in -20-degree weather to the Sunday Market.
  • The Young Teachers Christmas Party.
  • Having a crippling stomach inflammation that kept me bed-ridden for days.
  • Having a sleepover on Christmas Eve.
  • Having a low-key New Year’s celebration with two of my counterparts.  

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January 2017

  • Vising the horse statues and having a winter picnic on 1 January.
  • Finally buying an oven. Best decision I’ve made.
  • Turning 24 years old.
  • Having my lowest point of my service when my CP made me cry.

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February 2017

  • A three-day language seminar.
  • Making my Peace Corps hospitality video.
  • Perrin: “You want to eat at the vegetarian restaurant?” Simon: “Pizza chicken?!?!” Perrin: “No….”
  •  The Write On competition.
  • Having Mongolian dance lessons.
  • Finding and buying bags of frozen strawberries.
  • Celebrating Tsagaan Sar, Mongolia’s New Year in my new winter deel.

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March 2017

  • Watching Tuya rain hell on the woman who cheated me out of my internet data.
  • Going on a run with Perrin and getting chased by some youths. “Piss off” probably wasn’t the best Peace Corps response to them.
  • Telling Adiya I wanted to make some tsuvien but she mistakenly thought I said soybean so she was trying to look up what soybean was.
  • Wear your deel to school day.
  • Eating fish for the first time in months.
  • A massive snow storm that hit us at the end of the month.
  • Traveling to UB where I ate so much food and watched “Beauty and the Beast.”

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April 2017

  • Having a three-day TedX workshop for 33 students.
  • Making pizza with Adiya and her kids.
  • Going to the hair salon and having six people watch me as I got my hair cut.
  • Uuganaa: “I’m so proud you are here in Mongolia.”
  • Teaching the best class all year with my 6th graders.
  • Going hiking in the countryside and getting hit by a rain and wind storm.

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May 2017

  • The last month of school.
  • Arvaikheer’s trash cleanup day.
  • Dust storms.
  • Inviting all my English teachers to my home for dinner.
  • Buying material for my new summer deel.
  • Ted X Arvaikheer being a success with 3 students speaking in English.
  • Having dinner with people from the US Embassy and Mongolia’s Fulbright candidates.
  • Traveling 16 hours to Erdenet for Special Olympics.

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One more year!

Write On!

On the second floor of the theater, the only sound was the scratching of pens on paper in a quiet room. Some students instantly began to write while others stared blankly off into the distance trying to categorize their jumbled minds of Mongolian and English.

As someone who spent hours writing silly (and cringe-worthy) stories as a child and whom was heavily inspired after reading “The Lord of the Rings” in elementary school, I was very excited for this particular event.

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9 February was the Write On! competition. Write On is a creative writing competition that grades 6th through 12th including university students and young professionals can compete in. Organized by Peace Corps Volunteers, Write On is held in 22 Peace Corps countries. Mongolia joined the competition in 2011. The objective of the competition is to allow students of all ages to be creative and to just go crazy with their imaginations.

During January, we organized and held two writing workshops for students in our aimag. The first workshop was “How to write a creative story” – introduction, rising action, conflict, falling action, and resolution – while our second workshop was “Using your imagination.” Students won’t know what the story prompts are until they arrive. From 9AM to 5PM, students came when they wanted. They were allowed only 90 minutes to write.

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10 February was judging day. Many hours were spent in the theater reading all the stories and let me tell you…boy, were some of them entertaining! Each story was read by three different people and if there was a tie in score a fourth reader was needed.

Finally, the awards ceremony was on 11 February. The stories who came in 1st place will move on to compete in the national level. We are very proud of our winners and our counterparts who sacrificed their time helping us.

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Next year I will be a National Coordinator for Write On!

Happy New Year

Шинэ жилийн мэнд хүргэе!

First holidays abroad and I must admit, it was tough on me. There were just too many Buchanan traditions I missed out on that I craved all throughout December such as seeing our Swedish Christmas tomtes decorating our home; decorating the Christmas tree; baking Swedish gingerbread cookies while munching on the dough; walking amongst all the twinkling lights that crown Chicago; eating a smorgasbord for dinner; driving to the airport at midnight with my dad to pick up my brother; and pestering my dad with my incessant chatter that makes him wish my brothers came home more often.

But Peace Corps Volunteers must adapt to new changes in their lives. So I made the most of my new situation. Just like in America, all stores in my aimag were decorated for Christmas and New Year’s. The government square had a large Christmas tree in the center. In the market, small Christmas trees were being sold along with lights, ornaments, little Santa jackets, and ribbons. I played Christmas music in the mornings and plugged my Christmas lights in every night.

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 My school held a Christmas/New Year concert in the sports hall. Each grade decorated a small Christmas tree that were lined up alongside the stage. Students sang and danced and Santa gave out presents to the best students. The Russian Santa isn’t a jolly, fat, and red suited fella we’re used to but is tall, thin, and dresses all in white.

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I also attended the Young Teachers Christmas (Shinjil) party with my site mate, Jenni. The hall was decorated with snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, a Christmas tree was flashing away in a corner, banners saying “Merry Christmas” hung on the walls, Santa made an appearance, and women wore glittery dresses. At seeing the dresses, it felt like I had been transported back to high school prom while simultaneously feeling under dressed. Yet, the real Christmas miracle was having fresh pineapple delivered to our table. My first taste of pineapple in 6 months.  

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During IST, Peace Corps gave each aimag a turkey. Having never prepared a turkey before, I did extensive research before undertaking the task. What did I come to realize? That a big turkey requires a big pot that requires a large refrigerator. A counterpart supplied me with the pot but the pot barely managed to get into my tiny fridge. I was lying in bed when I heard a thumping sound but I thought it was the children next door to me. The thump came again and then I remembered that a massive pot filled to the rim with salt water in which a turkey was floating in was in my fridge. I caught the pot before the entire shelf came crashing down. My Friday night was spent duct taping my shelf back up and cutting up the turkey into many pieces to be put into a smaller pot. There was turkey blood everywhere.

Nevertheless, our Christmas Eve feast was a success with the turkey, roasted potatoes and carrots, and cinnamon rolls. On Christmas, we prepared a brunch that included blueberry scones and strawberries. I chatted with my family and opened my Christmas packages my parents sent.  It was a Christmas spent with my sitemates who become like family during your service. 

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For New Year’s Eve, my counterpart invited me to her home. She had spent two hours the day before preparing buuz, Mongolian steamed dumplings. I feasted on the most delicious buuz I’ve ever had. At midnight, 2017 swept in as little fireworks popped in the sky.  

What’s my New Year resolution? I don’t really have one except to continue my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

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From Thanksgiving to Christmas

I hope everyone had a lovely turkey day! I on the other hand, felt very ill and was coughing up a lung by the time Thanksgiving rolled around but I managed to roll out of bed to celebrate. On 23 November, my site-mate Jenni hosted a Friendsgiving at her apartment. We managed to squeeze 12 people into her small apartment. This was only done by lifting Jenni’s mattress up against the wall, bringing an extra hot plate, stools, and having her counterparts bring their own bowls and forks. For the third year in the row, I was in charge of the mashed potatoes – mainly because I might poison all 12 people if I bake or cook something.

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With my 6th and 7th graders in speaking club. We drew turkeys.

Then on 25 November, we hopped onto a bus from Ulaanbaatar that took us west to Bayankhongor. We felt like hitchhikers as we waited with our backpacks at a gas station for the bus. Another Friendsgiving was held that weekend as we celebrated with our friends, sang karaoke, went dancing, and saw some dinosaurs.

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A dinosaur park in Bayankhongor.
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A picture I snapped during a rest stop to UB.

 

At the beginning of December, all Peace Corps Volunteers and our counterparts traveled to UB for an In-Service Seminar held at the Park Hotel. The purpose of this? To strengthen work relationships between PCVs and counterparts. Our schedule was packed leaving no time to venture outside. We had Mongolian language class; TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) training; various sessions such as critical thinking in the classroom, running camps and clubs, classroom management and interaction, empowering people with disabilities, and gender equality and empowerment, plus many more. Sometimes we were together with our counterparts and often we weren’t. This went on every day from 7am to 7pm. I also still had my cold and was coughing incessantly. So much that I pulled a muscle.

It was an exhausting week with some wonderful moments:

  • Since we went our separate ways during the summer it was exciting to see everyone again. There were hugs all around! The next time we meet again will be in August 2017 for Mid-Service Training.
  • My training group from the summer got together nearly every day for meals. Friday night, we went out to the Royal Irish Pub and were joined by our technical training and language teacher.

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  • Staying in a hotel means a larger bed, no cooking, and a hot shower! The last time I had a hot shower was during staging in Seattle. I took 20-minute hot showers every night.
  • On our last night, a small group got together and we sang Christmas carols together as Keysel played his ukulele.

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My counterpart was very grateful for everything that she learned at IST.

 

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Now I’m excited for Christmas. I went on a wild goose-chase as I searched high and low to find Christmas lights in my aimeg. I got lost in a labyrinth-of-a-building and when I finally found an exit, I saw a man selling lights at his stall right outside. Now, my apartment is twinkling with red, blue, and green lights hanging over my window and bed. My stocking is hanging on my door and my advent calendar from home is propped up on my coffee table.

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Good things have happened but I have had my frustrations as well. Let me first tell you about my apartment. The repair man has become my new best friend. He has had to replace my radiator which exploded while I was away in Khentii and then he had to replace a radiator in my bathroom which exploded while I was away in Bayankhongor. Then when I came back from UB, my bathroom was leaking again. Notice a trend here? I finally told the repair man to just switch off the heating going into my bathroom because I just can’t be bothered anymore.

An immigration officer paid me a surprise visit at my school. She demanded my passport and my alien card. Like I just casually carry my passport around wherever I go. Then she said that she wanted to take it away with her to which I firmly said no and made her take a photocopy instead.

Trainwreck was an awful movie. So much hype of people telling me how funny Amy Schumer is.

I get really depressed when I see injured dogs and puppies limping on the streets.

Lesson planning can feel a lot like having my teeth being slowly pulled out but I won’t go into too much detail concerning that. All PCVs understand what I’m saying and all future PCVs will understand what I’m saying.

“As long as you live, there’s something waiting; and even if it’s bad and you know it’s bad, what can you do? You can’t stop living.”

I have sometimes thought to myself, “What is the point? I can just go home.” But I like it when tiny 5th graders come running out of their rooms to say “Hi,” when I walk by. I like it when students wave at me when I’m outside. I like it when I witness a counterpart doing a good job in the classroom. The best thing that can happen is when lesson planning goes well. Lastly, I am happy for the friends I’ve met and all the phone conversations we have when we’re apart.

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My 5th graders I teach every Friday morning.