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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The Beginning of the End

My last year as a TEFL teacher/trainer began on 1 September. 

This school year is going to be even better than last year because I know people, I know what to expect, and I’m aware of what can be considered as a helpless cause. 

But before the school year began, my Peace Corps group reunited for our mid-service training (MST) at Terelj National Park outside of UB. Unlike our in-service training (IST) in December 2016, where we had to bring our counterparts along, MST was just Peace Corps.

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Many of us were unprepared for how cold it was going to be. When we arrived at the park, it was pouring down with rain and we were all running into our little wooden houses. It was cold and there was no heat in any of the buildings. However, our houses had hot showers (!!!!!) and heated floors. Every night, me and my room-mate would lay our sweaters on the ground so they would be warm and toasty in the mornings. The wear was “business causal” but for me, it was wear as many layers as possible. 

It’s a beautiful park once the fog and clouds lifted. From 7am to 5:30 we were stuck in sessions but afterwards we were free to do whatever we wanted. Some of us went horse back riding (which left me sore for a week), we hiked up hills, running back down, and we sat around a large bonfire. Unfortunately when we departed, the weather was warm and sunny making me wish we could stay longer. 

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On the first day of school, my school smelled of fresh paint as balloons and a large banner were hung outside by the front entrance. Students were back in their uniforms. I spent the first two weeks of school waiting for the teachers schedule to be completed. During September and for the duration of October, I’m teaching 5th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders in the morning with lesson planning and teacher development in the afternoon. Besides school, I was busy with Special Olympics and Teachers Day. 

This year, Special Olympics was hosted in my aimeg. Teams came from four different regions with one team coming all the way from Khuvsgul. They all arrived on Thursday. Friday consisted of medical screenings and basketball, table tennis, and judo competitions. Saturday was badminton with track and field races held outside. I was asked to take photographs and was kept busy, walking from one spot to the other, snapping away.  They were so happy to be competing and racing each other. 

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Teachers Day is when 12 grade students become teachers for the day while the teachers become the students. This is a holiday 12th graders are very excited about. In the morning, teachers trade places with their students and sit at the desks while a student teaches. We are also given a 12th grader to later exchange gifts with in the evening. My 12th grader took her role very seriously. We met the night before so she could create the perfect lesson plan and she did an amazing job. Last year, my school had a volleyball competition but this year my school had a teachers talent contest. 

You can read about teachers day from last year here

More marvelous things that have since happened:

  • I finally have internet. Now I don’t have to walk 20-minutes to a restaurant and order the cheapest item on the menu as I use their internet. 

 

  • For a long time, my building’s heating was broken. I was told it wouldn’t be fixed for another two or three weeks making me cry out in anguish. My apartment was so frigid I got sick and shivered myself to sleep. Thankfully, it didn’t take three weeks to fix and now my home is blessedly warm. Why do I make such a big deal out of this? Because in Mongolia, air conditioning doesn’t exist and heating comes from a central system which people can’t control on how hot it gets.

 

  • My aimeg has two new health volunteers. There are now four of us. 

 

  • I’m re-watching “The Office” and “Gilmore Girls” thus bringing joy to my life when the language barrier becomes to much or when something breaks in my apartment or even when people hoot and “OY” at me as I’m trying to go about my business. 

 

  • There was a silly moment during my school’s track and field day when my name was called and one of the teachers was holding out a medal for me. I thought, “I have done absolutely nothing that warrants a medal but okay…” Conveniently my two counterparts disappeared so I didn’t know what everyone was yelling. But apparently they just wanted me to place the medal around the neck of another teacher. I’m nearly just walked off with the medal. 
  • I’m eagerly awaiting a box of books for my school I’ve asked an organization in America to send. 

 

  • I took a long deep breath and signed up to take the GRE in December. 

 

  • We have a new café in town called Friends Café. The woman who owns it went to university in America and used to live in Naperville. Small world!! 

 

  • People always ask if I’m cold. They all think I’m to skinny for a Mongolian winter. That I need more meat on my bones. 

 

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