Saturday, October 17, 2009

More Stuff from Training

I also have back log journal entries, as well. Since the old e-mails in the last post sort of went over what I was doing for the most part, the journal entries were more about what I was feeling. It all seems a bit melodramatic now but at the time with the culture shock and the intensity with which I was missing home, the melodrama is actually about right. Again, my thoughts on the
situation now are in parenthesis. So here goes...

July 18:
Yesterday the movie "Edward Scissorhands" came on t.v. in Mongolian. I stayed up an hour and a half passed my bedtime to watch it- a big splurge since I wake up at 7 every morning to walk the cows to the river with my host Mom. The movie was appropriately dubbed in Mongolian but even though I couldn't understand a word, I cried at the end. Before I came here I found "Edward Scissorhands" unnecessarily sad and a little dumb. But now after experiencing truly being an outsider in every way, I found myself weeping at such a poignant albeit bizarre film. For some reason, that night, the movie seemed to speak directly to my situation here. The experience of being completely submerged in a culture yet not being able to participate or worst making a horrible mess of things you try to do is one that not everyone has. A sense of belonging, or lack thereof, has such a profound impact on one's life that I hadn't recognized before. I suppose that it's because I've never felt this out of context and alien that it is particularly striking now. It's amazing how many people have written on the topic- from Shakespeare's "Richard II" to "Peter Pan" everyone has something to say about belonging or not belonging, and I'm only now really seen it first hand. It's a powerful enough thing to make a girl feel like she has scissors for hands.

July 16:
It is really frustrating waiting for site placement. I feel totally in the dark which is a tough thing in a situation when so much is unknown already- as in most of my day is bewildering. I'm so scared of getting a bad placement, I wouldn't do well in a ger in the middle of no where. I definitely didn't sign up for that. All this unknowing makes me think of sailors in the Middle Ages, sailing into sunset, headed for God only knows where, clutching a map riddled with monsters and dragons, armed with only vague ideas of how to crew a ship. Only those sailors made it to the Bahamas, that is for sure not in my future.
Over the last few weeks, I've stared to feel really young. Never before has 22 felt so infantile. Perhaps I'm realizing that I am really physically very young-in college 22 is ancient, in grown-up years it really isn't that old- the transition from college to grown-up is one I've been working on in addition to all the other stuff. There's also the fact that I am pretty bewildered by my surroundings and feel like a little puppy most of the time, unable to fend for myself very well. The more I'm learning here the more I realize that I don't know a whole lot about the world, well at least I realize there is so much more to learn. When we're children, we have the good fortune of not knowing how little really know, often times we think we know everything. But in a situation like this I've become painfully aware of how much I don't know. It's a strange and scary feeling when you've spent your whole life- no matter how long that may be- in pursuit of knowledge to look around and find that you don't really know anything. I mean I can hold my own in a conversation about art, politics, ethics, education systems, etc. But here in Mongolia I have about 20 nouns at my disposal and might as well have a neon sign blinking "confused white girl" over my head when I walk into a store. It's jarring and disconcerning but most of all humbling. And as frustrating as it is to be so utterly brought to ones knees, I hope I never forget this feeling in the future, near or distant. No matter how good one gets at life, it is always important to remember the darkest hours and hold them dear, trusting them to keep ourselves and our egos in check.

July 11:
Every day I come closer to being at peace with being here. There is still a long way to go- I can honestly say that a single idle moment hasn't gone by when my thought don't immediately go to my life and loved ones in America. However, my dreams are settling. Whenever I go somewhere alone that's really different or even just sleep in a new place I have vivid and often disturbing dreams. For the first three weeks my dreams were pretty intense and left me feeling drained when I woke up. Most of my dreams were about lost loves or abandonment which I think totally makes sense given that I've moved across the world, but the dreams are disconcerting nonetheless. Recently, however, I haven't been remembering my dreams as much and when I do they've been of a sweeter, milder nature, a sure sign I'm getting used to my new life. Recently I got miserably sick, plagued with a fever, chills, aching back, congested sinuses, sore throat and absurdly swollen lymph nodes. I stayed in bed for two days, read all of Pat Conroy's "The Water is Wide" (I highly recommend it!) and sweated out the virus. At night my fever broke and I had a dream of my family being together again. When I woke up in the morning I felt better, like a great storm had passed and was strangely more at peace with my life. For whatever reason, since my recovery being in Mongolia no longer makes me want to throw myself into the Pacific and doggie paddle until I reach American soil. My body has healed itself here, I've reach the absolute bottom and managed to bounce back just fine. So perhaps I should stick around and really give this place a shot.

June 28:
I've been thinking a lot about Van Gogh's painting "The Potato Eaters" lately. I've been lucky enough to see it twice and both times it resonated with me deeply. But since I've come to Mongolia, I've come to understand it on a deeper level. My job in my host family is the designated
vegetable peeler and chopper. It's a job I think I got it because I can't really mess it up too badly although they certainly have a specific way of doing it here. I don't mind- I kind of like the tactility and monotony of the job and it's nice to feel useful and included in the family chores. My host family and I eat potatoes about twice a day and I've begun to feel a little like Van Gogh's subjects, exhaustedly hunched over yet another 'tater, squinting to dig out the eyes of said tuber it in the dimly lit house. Even though the canvass is hanging with its subjects hundreds of miles away in a beautiful museum in Amsterdam, I still feel bonded with it as well as with the potato eaters of the past and present. I think it has something to do with focusing on each day, just trying to make it through to the next just like the people in the painting had to do. In training this has become my reality, pushing from day to day, trying not to miss home too much, choking down the food and attempting to cram Mongolian language into my brain. It is a lot to work on but for today it is enough to have just reach an understanding with the potato peelers and a single piece of art.

June 24:
Shadows of the Past- Every now and then I'll hear a noise that makes me think I am somewhere else. My host sister's cell phone sounds like my ring tone back in America. When it goes off, I sometimes think that it's a friend calling for dinner or waning to throw the frisbee around on the quad. Something dropped in the kitchen the other day and it sounded like a soda vending machine. It has happened many times. It only takes a second for my reflexes that tell me I'm in America to fade, I realize that what I've heard and it's like a light has come on in a dark room, the shadows are instantly gone. But it's the jerking me out of my recollections is the strange part, I am left with the empty feeling that I can't even understand the sounds around me. It's a lonely thing, this feeling. It recalls a world I've left of my own derision but still miss deeply.

June 22:
Atmosphere- A word on atmosphere. Firstly its the name of the group that whose songs have reoccurred throughout my life with odd regularity, rearing its head at poignant or memorable moments and marking many experiences. Their songs became my anthems during all night paper writing in college, keeping me awake with the infectious hip hop beats and profound lyrics. My favorite song of theirs "The Woman with the Tattooed Hands" reminds me of those nights that blurred into the following day. Those times that I watched the sun rise over Goucher from behind a computer in the deserted library. The song again reared its head during a wild night out with my StandUp for Kids coworkers, speeding through the streets of Baltimore in pursuit of parties. It also reminds me of my Sister. She introduced me to that specific song and we then introduced all of Atlanta to it by blaring out open windows while cruising the streets together. It also now comments on my time in Mongolia. The chorus goes "I've got a lot to teach, but even more to learn" and everyday I find that it's true for me here. It is with that attitude that I try to view my experiences in this foreign land.
Also, the atmosphere here in Mongolia is particularly remarkable. The air smells like mint or sage when the wind blows, a huge different from the streets of Baltimore. The wind here will whisk you off your feet and makes walks by the river seem almost like strolling through a science fiction novel. Walking in town foreign smells fill the air. The scent of roasting mutton- not the nicest of smells- and livestock hangs in the air, waiting for you to walk through it. When you walk here, little white butterflies scatter into the air in your wake and in front of you. They're tiny, almost moth-like and there are so many of them it sometimes looks like a cloud. The sounds are different, too. Cuckoos live in the trees by the river and I can hear them from my house. The chattering of voices speaking a language I don't understand fills my ears daily and is something I have yet to get used to. The atmosphere here is so intensely different from anywhere I've lived before and perhaps that's what makes things feel so foreign.

June 20:
The latter half of today was good. I've spent the better part of 2 days choking back tears. (My host family pointed to the phrase "what are your parent's jobs?" in the phrase book and I had to go to my wee house to grab the dictionary so I could answer but also so they wouldn't see me burst into tears with how much I missed them and the feeling of 'what the hell am I doing here?!') But being able to speak with the other volunteers later in the day was so therapeutic. I found out that everything I was feeling other people were feeling, too. We took a walk by the river after a game of basketball then I went home for a nap and now am having a good time cooking with my host sister. I think I just needed to talk to someone about all this. Culture shock is a tough one.
Today I was also feeling bad about the way I look. No surprise since I haven't showered in days, have greasy hair and am now just discovering that the pants I brought with me for 2 years are incredibly ugly. I mentioned this to Todd and he looked at me and said "you look like a Peace Corps Volunteer." While you'd think I'd have figured this one out earlier, I was kind of taken aback by his words. It made a huge amount of sense really and while I don't plan on embracing my dirty hair (now that I have running water, I wash it every day), I looked at myself differently for the fist time. I saw a strong adult doing a brave thing instead of a ex-college girl who used to be attractive when she had a blow dryer and an arsenal of cute clothes.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Here are a few excerpts from e-mails I sent my parents with a few added details in parenthesizes. I think the emotional turmoil that went down in training for me are pretty adequately expressed and gives a bit more detail about what exactly I was doing. It's a lot to read and perhaps repeats some of the last post so feel free to skim or whatever. The earliest emails are at the bottom and they work chronologically up to the top. Here goes...

August 11:
One of my PC friends here is a recent graudate from Sarah Lawerence-same time as me- and when we get down thinking about all the freedom and ease offeres-see: whole foods, flushing toilets, the same language, etc.- we talk about how difficult the job hunt would be and where we could afford to live in the States- a box really. Not that I'm doing this because there's nothing else to do, but (it's good to keep in mind what I've got instead of dwell on what I wish I had). I just finished reading Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia, which was great. I'm trying to minimize the reading right now, which is hard because there are so many great things on my Kindle, but I really need to buckle down and learn Mongolian. I have my big language test tomorrow then we leave on Saturday morning and find out our site placement at 3:30 on Saturday!! I can't wait. To be honest, I am scared of being put out in the country side. But I talked to the site placement people about that during my site placement interview and they seemed to understand. So we'll see what happens and really it might be a good experience to be out in the country for two years. I also don't know what it will be like so it's silly to be scared of something I don't know about. So I just gotta wait and find out. It'll be an adventure for sure wherever I go. I'll certainly keep you posted. If anything I am excited to live on my own and try to hack it here. Mongolian food isn't bad but I miss Ameircan food and want to cook for myself and it would be great to have my own space. So itll be good wherever they send me...As far as friends goes, Ive found lots of cool people. Im anxious to see who I'll be stationed near because those people will really be my network. Ive been able to meet a wide vierity of people since being here, it's really incredible. Just in my wee group of 12, there's a 73 year old retired college professor, a 30 year old gay Texan whose worked at Denny's for 12 years before joining the peace corps, a 26 year old girl who got her masters in Chaucer from St Andrews in Scotland-and the list goes on. The peace corps certainly attracts a motley bunch and if anything it is wonderful to meet people with such different life views and experiences. I've made some good friends within our group here. Some of them arent people I might not necessarily be chose to or even have occasion to meet so this has been such a great experience on being with different people, being thrown together like this.

uly 31:
Things in Mongolia are trucking right along. As of tomorrow, my first day of school is in one month- a terrifying prospect. It's all going to happen so fast after what's felt like forever waiting to see the other kids again and get our site placements. Went into UB yesterday for an orentation day. We went to a monistary I'd love to take you to- it was a very old one that survived the communists becuase it was turned into a museaum. We also went to a cafe with chi tea lattes and i just about died of happiness. UB is really a facinating city- there are lots of markets that remind me of the dekalb farmers market, the smells are so intense and amazing. You really can get whatever you want in UB, from curry powder to bottled frappachinos, for a price though...Tomorrow night we have our community project and I really hope it doesn't tank. We are going to show a very profound anti-trafficking video, have a community discussion and then a dance. I don't know how that segway will go to dance from human trafficking discussion or if many people will show up but a project is something peace corps requires us to do so they're just looking for us to try something. I'll let you know how it goes. But it has definitely gotten me jazzed to work on human trafficking prevention when I get to site. That seems like a good project, seeing as my host family doesn't believe it happens in Mongolia but the statics are pretty scary.

July 24:
I had my first solo teaching and it went so so well! They really loved it. My friend traced my silhouette on a big sheet of paper and they labeled the parts, in addition to Simon Says and 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes' which they loved. Also, my Mongolian teacher is great. I haven't told you about her yet. Shes really smart and sweet, a young woman who spent lots of time in Germany and teaches Mongolian at the school. She's a great part of the support system that the Peace Corps has for us. It's good to get to know a Mongolian on a teacher level but she is also getting to be a friend of everyone in the class-for example, she took in one of the trainees whose host uncle died and had no where to go.

July 15:
I got hit with a wave of homesickness yesterday but went to my Mongolian house, did some laundry-what a process that is!-, ate some strange goat meat from a barbecue by the river and realized that this life is very normal to many people. It was hard not to wish I was back home today when I was looking at the photos but there have been lots of great things happening here, too. Over the weekend, I went to UB with my host sister. We spent all day going to Naadam, seeing the biggest monistary in UB- so beautiful!, climbing up to this crazy soviet monument overlooking the whole city, checking out the state department store-think Harrods of Mongolia- and of course Suukbater square. It was so great to finally see the city. And while they say that UB is not the real Mongolia, it's good to know what's out there and makes me realize I don't want to the in the capital because that's not really how Mongolian people live-even though a half of their population is there. It's Mongolia but urbanized which causes the lifestyle to lose so much of it's uniqueness.

July 8:
I'm so glad everyone had a great fourth of July. Ours was interesting with all the hijinx expected of a peace corps fourth of July in Mongolia- a little debauchery in a yert and a wild goose chase for a party behind a hotel. But all is well and we were Kindle is wonderful. I love it and there are several other volunteers who eye it jeliously when I take it out. I've finished Mountains Beyond Mountains thus far and got to read the entirety of Pat Conroy's book The Water is Wide when I was sick- a phenomenal book, what an authorial voice!, with lots of similarities to what I think I'm doing...or at least trying to do, with the right amount of old south to make me long for grits and balmy weather but not too homesick. Now I'm starting Pride and Prejudice...I went to the Naadam-the festival of three manly sports- for my village last weekend and the big Naadam in UB is this coming weekend. Apparently, my family is going for the first part of Saturday for the opening then having a 10 person -whole- goat roast down by the river...Things are going well here these days- I'm getting into the groove of being here over all. I've come to realize that two years is not that long- especially not compared to the American life span-longer than the Mongolian one. I can spend the rest of my life in America leading a normal life with a normal relationship but now is the time to have an unconventional life and be in a relationship developing myself/helping others- if that makes sense. Also, there are so many doors that this will open. I suppose it's obvious I've been spending lots of time thinking about the world lately, especially in context to my role in it and Peace Corps as a whole, which I think is good. Also, I've picked up some instant Nescafe from the store and make a sort of latte with my milk tea in the morning so life here is going fine. It seems like a game or puzzle to figure out how to live my life in such a different place and it's going well so far.

June 30:
Our teacher asked us to draw our ideal/fave American meal and label it in Mongolian during class. I drew Dad's salmon salad complete with homemade hummus, salmon fillet, roasted red peppers and the words. Sadly, mixed field greens didnt translate very well into Mongolian. :) Sorry it's been a while- I've actually been really sick lately. I feel much better now but I had to miss a day and a half of school due to fever, soar throat, sinus congestion and everything. For some reason, after having been so ill I feel much better about being here. I had a dream about the family being together when my fever was breaking and after that I was able to dream about Mongolia-weirdly, I hadn't yet and somehow when I recovered from my illness I had come much more to terms with being here than earlier. Before, I fought being here and would construct fun Atlanta agendas for my day instead of being here: Pilates, Flying Biscuit, Boarders, Piedmont Park, etc. but now I've really started looking forward into the future in Mongolia. I think it's healthy because I've realized while my favorite Starbucks and shoe stores may come and go, life in Atlanta and to a greater extent America will be going on without me and will welcome me back into it when I get home, wherever I chose to get a place after I'm done with my experiences here. So much more secure thoughts coming from over here in the east these days. My host family is great. I've actually been placed with one of the poorer host family in this town. Literally up to about six adults and a baby sleep in the same room every night on mats on the floor and cots. Earlier, I couldn't conceive of how a family could actually live in a two room house but now I see that people do and while I am sure glad that I don't normally-they have me in a small separate house at the other side of the yard- it's something mind blowing to watch and be a part of, especially coming from the privilege life that I do. The family is in total a mother and six kids. The father died in a car crash when all the kids were all very young and the mother had to raise all those kids by herself-can you imagine!?. But they are all very friendly and come and go regularly, without staying very long- some of the sisters left for work in the countryside yesterday only to be replaced by a brother and cousin a day later. But they cook on a single wood/dung burning stove and seem to get along just fine really. The mother is a cook and at 44 she sleeps on the floor, some days doesn't come home until everyone's asleep from work and is still so sweet-albeit missing several teeth. The kids are great, they're all about my age and are very into teaching me Mongolian. And though I'll miss the cuteness, the fussy baby was whisked away to the countryside with the mother so no poop on the floor-they don't buy diapers- or insessent crying...I think I'll miss him soon, though. Mongolian is coming along at a glacial pace, sadly. It's been very frustrating albeit humbling to have to learn to read all over again- it's really like I am a child. I have a one-on-one with my teacher tomorrow so hopefully that'll help. It's such a guttural language and it's hard to assign what we consider just sounds and noises to things like trees and stars. I also had my third teaching lesson today. The assignment was grammar and we did prepositions. I think they liked jumping onto their benches for 'above' the best. Every time we start class I do a warm up that Laura Cole taught me at the Shakespeare Tavern and it's always a big hit- funny I don't know if she had that in mind when teaching it. We also had a ger visit yesterday and learned how the fire safety worked, how to winterize and de-winterize a ger, chop wood, what the proper way to enter and exit a ger is and all that. I actually don't know if I'll be living in one because I'd like to be stationed in a bigger town and those are mostly apartments but there's always a chance of living in a felt tent for two years!- either way is fine with me really, they both have ups and downs. It really just depends on what the school I am placed with gives me to live in. Alright, I've gotta go take my tumpon bath now- it's a little pink tub I have for washing everything that needs to be washed- from my clothes to myself...quite an adventure.

June 22:
Things here are over all good but it is hard at times. The way I look at it, I'm in the process of coming to terms with being here and this lifestyle. We had a cross culture class today and talked a lot about culture shock. They said that it would be a lot of ups and downs most of the time very abruptly which seems the be just about right. But I know I can do this and having all of you support makes this whole process so much easier. The process is a little lonely at times but it's more bewildering and scary than anything I think. But I know it will pass and it will be worth it for sure. Sadly, my host family baby is the fussiest baby I've ever come across! It cries all the time (he was in the teething phase, I think, and eventually the baby really grew on me- I find myself wondering now if he's walking or talking and how big he is) but I suppose it just solidifies the need for birth control for me. It's neat though cause they do interesting practices with him like circling it with incense three times every night (and after dark, they rub soot from the stove onto his forehead so he looks like a little Indian prince in all his glorious chubbiness). Also, there's a five year old niece that comes around a bunch and she reminds me so much of Chapman! So funny. Gauuchurt is beautiful! Apparently its one of the most beautiful places in Mongolia and I'd believe it. For the latter half of our Mongolian lesson today we sat in the sun by the river and practiced. (some of my strongest and happiest memories of training are of the river, it really marked my experience there)


Ok so I don't really like to write about stuff that happned a while ago in blogs or journals (somehow the events lose their potancy quickly and it seems like a chore to write about them after they've passed) but in order to bring you up to speed, I'm going to try and post some e-mails and journal entries between the beginning of training and now.

But for context's sake, here's a brief summary of the last few months:

I was in a wee suburb town called Gachuurt about 30 minutes outside of UB for training. The town was beautiful, boasting a winding river lush with trees- a rarity in such an arid country. The training lasted something like 2 1/2 months and we were instructed in Mongolian language and culture. I lived with a lovely host family of a 44 year old mother, 3 daughters, ages ranging from 19 to 26, the 11 month old baby of the eldest sister, a 24 year old host brother I didn't really see ever and an uncle who just came to crash on the floor, in addition to a cow, a calf, 2 dogs and the occasional random family member (a sassy little 5 year old more often than not) who came to stay for a while. It was a full house!

I had a pretty good training group. Sometimes the personalities clashed in a rather unsettling way but I found some amazing friends I will keep until the end of my Peace Corps service and beyond! There was certainly a group of people there who kept me afloat and I them. Together we seemingly clung to our sanity though many indulgent afternoons filled with movies, group studying, countless ice cream bars, girl talk and general kindness and understanding. I think we were lucky to have each other and I am over the moon about seeing them at Christmas.

Also, my LCF (the woman who was serverd as the Mongolian teacher for half my training group and surrogate Mongolian mother) was amazing! She went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure we were all okay and adjusting well. It was so wonderful to have her as my bridge into Mongolian culture. She took us clubbing and then delivered us home safely, came early to help me with the language, spent all day shutteling Aaron and I around UB to buy food for the host family appreciation party and checked up on our host families frequently to make sure that we were getting enough food and love. Through here I was properly introduced to the legendary Mongolian hospitality.

So that's about all the basics of training. More in detail to come...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

a pretty candid article for Goucher's Service-Learning blog

First posted on June 8, 2009 to the old blog:

So upon hearing that I got into the Peace Corps, Michael Curry, the Director of Service-Learning at Goucher College (where I just graduated), asked me to write an article for Goucher's Service-Learning blog about my process, expectations, etc. He has yet to put it up- he's a busy guy I know so I'm not too bothered about that- but I wanted to post it here. I wrote it a little while ago so some things have changed since then but I wanted to post the original thing. Here it is:

When I read the words “Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that we invite you to being training in Mongolia for Peace Corps service” my fluttering heart dropped like a brick onto the Post Office floor. Yes, I had been waiting with baited breath for months for this letter and yes, there is nothing more I wanted than to be done with the Peace Corps application process. The Peace Corps was my dream, I couldn’t wait to finally get my country assignment. But it was all wrong. Visions of myself reclining in a Thai tikki hut, drinking out of a coconut, surrounded by bronzed children were shoved away by thoughts of bitter winters. I had somehow concluded that the karmic payback for my giving two years of my prime to teach Asian children English would be a placement somewhere blissful and tropical. I had not applied to the Peace Corps with the tundra in mind.

As placement is nonnegotiable, I have scrambled to learn as much about Mongolia as I can since receiving the letter only a few weeks ago. While much of it is daunting, the more I learn the less scary it becomes. At this point, I can practically recite the Mongolia Wikipedia page, have checked out the sad handful of books the Goucher library has on the country and have YouTube-ed Tuvin throat singing to death. The thing that has been really heart warming though is the way in which both my friends and family have thrown themselves into research about Mongolia, as well. My friends have been bombarding me with facts about Mongolia that I hadn’t even come across yet. My parents daily check the weather in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city; it’s permanently saved on their iPhones. Even my 83-year-old grandmother opened a NetFlix account and has been leaving synopses of strange Mongolian films on my voice mail. Learning all I can about this strange land that no one seems to be able to find on a map (for the record, it’s between Russia and China) has helped banish some of my fear of this foreign land and having my loved ones support me has meant everything.

These days I am beginning to come to terms with a future reality that will inevitably include a diet of mostly meat (I can’t remember the last time I had a burger), winters that reach -40 degrees (I’m a warm blooded girl from Atlanta) and a language that sounds like the strange lovechild of Russian and Chinese (I barely squeaked by the minimum in Spanish class). However, there are some really neat things about being sent to this obscure corner of the world. For instance, anywhere from 30% to 50% of Mongolians are nomadic, living in large felt tents called gers that can be taken down in 30 minutes and relying solely on horses for transportation. But like many bucolic lifestyles worldwide, the Mongolian nomadic culture is vanishing rapidly. Motorcycles are edging out horses and young adults are moving to the sprawling cities. The ability to get a slice of this lifestyle before it goes extinct is something I am honored to have the opportunity to do. The Peace Corps expects volunteers to live like natives and work alongside them; I’ll probably get my very own ger and will certainly live as a Mongolian. I will eat their food, celebrate their holidays and work in their schools. I will live like this dying race for several years and not many people can say that.

Whatever the joys and pitfalls of living in Mongolia will be, I am resolute in my love of the Peace Corps. A brief rundown for those who are unfamiliar with the Peace Corps: it is a government program that sends volunteers to impoverished countries all over the world. The object of doing so is to help develop the infrastructure of the host country by working in a number of capacities, such as strengthening their health, education and agricultural systems. The Volunteer’s obligation is for two years plus several months of training.

I first found out about the Peace Corps through my godmother who was a Volunteer in the 60’s when the Peace Corps was relatively new; she has inspired me to follow in her footsteps. I suppose it didn’t help my expectations of placement that she was sent to the tropical island of Samoa. However, the fact that she is still in touch with her host family in Samoa after over 40 years is amazing. They still consider her their daughter (they’ve even reserved a burial plot for her in Samoa with the rest of the family) and that drove me to find out what it is that binds people from totally different worlds so strongly.

In Mongolia as a Peace Corps Volunteer I will be teaching English to High School age students and helping Mongolian English teachers refine their knowledge of the language. I will also be doing Community Development, a job as abstract as it sounds; essentially I must find something my community needs and help them obtain it. As my first job after graduation, I couldn’t be more thrilled. The opportunity to explore unfamiliar terrain, live a completely different lifestyle and challenge myself in ways I can’t imagine from here at my dorm room desk is both terrifying and exciting. It is sure to bring many unforeseen challenges and rewards. I am elated to be foraging out into a strange country to bring about positive change and represent my home and people in the best way that I can.

While I am admittedly proud of myself, this is such a huge transition with such lofty concepts that it becomes difficult to grapple with at times. Whenever I feel conflicted or scared about the future that lies in wait less than two months away, I remember President John F. Kennedy’s words upon founding the Peace Corps in 1961. They are frank and beautiful and I have carved my expectations out of what he said when he told Congress this:

"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.

But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

Reflecting on Kennedy’s words truly soothes my tempestuous thoughts about leaving Goucher and everything I know behind. They make me yearn for the day that I will hold my head high and walk tall towards Asia, striding though my fears and doubts, past my worries of bitter cold and abject loneliness into a new place. So while I did not initially see the opening of my acceptance letter as something to celebrate, Mongolia was definitely not what I had expected or wanted, it has certainly been the start of a new adventure.

Here Goes...

First posted on June 28, 2009 to the old blog:

So this is my first post on the blog. The purpose of the blog is not only to keep my friends and family updated on what I am doing in the Peace Corps in Mongolia but also to correspond with readers and keep in touch as best as possible. I recently spoke with a great guy who is serving in the Peace Corps in Mongolia now and he said a blog was a very good idea. So here goes...

I thought long and hard about the title of this blog. Most blog titles seem pretty lame to me and I wanted one that wouldn't be cheesy. This one might be admittedly a little cheesy but I kinda liked it. I wanted something that would call to mind what I am doing- pushing out and moving away; it is a title that I hope suggests motion and rising to a new challenge. Also, for those who don't know, Mongolia is pretty famous for its steppes- sweeping grassy plateaus that take up much of the country. I might not be stationed on the steppes or anywhere near them for that matter but I don't really know where I'll be so the guess that I'll be on the steppes is as good as any. Hopefully this title is evocative and symbolic for this coming expierence.

With that having been said, my hope is to step to this new life with optimism and vigor. I know it won't be easy and I've heard often that the Peace Corps is the best of times and the worst of times for the Volunteers. But knowing that I yearn to make the best of it and try my hand at this challenge. Hopefully I'll do a good job of conveying the coming events to the readers of this blog (feed back would be sooooo appreciated!). I'm off to Mongolia on Thursday. So here goes!


Hey guys,
This is my new Mongolia blog because I somehow, in the flurry of moving across the country, learning the language, mastering English teaching (or at least attempting to) and getting settled in a new place among other things, managed to forget both my user name and password. Note to self- write it down! So I've started a new blog, under the same name but with a different email address. After getting a sort of sense of security and order in my life here in Mongolia, I am not really going to start blogging with some form of regularity. I'll try and update you on what's passed in the last few months while posting new events, too. Thanks for your patience!