Getting On As a New PCV

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M26 Swearing-In Ceremony (August 2015)

Once you’ve received an invitation from Peace Corps, passed medical and legal clearance, sorted our your job and family affairs, you will still find yourself with oodles and oodles of time to think and wonder. Will I like it? Will I make it? How much of it will I hate or love? (See here for my pre-departure musings)

My biggest fear pre-departure was that I wasn’t going to make it through Pre-Service Training. I was afraid that I was way in over my head with this and hopelessly naive about moving to Mongolia. I had visions of laying in bed at home crying myself to sleep because I hadn’t been able to hack it three months in Mongolia. And yeah, making it through PST was a proud moment.

Making it through my 27 months of service will be an even prouder one.

Before I finish up here, I’d like to take a moment to share my thoughts on what made my service feel successful.** Of course not everyday was easy (e.g. today omgggg), but I wasn’t contemplating Early Termination (ET) every other week. I didn’t hate my life or my service or my community at any point. Some of my work really validated me as a professional and other times, it made me want to crawl in bed and wish away the world.

The bar is not that high here. And luckily, the five nuggets of advice I have for you are not completely unachievable either (or at least I hope). So if you’re getting ready to leave for Peace Corps, I recommend you stretch yourself to your limits with these.

** Necessary disclaimer: note that I didn’t say that my service ~was~ successful. The following tips are based on my own observations and experiences and do not reflect every post, every volunteer’s situation, every work/living situation to have ever existed. **

The Other 2/3

When I was in D.C. for Blog It Home, we were reminded over and over again that 2/3 of our work as a Peace Corps Volunteer is just sharing culture: share America with your host country (Goal 2) and share your host country with America (Goal 3).

When you get to site and people don’t know why you’re there or – let’s be real here – you don’t know why you’re there, just remember that the work-work is really only 1/3 of your purpose. You’d still be a successful volunteer if all you did was introduce your host family to pumpkin pie or the Kardashians. Or memes. Lots and lots of memes.

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I don’t see commitment unless I see some heels!

Make Yourself Go Out

This is coming from an introvert who doesn’t like drinking, dancing or staying up late: yes, you rshould accept the invitation and go out, at least the first time around. Next year, if you really don’t want to go on the overnight 24 hour van ride through the countryside with bottles and bottles of Пиво, at least your counterparts will know it’s not because you don’t like them.

Until these kinds of understandings and relationships have formed, it’s important not to give the impression that you don’t want to be around your counterparts, host family or your community. It can be really, really hard that first year to get out when every normal day is so mentally exhausting. But these moments build trust and camaraderie with the people who are going to be looking out for you these next two years. And for those of you like me, just accept it’s going to be difficult. My advice is to pick the most important events, find tricks to avoid the drinking, and do the following:

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The queen of laughter, my site mate Alex at IST (Photo by Ian Armstrong)

Smile Often, Laugh Even More

I’ll admit, this one is a bit of a learned skill. When you’re stressed, this is the last thing you feel in yourself. I finally started smiling and laughing more when I realized the stress of brooding and staying resentful made my day so much worse.

While I still don’t laugh or smile as often as I’d like, the things I used to take super seriously (like being in a pickle because of someone’s lack of forethought), I’ve learned to shrug it off and sometimes, smile about it. I’m not perfect at it but I recognize its value. You’d be surprised how much more strangers will like you because you smiled or laughed in an unexpected or awkward moment.

Don’t Burn Those Bridges

You may come in thinking that your counterparts and host country agency should be grateful for this huge sacrifice you’re making and the coveted skills you’re bringing, but your counterparts can very easily decide you’re not worth their time. Maybe they’re not comfortable with the ensuing power dynamic or have a hard time collaborating on your terms.

Even if it’s a frustrating first few months, don’t throw your hands up in the air and say “Well, if you don’t want to work with me, I don’t want to work with you either!” Go back to advice #1. Just because you’re not doing all that much “at work,” you still have the other two goals. Or lower your expectations and meet your people where they are. Honestly, the worst thing you can do for yourself is give up in exasperation too soon.

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Not sure why this pose happened but it did so I’m embracing it (@PST 2016 with my counterpart, Naraa)

Get That Hustle On

Last summer while I was a trainer at PST, my counterpart asked me if I worked at home after the day was over. She said that it seemed like every morning when we sat down to go over the day’s lesson, I’d always have this prepared list of questions and conundrums for the day. I laughed and told her about my weird habit of going through the next day in my head as I fall asleep. The “rehearsal” is my way of avoiding unnecessary stress the next day and consequently, brings up issues that I can address before it’s too late.

My CP mentioned that she thinks it’s a very “American” or at least Western trait to be planners, problem solvers, movers and shakers;  it was a quality that she found in common with many of the PCVs – young or old – she’d worked with over the years.

When you are proactive about turning ideas into reality and when you hustle for success, people will usually appreciate what you’re trying to do and help in whatever way they can. Sure, there are going to be haters, but we are known and valued for our work ethic and ability to plan, organize and think ahead. So use it! And most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail.

***

You are here to push your limits so let yourself be stressed, confused, uncomfortable, and unhappy. Just don’t stop or give up there. Give yourself time to adjust and change all those sore adjectives to ones of growth and maturity. For the sake of the medical clearance alone, you owe yourself that.

Good luck and cheers to your forthcoming 27 months!

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Peace Corps Mongolia M26 (2015-2017)

The Ulaanbaatar Vlog

I’m not very proud to admit this but I’ve become a bit of a Youtube junkie.

I somehow went four years at Emory avoiding coffee addictions and late night Youtube binges but then Peace Corps happened and … I caved. I now spend countless hours in bed watching Youtubers vlog (video blogs). I eat up their advice about life, fashion, makeup, romance, fitness and travel. #whyamIsobasic

One Youtuber I can’t get enough of is Jenn Im, a Korean-American lifestyle blogger who is the same age as me and has a super fab life with her newly engaged English boo in Los Angeles. She’s incredibly bubbly and energetic on camera and her vlogs are so addicting to watch. While it’s pretty sad that I spend hours watching someone else live their normal life, there is one thing I can appreciate about vlogging. You basically film yourself doing day-to-day things but because you’ve paused to say something quickly on camera, you’ve now made that moment a little bit more special. You’ll have that memory, thought or impression forever! Maybe this is a stretch but I think vlogging can be a way of practicing presence. And then later, nostalgia.

After 10+ years of taking pictures and writing blogs, I want to try a new way of documenting my life.  I know I have a steep learning and comfort curve ahead of me with vlogging (like talking to a camera and filming myself in public like a weirdo) but it might end up being fun and memorable.

My first experience with vlogging happened this past week for my trip to Ulaanbaatar. Please don’t judge too much! I know the filming is shaky and the editing is rough, but I wanted to be sneaky with my camera because I’m not yet comfortable with the whole thing. But it really helped to have mates around to make things less awkward. Anyways, here’s the vlog, enjoy the ride from Uvurkhangai to Ulaanbaatar featuring my site mate Perrin and my friend Saikhnaa!

Reasons Why I Don’t Want My Service To End

I recently got wifi installed in my apartment! It’s been five months since I’ve moved into my newer, second apartment and the only reason it’s taken me this long is because I thought it’d be a huge hassle. But my USB internet modem broke a few weeks ago and I had to make decisions. With the help of my counterpart, I had wifi installed and set up within two hours of inquiry. I’m such a happy bear!

And so the following Monday, I spent my evening downloading and updating my music library:  John Legend’s new song “Love Me Now” and Ed Sheeran’s new release “Shape of You” among others. I did yoga, took a bath, scrubbed myself clean and sat down to journal. And that’s when I realized: as much as I complain and wish Peace Corps was over, I had to admit that I had a nice little thing going for myself here.

I’ve been counting down the months from the very start.  At first, the countdown was out of awe – “I can’t believe I’ve been here for six months already!” – but then it slowly turned into impatience – “I can’t wait to go back to America in x months and finally be able to do x!” It’s one of my favorite conversations to have with my boyfriend. We can’t wait to get in the car and drive ourselves to an ice cream shop or fast-food joint.Or sit at a bookstore all day with a cup of joe. Decide on a whim to hike or backpack in the mountains. Start a specialty tea & coffee hobby. The list grows as we get closer and closer to the end.

But that Monday evening after my bath, I recounted the months I had left in Mongolia (six) and started to feel a mild panic. Life in America looks good from far away (see above), but zooming in, I realize how much freedom and power I’ll have to leave behind with my service. It makes me sad and reflective and actually start to wish away the end of my service.

But here are the reasons why I don’t want my service to end:

  • People think I’m important and I have sway in my work. As a native speaker who was educated under a Western curriculum, my input is valuable and sought out. I’m asked to lead seminars, present at conferences, develop methodologies and trainings, and start up clubs. It feels good to have people respect what I can do even though I’m way younger than them. And it’s such a rush of self-confidence that I can have this kind of responsibility and not mess it all up.
  • I work way less hours and get so much more done. I don’t waste my time just to be seen. Instead, I get things DONE.
  • I have free reign in my work and my project ideas. The volunteer’s job description is “anything and everything.” TEFL volunteers are teachers but we’re also community organizers. That means if I want to start a speaking club or organize a TEDx talk, I can do that. Nobody is going to tell me that because it’s not part of my job description, I need to sit down and stop making waves.
  • The support I get for my ideas has been so amazing. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my service to work with such supportive colleagues. Whether its for education (like a phonics seminar) or for my community (Write On!), the people around me have shown their full support and often times have wanted to help.
  • My own apartment with a two minute commute. I dread the days when I’m going to have to search for apartments with roommates on craigslist. Or spend a huge chunk of my income to live in a nice or hip neighborhood and then spend hours every day commuting in traffic.
  • A break in monotony. My life has stabilized but not so much that I feel the drone of monotony every day. I can break up my routine with 8-hour trips to Ulaanbaatar for joyous reunions and good food. Or maybe I’ll see something on the street that leaves me puzzled or amused or wonder if it’s just part of Mongolian culture. The holidays feel new. Vacation timing and options have changed up. You see what I mean?

You might notice that the things I look forward to in America have mostly to do with what I can do on my free time. And the things I love most about Mongolia have to do with my work. When I finish my service in six months, I’m trading work status for play options. It’ll be back to being the assistant of the assistant and having no say because I’m young and inexperienced. Back to windowless office spaces, cubicles and nuking leftovers for lunch, crowded commutes  …

What is giveth is taketh away.

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I was invited to an international NGO’s conference this winter where I led two teacher / counterpart training sessions to a group of some amazing women leaders.

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Learn more about this NGO at http://www.bookbridge.org

The Calendar Year of My PC Life

After hours and hours of sifting through photos and journal entries, I have finally finished putting this post together: an anecdotal recap of my 2016. While lots of folks do these kinds of “Best of the Year” highlight reels, I wanted mine to be a little different. I wanted to show my year a little more holistically by giving equal spotlight to the big moments, the little moments and the reality behind the front.

Perhaps some of these anecdotes will make you smile or laugh. I certainly had a wonderful time digging them up again. It made me realize how rich and content-full my life is here even though it seems routine and mundane on the day to day. While Instagram, Facebook and my resume will preserve the big moments like project successes and whirlwind adventures, it’s the little, everyday moments that I’m afraid will slip away as time goes by. If I don’t completely forget them, they’ll get stored away to unreachable depths until one day, ten years later, someone burns a pancake and you think, “Ah, this reminds me of the time in Mongolia when …

It wasn’t until recently that I stopped feeling a undercurrent of stress every single day. I think many of us underestimate how intense it is to move and settle yourself in a foreign community even if you’ve been welcomed. And you never stop feeling guilty that you could be doing more. The challenges are such a big part of Peace Corps service that I can’t just give you the good bits on a silver platter. My year has been as memorable as it was because of both the ups and downs so that’s how I’ll present it to you here.

So without further ado, twenty sixteen:

January

Big Moments //

  • Leave Mongolia for the first time for a winter vacation in Japan
  • Commission my first Mongolian deel

Little Moments //

  • Become a master bundler
  • Witness the weirdest moment of my life that is a little too graphic to share on the blog. Ask me about it sometime cus I promise you it is weird.

Real Life // January is by the far the coldest month ever. Two of my sitemates leave for personal reasons so I am feeling really lonely and bored. While everyone is elbow-deep preparing their thousand buuz (dumplings) for the upcoming holiday, I am feeling guilty about wanting to stay home instead of getting out and having an Experience. As much as my Mongolian is improving, I still find socializing to be straining. I am glad when January ends.

February / March

Big Moments //

  • Spend a long Saturday on the frozen river with school colleagues
  • PCV friends come to visit and we tour the ancient capital of Mongolia, Khakhorin, which is also a PCV site
  • New relationship
  • Start anxiously mapping out my post Peace Corps future
  • Tsagaan Sar aka Lunar New Year

Little Moments //

  • My school’s only female gym teacher and competitive power lifter takes me to the gym where I get wrecked
  • I meet Saikhnaa, a cheery 25-year-old unmarried woman who has just graduated and returned from study-abroad in Japan #newbestfriend #futurecounterpart
  • My students make a huge fuss when I come to school wearing my new deel
  • Observing a lesson and coming to the slow realization that my school has adjusted the regular school schedule to teach students about International Women’s Day. Win!

Real Life // I’m slowly adjusting to life without site mates (how do you do it soumers!) which forces me to start looking for companionship elsewhere. I find it in the form of a Peace Corps boyfriend (heh) and a few single, childless women friends which is rare in my community. The official Lunar New Year holidays are over but my colleagues and I are celebrating birthdays and making house visits. I attempt to host a coffee&cookie soirée at my place but it ends up as a bit of a disaster. Let’s just say that I made the “No Kids in my Apartment” rule after this night.

April / May

Big Moments //

  • A spring break group arrives from an international high school in Germany to volunteer at my local English learning center. After chatting with the teacher chaperons, I discover a potential career path – international school teaching – that sends me into the sky with excitement. My future looks hopeful.
  • I start working with the national office to design 25th Anniversary materials.
  • Reunite with friends for two weeks in Darkhan for Training of Trainers conference. Get ready for M27 Pre-Service Training.

Little Moments //

  • I start exercising outdoors again.
  • Some punk kid steals a cup of soda out of my hands as I am walking out of a pizza joint in UB.

Real Life // Senioritis is real and in full force. It’s warming up outside and I’m getting restless to start exercising again. I start with aimless runs and watch forlornly at the kids playing pick-up soccer at the children’s park. I’m too nervous to ask them if I can join. I’m also feeling so lazy and unmotivated to work that I seriously start to question my ability to be a functional, contributing member of society one day. Thankfully, once I leave site and head to Darkhan for my summer assignment, my work ethic comes back. I am happy to be in a city and around friends again.

June / July

Big Moments //

  • My listening comprehension in Mongolian peaks and it’s fantastic
  • Work as a Pre-Service Training trainer for nine fresh-off-the-plane Americans. Five weeks in a soum in beautiful Selenge aimag.
  • Go to Korea for three weeks for a family reunion to celebrate (multiple times) my dad’s 60th.
  • Sightsee Seoul for the first time with my boyfriend. It’s his first time in Korea and my first time explaining Korea to someone.

Little Moments //

  • Ride an old school Soviet train for the overnight ride back to Ulaanbaatar. Lay in the top bunk next to the slit of a window and still sweat the entire ride.
  • Have some really insightful cross-cultural conversations about marriage and work culture with my fellow Mongolian trainers over tea and biscuits.
  • The soum policeman tries to make me share my dorm room with a random backpacker and there’s a lot of NOPE involved.
  • Drying my clothes on the line becomes my favorite thing ever.

Real Life // Every PCV looks forward to the summer. The opportunities are boundless. Mongolians head to the countryside in flocks so if you stay at site, you’ll be bored to tears. To keep that from happening, you find camps to do and you plan trips. I’m glad to start work as a trainer even if it means I’ll be working longer and harder than I have all year. It’s nice to be on the other side of PST. After my half of PST ends, I’m off to Korea where I reunite with my family and relatives. It’s been five years since I was here last. There is a lot to catch up on like food, shopping and modern marvels like squishy mattresses and automatic washing machines. The sheer amount of people in Seoul is sometimes panic-inducing. When I get back to Mongolia, I wonder aloud, “Where is everyone?”

August

Big Moments //

  • After five sleepless nights, Peace Corps announces the eight Blog It Home winners and I am one of them. I find out in a morning text from our IT guy at the Peace Corps office (thanks, Enkh!).
  • Exclusive access to the M27 Swearing-In ceremony and 25th Anniversary reception where I got to take a pic with Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler Radelet.
  • Move to a new apartment and make it extra clear the terms of the housing agreement with my new landlord.

Little Moments //

  • Write out my second year goals: more casual time with Mongolians, project or club that is student focused, Get Bod Back (campaign title thanks to Olivia), learn a Mongolian dance, and figure out my post-Peace Corps plan
  • Tossing a frisbee around with my boyfriend is a laughing riot cause I’m so, so bad at it
  • The worst ride ever through tough terrain to visit a remote lake cluster in my aimag. It was beautiful but never again.
  • Spontaneous bonfire and dance party at my cohort’s Mid-Service Training becomes an unforgettable bonding night

Real Life // August is the month that I actually find time to relax and enjoy my summer vacation. It is the time for gin&tonics and for putting my ice cube mold to good use (my dad laughed at me for packing this but joke’s on you, dad!). The temperature starts to cool down after a fiery July which makes sleeping comfortable and pleasant. It’s also mating season for the stray dogs in town and the racket from all the sparring is ridiculous. No wonder Mongolians think dogs are scary.

September / October

Big Moments //

  • New site mates!
  • Start planning and thinking hard core about what will come after Peace Corps. After months of deliberation, my top two plans have become a) work for PCHQ in D.C. b) go to graduate school for education and get teaching on the international teaching circuit
  • Launch my leadership and public speaking club with my town’s Bookbridge Director. First meeting brings in nearly 40 students.
  • Fly to Washington D.C. for the Blog It Home tour

Little Moments //

  • Have the least stressful countryside outing to my counterpart’s mothers ger and fall off a horse for the first time.
  • Teacher’s Day party is on a Thursday and so much fun even though I end up leaving pretty early to take care of a friend. The next morning, I’m up at 8AM wondering if I’ll be team-teaching and watch as the other 8AM class teachers show up dragging their feet.
  • Decide that 5th and 6th graders are my favorite grades to teach
  • Share a delicious Italian style pizza with the super nice Catholic missionaries in my town and bond over expat life

Real Life // The weeks in September go by awfully slow but I think it’s because I have to get use to a teaching schedule again. I propose working with only two grades per quarter and my work life becomes a dream. My counterparts never miss a lesson planning session, I start to recognize students’ faces from going into their classes every week, and I am in a much better place to teach methodology because of all the consistency. Folks from HQ and my Country Director stop by my town for a visit. They come over for tea and we talk about my life here. The very next day, I am off to America. I miss Halloween festivities but I ain’t sad about it.

November / December

Big Moments //

  • Field trip to Khentii aimag with my Bookbridge center where we host a English Festival with the eight Khentii PCVs and their Bookbridge club
  • Share Thanksgiving with my nine counterparts, landlady, and sitemates. Thanks to some advance planning, we’re able to serve pumpkin pie, stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes for dinner. Chicken fingers and Mongolian dumplings (buuz) make up the meat portion of the meal.
  • I am devastated by the election.

Little Moments //

  • After watching clips of Whose Line Is It Anyway? with my community student club, Chatty Bunch, we spend an hour doing improv comedy.
  • I decide to learn how to do a full make-up face routine for the Young Teacher’s Club’s New Year’s banquet.
  • My site mate furnishes stockings for our Christmas sleepover and I get chocolate and money for Xmas. Best presents evar.
  • I see my first Kazakh-style dance and it’s mesmerizing.

Real Life // My site mates take turns being sick. It’s their first winter in Mongolia and the pollution is doing nobody no favors. Teaching the 7th and 8th graders this quarter isn’t very fun but there are some special moments like teaching the 8th graders a song that’s traveled all the way from Mozambique. I start to get a little homesick and moody but that’s to be expected around the American holiday season. I receive a Save the Date from one of my closest friends in America and die a little inside knowing that I won’t be able to make it. It is two months too early. I also start to freak out about re-entry shock and about being a part of American society again. I’m going to have to relearn all public niceties and western office etiquette. And just when I’ve started to get the hang of living and working in Mongolia …

Happy New Year!

Singing from Mozambique to Mongolia

I’m so proud!! I’m totally having a teacher moment right now.

So, back in September, I connected with a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Mozambique who had just moved to Ulaanbaatar. We met for dinner & drinks to talk about international school teaching but also spent good chunk of the time comparing and contrasting our experiences. She came out to visit me a few months later and I showed her my little town, my school, my classes. Over dinner one night with my site mates, she taught us this very simple, but catchy song that one of her fellow PCVs had written.

These last two weeks, my counterparts and I have been teaching the song in all the 8th grade classes. Both my teachers and my students have loooved learning it and we’ve also used it as a tool to review present tense, past tense, WH questions, and irregular verbs. My 8a class has been by the far the best at learning the song so with happy teacher tears in my eyes, I present to you, “The Daily Routine” song:

My favorite part about the song is how its traveled across the world from Mozambique to Mongolia through Peace Corps Volunteers. It attests to how global our work is and also how strong the Peace Corps network is around the world. So thank you to Sarah Hanson (RPCV Mozambique 2013-2015) for inventing this little gem of a song and thank you Sam Kruger (RPCV Mozambique 2013-2015) for bringing it all the way to Mongolia!

We Blogged It Back Home! – Tips

Throughout the week, we had several professional development sessions with leading media and creative folk in the D.C. area. We talked in-depth about photography, videography, storytelling, and media strategy. We also spent time sharing tips with one another on design and keeping up readership. In the third and final series of my Blog It Home recap, I thought it would be nice to pay it forward by sharing my thoughts on setting up a solid Third Goal blog. And if you’re interested in trying for the contest during your service, feel free to reach out! I’d be happy to talk.

Four Tips to Third Goal Blogging

Post with purpose and PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect ✌️)

A commonality amongst all our blogs this year – and which also may be true for previously winning blogs – is that our posts tend to be more topical than ‘this is what I did today.’ A lot of PCVs start their blogs with the intent of keeping friends and family at home updated about their daily lives and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, several Blog It Home winners started theirs blogs that way, too. However, their blog eventually transformed into a platform to share all the awesomely weird but cool things we see and experience as a resident of our host country. Some people add a lot of research and host country national perspective into their posts while others stick to more personal observation and revelation. The important thing is to provide context and show compassion. Highlight differences and show your readers that we’re all harmonious humans on this planet.

Appreciate UX and make it pretty

No, you don’t have to pay for your own URL or for a theme (though I considered it). But put some thought into User Experience (UX). Organize your information into different pages. Make it easy for readers to find topics or posts that may interest them. Always write a thoughtful About Me with a portrait of yourself. The more a reader can connect to you, the more your stories will have weight and connection.

Knowing to whom you write is right.

Yes, your English teacher was correct to drill these questions into you in high school English class: Who is your audience? Why are you writing this? I struggled with this in the beginning because I didn’t know who would be reading my blog besides my parents. But I knew I didn’t want to write to only my mom and dad. That would be too personal and would include details that only they could understand. I decided to pretend that the majority of my readers would be interested and future PCVs of Mongolia. It shaped my voice and what details to include. It’s given me a list of questions and topics that would have been nice to know before I came to country. Plus, with the change in application where candidates can choose their country of service, I thought my blog would have more relevancy. I can’t say for certain if most of my readers are from my intended demographic, but that’s okay! As long as it helps me write, I’m good.

Believe in your POV

You bring a unique perspective to your service and just because everyone else is already writing loads about a topic, say a big holiday in your country of service, don’t take that as a reason for you not to say anything about it. For me, I’m an Asian-American in a Central Asian country. I look like everyone else and even if I don’t talk about it often, it certainly shapes my life here and how people perceive or treat me. I also tend to think about food a lot so yes, there are several posts about that. Brittany started her blog as a way to document life as an African-American female Peace Corps Volunteer in a Latin American region. Mark’s posts are informed by his time and love for the Central Asian region. Zak is a third generation PCV. We’ve all got on a different pair of glasses so reflect on that as you formulate your blog posts.

For when you don’t know what to write about, check out Blogging Abroad and their periodic Blogging Challenge, a venture created by past Blog It Home winners!

And if you want to see blogs from other Blog It Home winners: www.peacecorps.gov/returned-volunteers/awards/blog-it-home/

We Blogged It Back Home! – Highlights

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Tabling at an American University recruitment event

For an entire week, eight of us got VIP fast-pass access to some incredible people and offices. As a newbie who thinks Instagramming work badges is a thing, I was in awe listening to these people talk about their work and how they got to where they are today. I mean, this stuff has kept me awake at night over the last couple of years since graduating. What am I gonna do with my life and how am I going to even get there? 

Some of my favorite moments includes when Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff, dropped in our White House meeting. A few of us were moved to tears telling her about our Let Girls Learn projects and the hope FLOTUS gives to the girls in our classrooms and communities. Also, hearing from Sarada Peri, one of Obama’s speechwriters and the only female/woman of color on the speechwriting team, talk about feminism in the workplace was so legit. She’s so smart and articulate and I totally have a professional girl crush on her.

Another favorite moment was when we visited the National Geographic offices to meet with Ryan Fouss, former Peace Corps videographer who was in his second week at Nat Geo. He was telling us all about his new job, his passion for digital strategy and media and his take on getting a Masters degree vs more experience. We’re all sitting there thinking, man this guy has got his shit together and he’s like only a few years older than us. But then Ryan kind of went silent, looked at us closely and exhaled, “But guys … it’s really hard here.”

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Outside National Geographic HQ with Ryan Fouss

The other 50% of the week’s schedule was devoted to Third Goal-ing. Peace Corps has three main goals and paraphrased, they are the following: 1) Provide trained volunteers to countries who request us 2) Share the American culture ie I am an American and I come to you in peace 3) Share our country’s culture with the American peoples.

Our first Third Goal event was a recruitment event at American University. We had brought artifacts and things from our country and the Third Goal office provided flags and printed posters of an image from our service. The students filed in and we were basically acting recruiters for the night. I met a few students who were interested in going to Mongolia, which was kind of surreal, and I even met a girl who had already been invited to next year’s cohort, the M28s!

After tabling for about an hour, we moved into a conference room where each of us did a brief 101 about our country of service (we all winged this and each time we presented, we all kind of talked about something different) and then we sat for a Q&A panel. Afterwards, we moved back to the tables for more mingling. This was the format for the majority of our Third Goal events except for the day we visited D.C. public schools classrooms.

The bloggers were split into three groups and between the eight of us, we covered six schools. Brittany and I started at Stuart Hobson Middle School where we each presented in our own classrooms of 6th graders. My classroom was unique in that the teacher was involved in the Embassy Adoption program where different embassies in D.C. organize a penpal exchange with a class from its country. The teacher in my class, Ms. Mitchel had been paired with Mongolia! So as I’m walking into the school, I see artwork of the Mongolian flag and when I asked the kids what they knew about the country, they were spitting out Google facts like it was nobody’s business. I was so impressed and I was so excited to share the more cultural side to Mongolia. I brought felt crafts made from students at my town’s technical college, sheep and goat ankle bones given to me by one of my counterparts, coloring pages from a highly popular adult coloring book called Magnificent Mongolia, dried milk curds, and kid-sized traditional hats.

The kids were super intrigued by the ankle bones. Almost all of them thought they were teeth. I also had them try auruul, the dried milk curds, and solicited opinions about how it tasted or smelled. Auruul is a staple Mongolian snack and probably the only acceptable food item that teachers will let students eat in class. It’s a little funky tasting, especially to the American palate, but most of the kids were very respectful when sharing their opinions. For those of you who have never had auruul, here is what you should be prepared for according to these 6th graders:

  • It taste lemony and has a dough-like texture.
  • It tastes like a farm.
  • It tastes like sourdough bread.
  • It smells like spoiled milk.
  • The aftertaste is super strong.

I grew up feeling shameful about eating Korean food in school or having friends over while my mom was cooking dinner. I knew there was a distinct “smell” that kids could be rude and merciless about so I was a little nervous about bringing auruul into the classroom. I know auruul isn’t from my own culture, but I’ve grown to become protective about Mongolia. I considered just having them out for display but people encouraged me to have the students try it and I’m relieved, pleased and utterly impressed that these 6th graders (including the ones at Hardy Middle School) could be both exploratory and respectful of something so new. It gives me hope and makes me appreciate the Third Goal so much more.

I’m getting to go back to my service with a renewed sense of appreciation and wonder. That’s the best part to come out of the Top Bloggers tour. Sure, I got to practice my public speaking skills on the fly and network like a true Washingtonian, but I still have nine months of service left. I have nine more months to live in the present moment and soak up every bit of my content-rich, growth-inducing life.  So get ready for more stories and more observations! cuz it’s time to level-up my blog game.

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The group in front of the West Wing

 

 

 

We Blogged It Back Home! – Us

 

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2016 Blog It Home Winners!

For the fourth year in a row, Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington D.C. – specifically the Third Goal Office – hosted a blog competition open to all currently serving Peace Corps Volunteers (with certain Close-of-Service timing limitations). Winners from eight countries are chosen, flown to D.C. on business expense, and given a one-of-a-kind opportunity. In 2016, over 300 blogs were submitted and of those, twenty were chosen as finalists based on the following criteria:

  • Demonstrated commitment to increasing cross-cultural understanding:  40%
  • Cultural richness of blog:  30%
  • Quality of writing: 15%
  • Quality of media content: 15%

My blog made it to the final round and after five days of a Facebook voting contest, eight winners were chosen. Thankfully, winners aren’t chosen solely by their Facebook like numbers; that would be a bit unfair to sites that have limited internet access or smaller social networks. However, let’s just say that it doesn’t hurt to end the voting round in the top 50%.

This year’s winners flew in from countries all over the world and I loved learning about their service and their country just as much as the next person.

I learned that PCVs in Guyana don’t have to learn another language; they just learn to pick up a Creolese English which actually sounds pretty fantastic. Gabriella has been lettering some of her favorite phrases and they are the best, both the lingo and the artwork.

Zak brought a chunk of chocolate and made Cocoa Samoa for us. It’s super rich and tastes more like sweet, dark coffee than hot chocolate. It gets weird as you start eating the bits of cocoa but it ain’t bad.

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Mark Jahnke (front & center)- https://mondaybazaar.wordpress.com

I took a good look at the map of Central Asia and listened to Mark talk all about borders and ethnic divisions surrounding the country of Krgyz Republic. I also realized how many similarities Central Asian countries share like mayo as a dressing for everything, sheep’s head for days, and ankle bones as a popular game.

I found out that you could start your Peru service with zero Spanish skills and 15 months later, sound like a fluent monster! (Seriously Brittany, I’m still blown away).

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Brooklyn Adelman – http://www.nosleeptillpeace.com

Also it’s so diverse in Peru that Brooklyn can be decked out in traditional wear from the Peruvian Sierra while a volunteer on the other side of the country might never see the outfit in his or her town. Also, Peruvians eat guinea pig and they looove it.

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Bukhtawer (left) – http://bukhtawer.com

Buhktawer showed me beautiful pictures of her service in Ethiopia, including one with a raw meat bone sitting on the dinner plate. Yes, they eat raw meat in Ethiopia. I’ll take Mongolia’s over-boiled meat any day.

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Olivia Prentzel – http://www.oliviaprentzel.com

And last but not least, I learned about the “deep south” of Madagascar: desert, drought, food-scarce and so far inland that Malagasys respond with wide-eyed alarm when Olivia says she lives there. And yes, this girl somehow managed to get a spear through customs.

Next post: highlight reel from our week in DC~

 

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To find links from all Blog It Home winners: www.peacecorps.gov/returned-volunteers/awards/blog-it-home/

First Day of School

When you’re not sure how you feel about going back to school but then an adult asks you and so you try to put on your best face but can’t contain all the feelz:

-ий ий ий
-Сургуульд орох гоё байна уу?
-Гоё байна ий ий ий
-Битгий уйлаарай. Онц сураарай за
– /толгой дохисоноо/ Эмээ өвөө аавдаа хайртай шүү… ий ий ий

Interviewer: Is it nice to be back in school?
Boy: [Sobbing] Yes, it is.
Interviewer: Don’t cry. Study extra hard, okay?
Boy: [Still crying but nods head] I love my grandma, my grandpa and my dad!


September 1st is the universal first day of school in Mongolia whether you’re a kindergarten kid or a university student. The day begins with a ceremony in front of the school: speeches from directors, administrators and nervous volunteers like me alongside song and dance performances by the students. At the very end, a few students from a low and high grade will make a lap around the stage ringing a ceremonial bell.

The first day of school in Mongolia is largely an organizational day. Homeroom teachers check in with their classes, gather information about their own teaching schedules (which is released on the day of and is in flux for the first two weeks of school), and reconnect with colleagues in the Teacher’s Room over bowls of airag (fermented mare’s milk) and auruul (milk curd snacks). It’s a pretty chill day, very different from what I remember as my first days of school in America. This year, I spent a couple of hours chatting with teachers after the opening ceremony and then went home around noon. No one was planning to teach their lessons; in fact, homeroom teachers were given a handout on Chinggis Khan and told to go over it with their homeroom kids during the first few periods.

Here are some pictures from this and last year:

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M27 Swearing-In with Peace Corps Director

First off, I have FANTASTIC NEWS, everybody! After five ridiculously stressful contest days, I’ve been chosen as one of the 2016 Blog It Home winners! I will be joining seven other Peace Corps Volunteer bloggers from around the world in Washington D.C. this fall for the Top Bloggers tour. I couldn’t tell you what exactly we’ll be doing but something along the lines of this: “Over the course of the tour, you will promote the Third Goal in a series of inter-cultural presentations to diverse audiences, professional development opportunities, and general celebrations” (straight from the email they sent me haha).

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said that she was organizing a White House tour for winning bloggers and in the past, bloggers have met with White House staff to talk about their experiences… You think POTUS will have some free time to say hello?

The tour will last a week in October and I’ll probably stay a few days extra to hang out with friends and family. I’m so excited to go back to the city I called home right before joining Peace Corps!

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M27s with Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet

Speaking of the Peace Corps Director, she came to visit Mongolia! She presided over the Swearing-In ceremony for our newest group of volunteers, the M27s, last weekend. The ceremony was also a joint celebration with Peace Corps Mongolia’s 25th Anniversary so it was held in one of UB’s most beautiful venues (the Opera House in the center of the city) and there was a tasty and fulfilling hors d’oeuvres reception afterwards (free food, yes!). The Ambassador to Mongolia spoke at the event as well as Director CHR and a member from the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

During the Swearing-In ceremony, they showed two videos highlighting Peace Corps work in Mongolia – one was shot and produced by Peace Corps last spring (first video) and the second video was made by our very own M25 volunteer, Marcus Keely, for the Peace Corps “Highlighting Happiness” video contest.

I have had such an amazing summer surrounded by other Americans, my family and my boyfriend but as the summer winded down, I had been anxious about my return to site and to the daily grind. But seeing the new volunteers swear-in and watching these videos about Mongolia has renewed my commitment to finishing my service strong and proud, being present as much as possible, and finding joy in all corners of my life here.

Cheers to year two!!

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My new sitemates, Anna and Perrin! 

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Jess and I standing by one of the banners Ian designed 

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M27s with Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet

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They’re cute

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I’m your biggest fan, Udval and Ulzii! 

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Mongolian women are so beautiful! Why can’t I be more like them? From left to right, Udval (TEFL Coordinator), Naraa (Safety and Security boss), Odnoo (Regional Manager), Ganaa (Language Coordinator) 

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The selfie stick is alive and well

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Arrival of the cakes and everyone goes ooooh

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Zorigoo and Bayar, Regional Managers

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The greeting team

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Two of my counterparts from PST this summer- Naraa and Oyumaa

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Snuck in a quick picture with Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet before she left the party

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fwends at the Chinggis Khan statue