One of the projects I’ve taken on this spring has been helping the Peace Corps Mongolia office design material for the 25th Anniversary. I did a lot of design work as an AmeriCorps VISTA before I came to Mongolia so this was the perfect opportunity to keep my Adobe shortcut fluency on point. I put together a little design team with a few other volunteers and we created a special 25th Anniversary logo, a brochure, stage banners, a special 25th poster, and a kind of Blast-Through-the-Past print series. We received some incredible photos from Returned PCVs, as far back as the first cohort (M1 1991-93), but no one had the original film negatives so the most time consuming part of the job was figuring out how to print 22×30 inch posters using 4×6 photo prints or medium quality JPEGS.
Fortunately, everything turned out great and I’m very pleased with the results. Each volunteer received two 25th Anniversary posters and a few pens to distribute as they wish at site. Everything else will be displayed at various celebratory events throughout the summer by both the U.S. Embassy and Peace Corps Mongolia.
On the ground, volunteers commemorated the anniversary by organizing tree plantings in their aimags. The tree planting in my aimag took place in early May and with the help of community members, young and old, we were able to donate and plant more than 20 trees at the children’s park and aimag schools.
Pre-Service Training for the M27s
In mid-May, I left site temporarily to start my summer assignment as a PST trainer for the new cohort. About 50 new trainees arrived at the end of May to start their 11 weeks of PST and my job is to help the Technical Coordinator (an experienced Mongolian English Teacher) prepare the trainees to be effective TEFL educators. And because I also deserve a summer vacation, Resource PCVs switch out halfway and I’ll be relieved by one of my fellow cohort mates in early July. Afterwards, I’ll be meeting my family in Korea for the rest of July before heading back to site to relax, mentally get ready for Year 2, and attend my cohort’s Mid-Service conference.
But back to PST. Peace Corps Mongolia decided to change up the Pre-Service Training model to one that is more widely used in other Peace Corps countries, one that is called the ‘Community-Based Model.’ The most noticeable change for trainees is that they’re no longer meeting all together for conference days (Mid Center or Final Center Days) during the summer. Instead, training sites meet regionally once a week for the necessary medical, admin and safety & security sessions. This kind of sucks for them because besides orientation week, they will not have seen half their cohort for the entire summer. Last year, it felt like Mid and Final Center days were crucial in getting to know everyone in the cohort but I think the M27s are doing all right. Not being able to see half their friends doesn’t seem to bother them as much as I think it would have bothered me.
The biggest change about this model actually applies to the trainers. Last year, most of the trainers lived in Darkhan and commuted every day to the training site (no more than an hour away), taught their lesson, and came back. They shared apartments with running water, spent their weekends eating out at restaurants and shop-hunting for new grocery foods. This was the main perk of working as a Resource PCV for PST; the work itself is demanding and we don’t get extra money for it, so it paid to be able to spend half the summer with fellow PCVs in relative comfort and convenience.
This year, all the trainers live with the trainees in their respective communities. All the sites are soums, or small villages, in Selenge aimag and way more spread out than last year. Once a week, my counterparts and I have to sit through a nauseating two hour ride on bumpy unpaved dirt roads to get to Darkhan for the weekly Saturday staff meetings. Luckily, this is also when we can go food shopping for fruits, vegetables and various goods only sold in the big cities. But we spend the whole day in the Darkhan so the only real “day off” we get is Sunday.
I live in the school dorm in a cavernous 12-bed room by myself. My Technical Coordinator counterpart and one of the two Mongolian language teachers also lives in the dorms with me. We share a kitchen/living area, a flush toilet and a summer camp style shower room. The school director has been incredibly generous to us; she’s provided us with brand new electric cooking appliances, a cleaning lady, a leather sofa, access to the dorm washing machine, and up until a few weeks ago, a functional water heater. Of course, Peace Corps is paying the school for use of these facilities but the director has welcomed us and made sure we had everything we needed.
I don’t know if all the trainers are loving this new model, but I personally think the trade-off is worth it. True, I don’t get to spend the summer with my fellow PCVs, but living in the community means I get to know the trainees way better than I got to know my trainers last year. And I’ll admit that the quietness of soum life is a nice change to what I’m used to at permanent site. I love seeing the roaming horses and cows everywhere and going for runs through the wide, open fields to the river. I have a beautiful bedroom view of the surrounding mountains and I get to watch the sun set and color the sky all purple, pink and orange every evening. I especially love watching the young boys fly by in full gallop on their horses. If only I’d brought my helmet from site, I’d be learning to ride this summer, too! So besides the bi-weekly rides to the regional meetings and Saturday staff meetings, the community-based model works well. I think the trainees feel more supported and I feel more equipped to help them deal with the ups and downs that is PST.
In mid-August, the M27s will swear-in and move to their permanent sites. I’m pumped to find out who my new site mates will be! There are only two PCVs in my aimag now so I’m crossing my fingers for at least 2-3 new volunteers. I’m also hoping to get an invitation to the Swearing-In ceremony which will also be a joint celebration with the 25th Anniversary. Important people will be there and since I didn’t get to see John Kerry when he came to visit Mongolia last month, I want to get in on this photo op!