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!

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