Since coming to Mongolia I’ve noticed a quite a few changes in my myself. Some of these changes I expected, while some took me by surprise. The following are four expected & four unexpected changes.
GETTING USED TO THE COLD
I’ve been told that in other, warmer Peace Corps countries volunteers will often cheers to those poor souls in Mongolia endearing -40 degree winters. One, this is hilarious. And two, us Mongolian volunteers deserve it! Winter is ridiculously difficult. I understand and sympathize with volunteers placed in hot countries that spend their days sweating in delirium. But in Mongolia we do not solely have to endear the winter. The cold comes with other responsibilities, such as chopping wood, making fires, and daily melting a water supply. Now some volunteers here have said that between scorching hot and freezing cold, they prefer the latter. But let me make something clear- I am not one of them.
Yes, I am from upstate New York and no, that doesn’t mean I automatically am okay with the cold. Until this year 60 degrees and under correlated to a sweater and fuzzy socks. That being said, my body is adjusting. What my home state never accomplished, Mongolia has. I still prefer layering up, but my tolerance for cold has significantly increased.
BEING ABLE TO EAT MEAT
Having done my due diligence before coming to Mongolia, I knew I would have to start eating red meat. What I didn’t know is how much I would grow to like and crave it.
BECOMING SELF RELIANT
Every season during high school my crew teammates gave each other paper plate awards. Mine usually varied between “Best Blisters” and “Bi-Sweptual”. My favorite by far was “She gets by with a little help from her friend”. Now, this Beatle’s reference could be viewed as derogatory. But it’s not. It’s just plain old true. I have always been a ditz. Forgetting things could be my job. Luckily, as my mother put it once while getting ready to ship me off to college, “It’s a good thing you make friends so darn fast!” Even she realized that without others’ guidance, I would never have been able to find my dorm room.
This past year I’ve made some wonderful friends who I hope to maintain contact with for years after Peace Corps ends. But these friends are mostly American, and live far away from me. It took me a long time to integrate into my community, and the few good relationships with Mongolians which I have will unfortunately always be slightly hindered by language and cultural barriers. This means that I am alone. The first few months at site, I was utterly and truly by myself. My soum was not forthcoming with support, and I did not push them hard enough in making them help me. As in all things, the negative of loneliness was coupled with a positive. I was forced to become independent and am no longer afraid of being on my own. It is one of the greatest gifts Peace Corps has given me.
Yes, this is an obvious one. But it’s also pretty awesome. Going into last year I didn’t know English grammar, and I certainly couldn’t teach it. After leaving Mongolia, I will have two years of experience teaching students from age six to seventy in one on one tutoring, small groups, and large classes. As I also teach teaching methods to my fellow English teachers, I am constantly re-evaluating my own methods in an effort to improve and cater to different learning styles.
BECOMING A NEAT FREAK
By American standards, most Mongolians are ridiculously unhygienic. By Mongolian standards, most Americans are complete slobs. Even with a horde of Mongolian children running around the house, parents and older children manage to keep their homes, cars and clothes spotless. Beds are always made, clothes are always folded in drawers, and dishes get “cleaned” ASAP. The dusty/muddy atmosphere is combated by constant shoe shining and baby wiping.
After a year of living in Mongolia, this obsession with tidy-ness has infiltrated my mind. At first, I only kept my ger at a presentable level so that Mongolians wouldn’t judge me too harshly. Now, it physically pains me to leave my bed unmade and to leave dirty dishes lying around. Congratulations Mongolia, you win.
STARTING TO WRITE
In college I almost didn’t graduate due to extreme year-long bout of writing anxiety. Who knows why, but just the image of a keyboard or the idea of writing an email gave me chest pains. I couldn’t write essays and only managed to send in my finals’ essays half-finished. To combat this problem I started writing this blog. I thought it would be a nice way for friends and family to stay aware of my life while I recovered from my problem. Not only has this blog succeeded in both of these of these efforts, but I also have found that writing gives me a way to cope with life in Mongolia. This blog, along with my private writings, have become an outlet for expressing my thoughts and experiences.
LEARNING THE INS AND OUTS OF VEGETARIANISM
Although I do love meat, it is rather annoying to cook. My fridge/freezer doesn’t remain at a constant temperature, and it often needs to be unplugged during my monthly trips to the capital, leading to a high risk of bacterial growth. Additionally, the amount of blood that tends to leak onto my table and floor while cutting meat isn’t horribly appetizing. Therefore at home I choose not to eat meat. Luckily for me, there are quite a few incredibly skilled vegetarian chefs among our Mongolian Peace Corps volunteers. It’s easy to pick up the phone, call a friend and get expert advice on the best ways to cook vegetables, beans and tofu. I’m not saying I’m a superb cook, but I’m a lot better than I used to be.
LEARNING HOW TO PARENT
I am the youngest in my American family. I was always the baby, even when visiting extended family. I never learned how to deal with children. My philosophy was that kids were cute, as long as you could give them back to their parents whenever tears or screams threatened to emerge.
Now, not only do I work at a school, I also live in the yard of a Mongolian family. This family has a six-year-old girl, an eight year old boy, and a newborn baby. The yard, in warmer months, is also a playground for eight other Mongolian children. They all love to play in my ger, sometimes learning English, and always wreaking havoc. Therefore, I quickly learned the best way to deal with children. I created firm boundaries of what was, and wasn’t acceptable. If they crossed the line, even with their pinky toe, they were out of the ger for the day. No matter how long they struggled against me, any children that acted out were shoved out of the door. The rules haven’t changed, and sometimes certain children misbehave, but it’s no longer an energy drain to keep them inline.