4th Hour Questions

34 thoughts on “4th Hour Questions

  1. From Wyatt M.:

    1. Have you had to get different clothes to adapt to the cold weather of Mongolia?
    2. Have you changed your food habits during your stay in Mongolia?

  2. From Robert V.:

    1. Compared to American culture, do you think Mongolia is a friendlier country in light of the fact that people come and go to your house as they please?
    2. Do Mongolians see the learning of English as a priority?
    3. Do Mongolians embrace some U.S. culture?

    • Great questions, Robert.

      Let’s see. I want to be careful about generalizing between the two cultures, so I am not sure “friendlier” is the appropriate word. But, yes, I do think the Mongolians are less nervous about people’s motives, and less likely to be on edge. Again, this is true where I am in an Aimag center, but I imagine there is less of an open-door policy in the capital city.

      The Mongolian government—the Ministry of Education, in particular—certainly sees learning English as a priority. Many teachers and parents also see learning English as the key to more opportunities for the next generation. But, then there are bound to be Mongolians who are fearful that English will replace Mongolian, and that the Mongolian culture is in danger.

      That leads to your next question. There are aspects of US culture that are readily evident here, especially American music. I would say, as a rule, Mongolians are more fashionable than Americans. Not necessarily in terms of brand names, but definitely in terms of appearance. Other aspects of US culture that come to mind for me aren’t available here, yet. For example, there are no McDonald’s in Mongolia. But, if you had something other than music, clothes, or US national chains in mind, please let me know.

  3. From Alyssa C.:

    1. Why do you receive money for working with the Peace Corps?
    2. Why do they celebrate Naadam in Mongolia? What started this?
    3. What is your biggest accomplishment so far since joining the Peace Corps?

  4. From Sam B.:

    1. How is it you were first able to communicate with so few words?
    2. How did you create a lesson plan for teaching your students?

    • Thanks for your questions, Sam! (And, sorry it’s taken me so long to reply.)

      I welcome all questions about communication and learning the language since this is the most unique aspect of Peace Corps service.

      Mongolian has lots of sounds (and sound combinations) that don’t appear in English. A few words: older sister is “eg-ch” and teacher is “bahg-sh.” Those are more common sounds that are easy to write with the Roman alphabet. I couldn’t begin to describe the sounds that aren’t in English. Of course, English has lots of sounds that they don’t have. For example, Mongolians can’t properly say my mom’s name, Faith, because they don’t have the “f” sound or the “th” sound… it sort of sounds like “paid.” Anyway, I tell you all that to say that communication isn’t just about knowing the words, but also about being understandable.

      In our very first language lesson, we spent an hour on “hello, how are you? I’m good and you? What is your name? My name is… Good-bye.” We needed the full hour! It’s funny to think that none of that is vital, life-or-death type of communication, but it is the first impression you make when you meet a new Mongolian, so even if what comes after is broken and choppy, it’s good to start off properly and confidently.

      In our second and third language lessons, just before we moved to our host families, we covered necessary vocabulary: tea, water, milk, egg, fruit, vegetables, meat, fat, bread, toilet, and toilet paper. We also learned how to say “I like…” or “I don’t like…” so that we could make simple sentences.

      Now, above I wrote that communication is about being understood and I don’t want to discount that, but to emphasize that it is possible for a lot of understanding to happen with so few words, by acting out verbs or making gestures. We were also given dictionaries and phrasebooks so that we (Americans and Mongolians) could find situational words and point to them. Also, I believe that most misunderstandings have very benign consequences, so that it makes no difference if I am telling a story about my cousin and they think I’m talking about my sister.

      As for the lesson planning, this is another great question since my background was not in teaching. During our Pre-Service Training (PST) last summer, we had training sessions that gave us a crash-course in teaching. We were given tips and taught games that focus on the different aspects of language (speaking, reading, writing, listening). We were shown sample lesson plans and discussed and evaluated them to make them better. They also gave us the opportunity to practice teach, so that we would have experience before we got to our permanent sites. All of that was incredibly valuable, both for practical reasons (learning to write lesson plans) and for giving us confidence.

  5. From Paige B.:

    1. What was it like to learn a whole new language? Did you know any of it before you went?
    2. Do any of the students speak English?
    3. What kind of questions do Mongolian students ask about the U.S?
    4. Why was your decision to be in the Peace Corps so difficult for you?
    5. What was your host family like?
    6. Are Mongolians very interested in the U.S. and what it is like?
    7. Are you happy with your decision to join the Peace Corps?
    8. What is a tumpun?
    9. Was adjusting difficult?
    10. Did anyone in your host family speak English?

    • Oh boy, Paige! Such great, specific questions… Here goes…

      I haven’t learned the whole of the new language yet, I am still learning! I study vocabulary every day but need to speak more often to increase my confidence. Peace Corps provided us with audio files before we left, which I listened to a few times, but I don’t think it made much of a difference. I didn’t do more before leaving because one of the current volunteers suggested we spend time with our friends and family, so that’s what I did. In hindsight, I think that was a good idea because a lot of the language is not spoken as it is written so it would have been very easy to learn something wrong and then have to relearn it here.

      The students begin learning English in 5th grade, around 10 years old. Some of them work hard at it and are very good, and others don’t seem to care at all.

      I can’t think of any questions that Mongolian students have asked about the US… but, I don’t have regular students; I mostly work with teachers. I’ll keep this in mind though.

      My decision to be in the Peace Corps wasn’t the difficult part; I always knew if I were offered the opportunity, that I would take it. The difficult part was timing (when to apply) and then actually following through with the application. I think I wasn’t ready right out of college, that I needed more traveling and independence and stability in my life at that time. But, then, it was that same freedom and stability that became hard to walk away from.

      My host family was my mom and dad (who were only 12 years older than I), 2 younger brothers and a younger sister, but they were 18-26, not little kids and I was glad about that. The dad mostly lived in the countryside tending to the animals (he is a herder) and one of the brothers was usually with him, so it was mostly the mom and sister at the house, but I really never knew who would be home at any given time. My mom is the librarian for the town so I was super excited about that!

      Generally speaking, I don’t get many questions about the US as a whole. I often had questions about my family, specifically. Of course, they get a lot of exposure to the US from music and movies.

      Yes, I am happy with my decision to join the Peace Corps. I can only speak for my own experience, but everyone I have met has been really great, and I made it through my first winter, which was my biggest fear. The time is going by so quickly, though, and I have no idea what comes next for me…

      A tumpun is a wash basin… sort of like a wide shallow bucket. Mine is pink, about 2 feet wide, and 8 inches deep. I use it for bathing and for washing my clothes by hand.

      For me, adjusting was not difficult, though we both must realize that adjusting isn’t over and there may still be some difficult times ahead. I think it helped that I was older when I started and had more experiences (maybe not more than another volunteer, but certainly more than me when I was younger). I was already living on my own, had already traveled to many places, and had already accepted that there is more than one way to do things. I think these are common reasons that adjusting to another culture may be difficult.

      No one in my host family really spoke English. But one day, my sister handed me the broom and said, in English, “Every day” as she motioned for me to sweep my room. (They really do clean all the time.) Turns out, she had studied English in college, but didn’t really speak it, probably, at least in part, because she didn’t have the opportunity.

  6. From Cassie A.:

    1. What is the climate like in Mongolia? You wrote that it is cold, but is there ever summer?
    2. What was it like living with a host family?

    • Hi Cassie,
      I answered Ellie’s question below about the average temperature in Mongolia. But the answer to your specific question about whether there is a summer is an emphatic YES!, though it may be a short-lived summer.

      When I woke up my first morning in Mongolia and went to explore the area where we were staying, I remember needing my scarf, and being really concerned that I needed my scarf because it was early June! But, where I was for training last year, we had many hot days, especially in July and August. My group was lucky in that there was a river in our soum and we sometimes went swimming.

      This summer I’ll have some time to travel to other parts of Mongolia. I am especially interested in the Gobi Desert, which will certainly be the hottest spot in Mongolia… but I’ll get to ride a camel, so that will be worth enduring the heat.

  7. From Emma S.:

    1. What happened to the “scam family”? Did you ever see them again?
    2. Why does the school have the “teacher day” event?
    3. In what ways has Mongolia become a part of who you are?

    • Dear Emma,
      Thanks for these great questions.

      I haven’t seen the “scam family” again. It’s been just a couple of months, though, and I’ll be here another whole year. Still plenty of time for our paths to cross again. But if not, they will remain, for me, a classic example of “you never know what’s going to happen as a PCV.”

      Schools celebrate Teachers’ Day because teachers are very respected in Mongolia. The way it is celebrated varies across the country and from school to school, but as a profession, teaching is seen as an honorable field and the teachers are seen as preparing the next generation of Mongolians. These are all my words, but that is the sense I have gotten.

      Your last question is thought provoking. Indeed, it has been on my mind in the month that has passed since you asked it because I wanted to give it careful consideration and not respond in a reactionary or instinctive way.

      The thing is, I’m not sure I am necessarily aware of the ways Mongolia has become a part of who I am. I can point to instances where strangers come into my home and I am unphased, or the regular hand-washing of clothes that doesn’t really bother me, or the joy that I get from feeding cows outside my window, or the bond I still feel when I hear from my host family. But I don’t feel these examples come close to completely answering your question.

      I wonder if I am too close to “me” to really see the differences between “Love-before-service” and “Love-during-service,” or if the impact of living in Mongolia will only hit me when I return to the States and the old normal isn’t so easy to fall back into. I’ll keep thinking of this, though. It’s an important question.

  8. From Grace B.:

    1. What was your first impression of Mongolia, and how did you feel when you had to leave the U.S.?
    2. How did you prepare to go to Mongolia, with the Peace Corps and on your own?

    • Hello, Grace! These are great questions.

      My very first impression of Mongolia was that it was pretty rural. The airport is a bit outside the capital city (where a million people live!), but we didn’t visit the capital until the end of the summer training. We had Peace Corps staff with us the entire time and they were very friendly and concerned about us, so it was a bit easier to relax. Our first night was spent in a camp and in the morning we climbed a mountain and I took pictures of cows and horses. I immediately loved the nature of this country.

      As far as leaving the US, the most difficult part was saying goodbye to people because one never knows what might happen, or if/when you will see someone again. My very last night, my stomach was in knots—I didn’t feel sick, though. I found out later that that is one way that stress manifests physically. And, I am not ashamed to say that I sobbed uncontrollably at the airport—my mom dropped me off. I hadn’t expected that reaction, since I am a grown woman who hadn’t lived at home in 20 years, but it is the truth. Thankfully, my mom was the rock I needed her to be, encouraging me and telling me it would be okay. And it was.

      Your last question is pretty insightful because the preparation was different, depending on how you think of it. For the Peace Corps, there was one big application form with three recommendations, followed by medical visits. But, even after I was nominated (step 2) and then invited (step 3) there were still requests for information, questions to answer, and updates to the resume. But, even though I didn’t necessarily expect these requests, they were pretty easy to complete.

      By far, the biggest aspects of preparation in my personal life involved leaving my job and my apartment. I really enjoyed my job of eight years, and I’d lived in my apartment for ten years—it was in a historical, highly desirable neighborhood in Boston. But, there was no way to have this experience and still keep the job or the apartment. So, I had to say goodbyes to my coworkers and pack up my life (donating lots of things and storing the rest for the next two years). I was also able to take a few trips around the country to visit my good friends one last time.

  9. From Ellie M.:

    1. What is the average temperature in Mongolia?
    2. Have you travelled all around Mongolia?
    3. When you say, “Every three months, I’m a millionaire” do you mean you’re a millionaire in togrogs?

    • Hi, Ellie. Thanks for your questions.
      The average temperature in Mongolia ranges from -40C to +40C. That is from -40F to 104F. But, of course it depends a lot on where in the country you are, similar to in the United States.

      I have not yet done much traveling in Mongolia. We are advised not to do so in the winter because the roads are dangerous—many aren’t paved at all, so they certainly can’t plow the snow—if you were to get stuck in the frigid winter temperatures, it could be really bad! I’m looking forward to seeing more of this country this summer, and also returning to my host family’s for the summer holiday Naadam.

      Yes, I absolutely mean I’m a millionaire in togrogs. Peace Corps volunteers are paid a very small amount by US standards, but it is enough to cover our needs.

  10. From Cecelia P.:

    1. Do Mongolians celebrate many holidays?
    2. What types of traditions do they have?
    3. Do typical Mongolian families own pets? If so, what kinds?

    • Hello Cecelia,
      Absolutely, Mongolians do celebrate many holidays. In my ten months here, I’ve experienced nearly all of them. The biggest are the summer holiday, Naadam, and the winter holiday, Tsagaan Sar, which both officially last 3 days. Even though Tsagaan Sar is the Lunar New Year, they also celebrate the New Year Eve’s that we celebrate, although the decorations are more what we consider Christmas decorations—there’s even a Winter Grandpa, in lieu of Santa Claus. Unfortunately, I was sick during the New Year’s celebrations, so it missed it entirely. Of course, Mongolians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, but they do have their own Independence Day in November. And they celebrate International Women’s Day in March. There’s a separate day for men, too. The last one I can think of, without consulting the internet, is Chinggis Khaan’s birthday. If you know him at all, you probably know him as Ghengis Khaan, but we learned pretty soon after arriving that his name was mangled in translation and that Chinggis was the correct pronunciation of his name. As the Father of Mongolia, he is obviously well liked here and his name and face are everywhere, including on the money.

      Traditions related to holidays include a lot of food! Specifically for Tsagaan Sar and weddings, there is a sort of tower created by stacking this bread-type thing, 3, 5, or 7 layers. On top is a bunch of milk-based snacks and colorfully wrapped candies. They will serve a first course of pickles and ham, followed by the National Salad, which is a potato salad where each piece is perfectly cubed. The main meal for Tsagaan Sar is bansh (a smaller version of buuz), which is a meat-filled dumpling—families will make hundreds of these, maybe even a thousand, because they will have visitors for days and each person will have 6-10 bansh (at every house they visit!).

      There are other traditions not related to holidays. One example that I haven’t experienced yet is the haircutting ceremony. As I understand it, when girls turn 3 and boys turn 5, family and friends gather to cut the child’s hair. Each person will take a turn cutting. They also give gifts, I think usually money. Needless to say, I was pretty surprised to see my first little girl, a neighbor during summer training, go from shoulder length hair to nearly bald, because I didn’t understand why. But now I just know that they recently had a birthday.

      Finally, I would have to say that “typical” Mongolian families do not own pets. I’ve heard of a pet turtle and a pet rabbit here where I am, but those are certainly not typical. I’ve been told that Mongolians do not like cats. In fact, one non-Mongolian neighbor hosted a movie night at her apartment and when the Mongolian guest saw her cat, she didn’t want it anywhere near her. There are lots of dogs around, but they mostly roam free. The ones that are guard dogs certainly do not have the life of a pet; they don’t go in the house, are often chained up, and fed scraps of food. Of course, for these animals, this is the only life they know. While it’s sad for us to see, I’m not sure there is anything we can do. Every group of Volunteers in Mongolia has had someone who tried to pet a guard dog, as they would with dogs back home, only to be bitten.

    • Hi Teresa, Thanks for your questions.

      There isn’t one answer for how much English Mongolians know; it entirely depends on the person, how old they are and how much English they have studied, whether their learning has been limited to books or whether they have had the opportunity to speak with native speakers, whether they have been exposed to other types of learning such as English songs or movies, and what their level of motivation for speaking English is.

      But, regardless of how much English they know, it is possible to have a simple conversation with most people, though these are usually in my limited Mongolian. All of my regular interactions (at the Post Office, at stores, in a restaurant) are in Mongolian, unless the person indicates a desire to learn or practice some English. Although I am here as an English teacher, I am also expected to integrate into my community, which means learning and using Mongolian. I am not here to force English upon people who are not interested.

      Peace Corps host families are required to provide 3 meals a day. Nearly all of the Mongolian food is prepared fresh, so meals are very time consuming. I’ve also noticed that they rarely make more than is needed for the meal, so there are no leftovers. Since I’ve been on my own, and since I live in an Aimag center (the capital of the region), there is a larger variety of foods available than in the more remote parts of the country. This means I have been able to choose foods that I am more familiar with. I can save time by making a batch of something and have it for several meals, and I can also make a quick meal like a sandwich.

      Specifically, I make soups, sandwiches (like tuna fish, egg salad, peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese), pasta, rice and beans, eggs, tofu and veggie stir-fry, and lately a lot of chili. There is one store here that sells cereal, but there are only 2 kinds and it is always expired, but that doesn’t matter as much. I don’t cook Mongolian food because it is very heavy on the meat and fat; I don’t cook meat.

      When I lived in the States, I ate MOST of my meals out. I bought my lunch every day at work, and a few times a week I would buy breakfast (maybe an egg sandwich), and I regularly would go out to eat for dinner or pick up something on the way home (a sub or slice of pizza). Most of this eating out was purely motivated by convenience. By far, my biggest, tangible personal change to come out of this Peace Corps experience has been having to prepare nearly all of my own food. I am still learning to cook: how to flavor food and how to make different dishes out of the same limited ingredients (onions, potatoes, turnips, carrots, and cabbage). I’m sure this skill will return home with me.

    • Hi Torrey,
      I think it is considered safe to take a taxi in Mongolia. Many people do it. My concerns come less from a safety standpoint and more from a communication standpoint. How can I tell the driver where I’m going? How do I know what is a fair rate for how far I’m going? How can I negotiate the fare (since there isn’t a meter) and not get too ripped off? How much will the driver try to talk to me in Mongolian? How many times will I have to say, “Again?” or “I don’t understand” before the driver gives up on my language skills? It is part of that being out of your element that Peace Corps Volunteers come to expect, and I don’t normally mind that part except that in the case of a taxi driver, a minimum amount of effective communication is vital.

      I would have to say that many people do drive cars in Mongolia; many of them are heavy duty, all terrain vehicles, because the roads are so bad. There are motorcycles, also. And, motorcycles with a sidecar are quite common, too! The capital, Ulaanbaatar, has terrible traffic congestion. By contrast, in my (large) town, there are only 2 traffic lights! But, there are lots of vehicles here, too.

  11. From Gavin K.:

    1. You said you had a view of a dumpster burning from your window. Was your home in a violent neighborhood?
    2. Your first words in the entry are “How Much Do First Impressions Count For?” Do your first impressions hold true to what you know now?

    • Hello, Gavin, thanks for your thoughtful questions. They give me the chance to clarify.

      No, my home is not at all in a violent neighborhood. They set the trash on fire, intentionally, as a way to get rid of it. (In the US, it isn’t uncommon for garbage to be taken to a dump—a big hole—where the trash is piled up and/or buried. That is also an unattractive solution, but I’ve never had to look at a dump outside my window.) The update on this is that the town is trying to find other ways to handle the garbage since burning the trash is bad for the environment. So, now, more often than not, the garbage is not burned but instead taken from the dumpster and brought to a dump that I don’t have to look at. They still need to address the issue of recyclables, to keep stuff from entering the trash in the first place.

      As I suspected, my first impressions of Govi-Altai having a depressing landscape do not still hold true. In the winter (now), the mountains in the distance are covered in snow and are just gorgeous up against the blue sky. And, the more people I’ve gotten to know, the more I find friendship, which makes me feel less alone than when I first arrived.

  12. From Emma H.:

    1. When you first got to your house, were you scared to spend the night alone without your host family?
    2. In August, were you regretting joining the Peace Corps?
    3. Now, looking back, do you regret having those feelings about leaving?

    • Hi Emma,
      After leaving my host family, I spent almost a week in the city of Darkhan for Final Center Days. That’s when we had a final round of trainings, got our site assignments, and met our counterpart (the person we would work most closely with at site). During this time we were staying in a hotel with other volunteers. After Final Center Days, many of us went to UB (the capital) to catch our flights to the different parts of the country. But, flights are infrequent—only twice a week—so I stayed in UB for almost a week with other volunteers in a dormitory. Each day more and more volunteers had gone to their sites so it got to be lonely and boring in a strange city. All this is to say that by the time I got to my house, I was very ready to be settled. I wasn’t scared to spend the night alone without my host family, but I was struck by the reality of starting over—again. So, certainly my host family was on my mind since they were the Mongolians I knew best, and I knew it would be a long time before I saw them again. I was so happy that they called me that first night; it made all the difference in the world!

      I haven’t regretted joining the Peace Corps. Even though that transition to my permanent site was emotional, it is something every Volunteer has experienced over the last 50 years at some point in their service. It is part of the adventure, part of the self-discovery, part of the community integration that we expect when we make this commitment.

      I’m not sure I entirely understand question 3—leaving the US? Or leaving my host family? But, in any case, it is safe to say that I don’t have regrets about my feelings. Though feelings may evolve over time, they are a true, gut-reaction to a situation. As such, I rely on my feelings to gauge my emotional well-being; if I don’t like my feelings about something, I can change my situation (or maybe obtain more information) to change my feelings. I can regret things I’ve said or didn’t say, things I’ve done or didn’t do, but feelings come from a different place. I hope this makes sense!

  13. From Caitlin C.:

    1. What is your host family like? Was it nerve wracking to meet them for the first time?
    2. Do you ever get homesick or lonely?

    • Hello Caitlin,
      I told Cassie that my host family was great. Well that’s certainly true. But, your question about the first time I met them brings back a vivid memory. I mentioned to Grace about my last night in Boston and how my stomach was in knots… well, I had the exact same feeling, only the second time in my life, as I was going to meet and live with my host family for ten weeks. “Nerve wracking” is certainly an apt description. But, here’s a funny story: that first night, my host brother was asking me the English words for the food we were eating, so I told him “carrot” or “potato” as appropriate. But then he held up a piece of a turnip, which I might have recognized if it were whole, but I didn’t recognize in little pieces, and since I didn’t eat turnips, probably ever, I couldn’t identify the taste. So, I said, “I don’t know” and my brother repeated, “I don’t know” as if that was the name for turnip! I didn’t know how to say “I don’t know” in Mongolian then, so it was one of those things that was lost in translation. But, it also allowed me to not take things so seriously.

      To be honest, I haven’t been terribly homesick or lonely. I attribute that to a few things. The first is that I am able to keep in touch with family and friends back home pretty regularly—certainly not true for Peace Corps Volunteers in the early (and not so early) days. The second reason I’m not terribly homesick is that I was able to see my mom and my college friend in December, and hope to see more family next winter. Yet another reason I’m not lonely is that I have 4 other volunteers in my town, plus a few Mongolian friends that I have now, whom I see pretty regularly. And, finally, I believe that the near-constant sunshine has kept any Seasonal Affective Disorder (that lonely feeling that can settle in, especially during winter) far away from me. I really wonder where I will end up when I return to the States.

  14. From Savannah J.:

    1. What cultural aspects are different in Mongolia than the U.S.?
    2. How long have you been in the Peace Corps?
    3. Like your topic sentence/topic, how much do you think first impressions count for, and what was your first impression on Day #1 in Mongolia?

    • Hi Savannah,
      As I settle into my life here, some of the differences don’t strike me as all that different now. But, a few things still stand out.

      The sense of personal space that Americans expect is non-existent here. Mongolian families are very close, physically. They often share a room, since typical homes here, especially in the countryside, are one large room, one small room, and a kitchen (without plumbing). The traditional Mongolian ger is only one room. In school, teachers will regularly touch their students. As an example, if you can imagine being seated, and a teacher standing behind you with her arms crossed, rested across your shoulders, leaning into you. I was surprised that the teacher was comfortable enough to do this, but maybe I was more surprised that the student had no reaction to it. Groups of Mongolians will often touch one another, not accidentally, not briefly, and not limited to body parts that would be acceptable between friends by American standards (a brief brush of the shoulder, arm, hand, or knee). Even people you just met, and might have a semi-formal relationship with, are likely to rest a hand on your back or thigh, or throw their arm over your shoulder. In my director’s office, there aren’t enough chairs for full staff meetings, so generally women will share a seat causing us to touch much of our bodies together. When walking with my Mongolian friends, they often slip their arms into mine. I don’t mind, but I am not yet in the habit of initiating this.

      The Peace Corps assignment is for 27 months. That’s 3 months of training, followed by 2 years of service at site. Some people apply to do a 3rd year of service. I have just completed my 10th month in Mongolia.

      I think first impressions count for a lot, because they are all you have to draw on until you have more experience to make a complete picture. For that reason, first impressions probably count for more than they should. I can remember meeting someone whose sense of humor was so understated that I couldn’t tell he was making jokes and I just thought he was strange. In a short amount of time, though, he won me over and became a really good friend. Grace asked a similar question about my first impressions of Mongolia, but I think it bears repeating that I fell in love with the beautiful nature of this country on that first day. I grew up and lived in cities my whole life. And now, I have fed the cows that appear outside my window. Such a different life.

    • Hi Ellie,
      Thanks for asking.

      Though they steadily improved, my toes were at least a bit numb for three full months! During the Tsagaan Sar holiday in February (we had the weekend plus 3 days off work), I was able to soak my feet in warm water 3-4 times a day. The sensation had come back so I thought they were completely healed. But it was just wishful thinking. After I returned to work, and stopped soaking my feet as much, I lost a little sensitivity again. It’s been such a strange recovery. But, now it is essentially spring so I don’t worry about them freezing again. Until next year, but then I’ll be prepared!

      Yes, I hate to say it, I have gotten lost again. And again it was in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar (UB). I don’t visit there often enough to know my way around. I have a dislike for the city because of the frozen toes and the getting lost.

  15. From MacKenzie M.:

    1. What aspects of American culture have Mongolians been most surprised by?
    2. You talked about how you feel safe in Mongolia. Do you feel more safe in the U.S. or Mongolia?

    • Hi MacKenzie,
      Thanks for your questions.

      All of the unmarried volunteers live alone, either in a Mongolian ger or an apartment. Mongolians seem to find this surprising. Several have asked me if I am scared, or bored, or lonely because I live alone. This is uncommon in much of the world. Many people choose to live with their families until they get married.

      They have also been surprised that Americans: put their personal belongings on the floor, dress casually, have cats and dogs as pets, and don’t eat fat (which they happily eat).

      I think it is hard to answer the question about safety because it entirely depends on where exactly you are in either country and what the circumstances are (time of day, alone or with friends, etc). I’ve lived most of my life, including the last 15 years, in Boston. While I felt very safe in my neighborhood, I was only 3 miles from a very dangerous part of the city.

      But, there are two things that are different. In the States, I could presumably relocate if I wanted to. As a volunteer, not only did I have no choice where in Mongolia I would live for two years, but if I didn’t feel safe in my permanent site, relocating isn’t so easy. Changing my apartment and moving to another part of town could be doable. But, organizations (in my case schools) apply for volunteers so changing my town would be quite difficult. In fact, if there were safety concerns, it could jeopardize my service altogether because I might be sent home if there weren’t another place for me to go.

      The other thing that is different is that I don’t speak the language fluently. If something happened in the States, at least I could understand what was happening and express my concerns. But here, I know just a few phrases related to safety and I think if I ever really needed them, I’d probably be too upset to think clearly. Luckily—actually, it probably isn’t luck at all, but a lot of behind-the-scenes work to scrutinize the safety of the sites before volunteers arrive—I don’t have safety concerns.

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