I spent my first five days in Mongolia in Zuunmod with the whole M20 group where we were introduced to the things we will be learning at PST (Pre-Service Training) over this summer. It was a whirlwind of big-group-dynamics and all day classes as the Peace Corps got paperwork and basic knowledge in line for all 68 of us (one person has already left) to move into our training sites and begin the serious PST.
And believe me, PST is going to be serious! Intellectual boot camp, basically. Don’t expect to hear much from me over the next 2.5 months.
I’ve been in my training community for a little over a week now. I live in a ger (Mongolian yurt) in a small village of about 2,500 people. My training group consists of 11 other TEFL trainees and we spend our days taking classes on Mongolian language, culture, history, and community development as well as attending technical training sessions that will help prepare us to teach English in Mongolia.
My host family is great! The host “mom and dad” are very close to my age (25 and 28) and we get along really well. They have a 2 year-old son who is adorable and is finally warming up to me. Communication is going surprisingly well considering my lack of Mongolian language skills. They’re both very smart and good at using the simple words I do know plus a lot of carefully executed miming. It helps that Otgonkhuu (the dad) is an actor. I also like that he’s into film/video, drumming, and doing magic tricks. Shinezul (the mom) also plays guitar so we’ve been discussing starting a band. For jobs, she’s a teacher and he’s a social worker.
Shinezul’s mom lives nearby and we go over to her house often. There are three younger sibilings who live with Shinezul’s mom still. I see the most of her little sister, who is 14. Her name is Hongorzul and she helps me with my Mongolian homework. She’s incredibly patient and also very good at understanding a foreigner trying to speak her language. The grandmother is also very sweet and comes to check on me when she senses I might be feeling sad or homesick (which happens surprisingly often and at many different points in the day without provocation).
Mongolian language is really hard! I’ve tried out quite a few languages, but this one is by far the hardest. It’s really difficult to make the pronunciation happen, which also makes it hard to remember new words. I finally have the Cyrillic alphabet down, which is making everything a little easier.
Besides language, I’ve been learning a ton of great new skills! I’m slowly becoming somewhat capable of building a fire, chopping wood, retrieving my own water from the well, and washing my clothes by hand. I'm not too shabby at bathing in a bucket either! I like living in a ger because it keeps you keenly aware of the resources you are using. This is a really neat experience and I hope to feel less lazy about it all in the future. Maybe when my arms actually have muscles in them.
The food isn’t nearly as bad as everyone had me scared to believe. Most dishes are some combination of meat (mutton or beef), potatoes, carrots, onions, noodles or rice, green onions, and cabbage, which, really, no combination of those things can taste that bad. There are a ton of different milk products too. Everything has a slightly different taste than I’m used to it having in the US. I noticed that the taste is getting less noticeable. Besdies that, most meals are served in portions too large for me to handle. I’ve been an embarrassed outsider to the clean plate club since I’ve been here (no different than most of my life really).
We drink tea like smoking cigarettes. It punctuates every minor daily event. Wake up, have a cup of tea - make breakfast, have a cup of tea – clean up after breakfast, have a cup of tea – take a walk, have a cup of tea – etc. Good thing I like the tea. It isn’t quite what you think of as tea in the states. It’s called suutetsay and it’s a black tea made with milk and salt. It’s relaxing and drinking it 10 times a day feels much better than smoking cigarettes.
As for the Peace Corps, I’m incredibly impressed with the program I’ve got myself involved in here and overall I’m really glad that I came to Mongolia this way, instead of on my own. They are doing a wonderful job of giving us a well-rounded and well-informed introduction to Mongolian culture, history, and language and I feel that, by the end of PST, I’ll know more about this country than any other one I’ve ever been in. They also did a great job of preparing us for what to expect from a Mongolian family while also preparing the family for what to expect from an American guest. Overall I think that preparation has made for a smooth first few weeks and I’m thankful for the effort they put into it.
That’s basically the lay of the land at this point. There’s no internet here at my training site, so I won’t be updating this very often (and when I do, it will come in a burst).
Thanks for reading!
Here's two pictures of my ger - (the white one on the left)