Year 2 of my service is off and in full swing and winter is quickly descending upon Mongolia. Its been a while since I last posted. In fact, my previous post was in the dead of last winter (not that that’s saying much since winter here is 8 months long.) However, its been difficult to sit down and write a blog post for family, friends and everyone else back at home because I never know where to even begin. How do I explain why I’m feeling this way or why this thing that happened today was significant or funny? It just always seems exhausting to try to explain because life here is so entirely different than back at home. Even as I write this post, I’ve gone back and rewritten it about 6 times already because its so difficult to figure out what to say about what I’m going through here. But as Year 2 kicks off, I am realizing more and more how important it is to document my time here. Most of Year 1 I felt that I needed to experience every moment rather than getting caught up trying to document it all. I didn’t take many pictures or write blog posts because I was too busy ‘living in the moment.’ However, these moments won’t be around forever and I am now confronting the fact that in less than a year I will be back stateside and all these moments will just be memories. This year I have to be more proactive in documenting my journey. The highs and the lows and all the craziness that happens in between.
In the last 8 months so much has happened. My two female site mates/best friends got sent home because our site has been deemed no longer safe for female Peace Corps Volunteers. I trained teams and individuals from my school to compete in regional and national English competitions and was very proud of the numerous medals my students and teachers won. I traveled back to Darkhan, where I lived and trained last summer, to train the newest group of PC-Mongolia Volunteers. For two months I worked to teach my group of the most awesome trainees, what it takes to be an English Teacher in Mongolia, and more importantly, what it takes to be a successful Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia. I met (for the 3rd time) the US Ambassador to Mongolia, and later this summer had lunch with the Peace Corps Chief of Staff (Second in Command!). My mom and sister came to Mongolia, and they saw and began to understand what life is really like for me out here in the Mongolian countryside. And then we went on a luxury vacation to China (Thanks, Mom!!). And now, after an emotional week-long Mid-Service Training (MST) at the end of August with all 70 of the other PCV’s in my group, I am back at my site in the second week of the school year.
Having my mom and sister visit me in Mongolia showed me how much I’ve changed in my 16 months here. Everyone expects this to happen and knows that it does, but while we’re surrounded by people who are experiencing similar struggles and challenges, these changes aren’t as apparent. I’ve grown harder and colder. I don’t laugh as easily. And when I do, my jokes are often more stinging and mean. I’ve become more skeptical and cynical. Its just part of what happens when you’re on guard 24/7. There’s a certain self-assuredness that comes with surviving these daily struggles and still managing to do the work we came here for. Every minute of every day of every week is spent performing, trying to be the best PCV I can be. Add to that the pressure we put on ourselves to go above and beyond in spite of living in this challenging environment. This environment where we’re devoid of the human contact and affection we’re used to in the States. Where we’re constantly yelled at and gawked at on the streets. Where many students don’t really want to learn English and our counterparts’ attitudes towards work are sometimes extremely difficult for us. And through all of this, we’re pretty much all on our own. No Mom and Dad to call when you have a bad day. No boyfriend or girlfriend to talk to when you’re feeling lonely. Add to the constant mental struggle, all of the physical challenges we face everyday living in gers through Mongolian winters, and you get hard, cold, tough almost cocky Volunteers. And after going through what we’ve gone through, who wouldn’t be all of these things? While understandable, these negative attributes don’t have to be part of who I am though. Talking to other volunteers during our MST, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who felt like they had changed in these ways. That through the challenges of the last year, we have all become these people that we didn’t expect or necessarily want to become. But we all agreed that we need to take a more proactive role in helping each other get through the tough times and to become the positive people we once were and want to be again.
To try to begin to explain what I’m feeling as I begin my second year is almost impossible. I left MST a mix of emotions. Full of new ideas and excited to start new projects at school. Dreading returning to site and living without the two people I’ve grown closest to. Sheer exhaustion at the thought of another year, specifically another 8 months of winter in my ger. But also a confidence that comes from having already survived one year. Questioning whether I really want to do an entire second year with all the struggles. Eagerness to return to the US and back to “normal,” but at the same time a severe anxiety about returning to the “real world.” That being said, I’ve got about 10.5 more months until I have to face the challenges of returning stateside.
For now, work is off to a pretty classic Mongolian start. My schedule’s changed pretty much everyday last week and I’m still not sure if its set yet. I’ve come to school expecting to teach certain classes and spent the day sitting at my desk while we re-do the schedule for four hours again. But all these struggles and challenges suddenly seem like nothing when two days in a row, you walk into a class of more than 50 twelfth grade students and successfully solo teach for two hours. Or when you spend the day with your hashaa family baking cookies and pizza and showing them a bit of American culture for once. Or when you find out that you scored Advanced-Middle on your Mid-Service language interview and maybe your language skills are as good as people say. When life is as unpredictable and challenging as it is in Peace Corps, you learn pretty quickly how much those little victories mean. They are what make your service.
I’ve got a lot planned for Year 2. But the most important project to me is to be there for my fellow PCV’s and to work hard to improve our post for future cohorts. We’re the ones who live this life everyday and understand the struggles so we have to support and lift each other up when things get rough. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us in order to make our post as great as we want it to be. But if there’s any group of hard, cold, mean and tough PCV’s that can do everything we need to, its my fellow M-25’s. Bring it on Year 2.