Successes and Failures

Work Life and My Sanity

I finally scheduled a timeslot for a life skills course at my host country agency with one of my favorite teachers and counterparts. I couldn’t be more excited to actually do something at the school I’ve been spending so much time at.

A few of my previous counterparts took a swift kick in the ass from some really great and strong women, which resulted in some real positive changes. I moved my workspace into the teachers’ room from the social worker’s office. I spend significantly less time with my assigned primary counterpart, the school’s social worker, which has been tremendously positive for my mental health. I’ve had a major attitude adjustment while I was in Ulaanbaatar, and it took stepping to the edge of total misery and seriously considering abandoning all this for some major sense to get shaken into me.

I’ll be teaching 7th graders, a wonderful age group to teach. In Mongolia, 6th-12th graders have a school schedule focused on academics and these skills may not be so obvious. I’d recommend that all grades probably need exposure to life skills, but I’ll take what I can get. I’m also working on curriculums for other schools and centers in my aimag that are more interested than my agency.

Life skills include self-esteem, communication, relationship building, critical thinking, decision-making, goal setting, managing emotions, empathy, sexual health, and planning. I’ve been beating my head against a wall trying to get my foot in the door, whether it was asking teachers if I could observe their life skills courses, or if I could find a time to do it. They kept saying “no” or “later.” I later discovered that because of the language barrier, it might have been too daunting a task for the life skills teacher.

And then! Like an angel falling out of heaven! Saraa, my savior, came through! We were gossiping while eating fried rice and drinking milk tea.

“Sanny, if you want, I can teach life skills with you? I’ve done it before.”

I wanted to fucking cry.

They say that being a Peace Corps volunteer is a 24/7 job. It is, but that work includes taking care of yourself so you can be the best you can possibly be. Like Buddha says, “to straighten the crooked you must first do the harder thing – straighten yourself.”

The first week back, I haven’t spent more than a few hours at my desk, and only when I’m actually doing something. I am so much happier, even if I am still getting over the pain of adjustment the first three months at site. The first three months for all PCVs before In-Service Training are supposed to be the hardest, and I am so glad that they are over. I can certainly see why. My sector is particularly tough in my circumstance, since my school has always had English teachers. I recognize that I’m defining my role, but it can be exhausting to tap on everyone’s shoulders in broken Mongolian if I could be of assistance.

I Moved! And then I Partied!

After my heat broke and -20F temp nights sleeping in my jacket, I moved into a new apartment on Wednesday, and its remarkably modern and nice. I have running semi-hot water and a mattress my landlord is lending me. The quality of my life has drastically changed in such a short time, and I can finally picture myself living here happily for the next 20 months. I’m not in survival mode at all hours of the day anymore. I can hang out in my apartment in a t-shirt! I don’t have to wear five billion layers while I do yoga! Peace Corps demands a lot of independence, or maybe acceptance in handing over the reigns to dependence. I’ve experienced a quick switch from one to the other, from living with my host family, to living alone.

Last night, we had a merry time at our Shin Jilth (New Years) party. I won 50,000 tugriks in a raffle, was coerced into signing the chorus to Last Christmas by Wham! (they wanted a Mongolian song..), and got more hugs and kisses from my coworkers than I’ve gotten all year long. I can see that this process is just as hard for them as it is for me. To engage and include me, they have to take time out of their lives, and maybe that’s not always a priority. But for the first time here, I can actually see my coworkers’ acceptance of me through their actions and smiles. I can understand maybe every fifth to third word when Mongolians speak with each other.

Language doesn’t always matter, and if any future Peace Corps volunteers are reading this, you should still study, I just never realized how there are so many forms of communication. In the states, I mostly spoke. That has definitely changed. We laugh, we smile, we dance, we take selfies, we cook for each other, we give each other nicknames, we sit close, we hold hands, and we hug. I am almost 100% certain that I will never be completely fluent in Mongolian, I’ll just be fluent enough so I can accomplish what I most need to communicate. I’m okay with that. But I won’t give up. I’ll always do my best to speak as much as I can, pick up words as I go along, and meet with my tutor semi-regularly.

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