Adjusting to New Surroundings

It’s been awhile since I have updated my blog, but rest assured, I’m alive and kickin’ it!

This summer was super busy – mostly filled with language learning, technical sessions and cultural misunderstandings – but it’s finally over!

On August 8th, I had to pack up my ger and say goodbye to my wonderful host family, which was way harder than I had imagined.

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My host family and I in our traditional Mongolian deels. 

I spent two months living with my loving host mom, hilarious host dad, and three amazing sisters. We made so many fond memories together, ate soooo much Mongolian food, watched all of the Korean movies I could imagine, and took thousands of pictures – which were all printed and given to me as a gift upon leaving. I’m so thankful that they agreed to host a random American for a summer, and I’ll cherish the time I spent with them forever.

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My host sisters and I, enjoying slimy cucumber face masks after a long day of language and technical sessions.

After leaving them, I headed to Darkhan for a week where I would find out my permanent site placement (!!), attend conferences with my new supervisor, say goodbye to the people I spent the past two months with, and swear in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer.

I was the most anxious for site placement, because I was afraid to be placed in a soum on my own, in a ger (again), or in Bayan-Olgii, where I’d have to learn the Kazakh language (the predominantly spoken language in that region).

Now, I can’t give out the specific location of my site placement but I can say this: I was placed on my own, in a village, where I will be living in my own wooden house next to a hashaa family. I’ll be using an outhouse to do my business and bathing in a tumpin for the next two years, but I couldn’t be happier.

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My very own wooden house! I have a mud room, an un-insulated room (refrigerator room), and a large (insulated) room to live in.

I was initially terrified of being placed on my own, but after arriving to my village, I feel so much better about my site placement and I can completely see why the Peace Corps placed me here.

On August 14th, in the wee hours of the morning, I arrived to my permanent site after traveling 10 hours by bus and two hours by car. In a daze and half asleep, I was greeted in my village by my new hashaa mom and a mountain of steamy buuz (Mongolian dumplings)! Her and my supervisor helped me get settled into my new wooden house, and then let me get some rest.

For the first time during my Peace Corps experience thus far, I felt completely on my own.

I stood in the center of my new house, looked around, and realized I was home. That night, I fell asleep to the sound of a crackling fire feeling very happy.

When I woke up in the morning, I realized I had no idea what my surroundings looked like. I instantly jumped up out of bed, looked outside, and was in awe of my surroundings.

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This picture was taken while I was standing on “wishing rock,” a tiny island in the middle of the lake, where most boat tours stop for people to take pictures, leave a small donation, and make a wish.

If I stand at the front of my house, I can see mountains in every direction and rows of wooden houses. When I look to my left, I see the tallest mountain top in my village and usually a swarm of seagulls flying in a circle over the lake. The mountain blocks my view of the lake, but if I walk about 10 minutes towards the center of town, I can see the crystal blue lake in all of its glory.

I’ve spent the past week at site hiking, exploring, cooking my own food (!!), napping, getting to know the delguur (shop) owners, meeting with my counterparts, and just enjoying being in the moment.

So far, this experience has taught me to go with the flow and try not to have too high of expectations. Things will work out the way they’re supposed to!

If there’s anything you’d like to know about Mongolian culture, food, language, etc. leave me a comment or send me an email and I’ll be sure to write about it in a future post!

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The True Mongolian Experience

I dropped the keys to my ger in my outhouse…five minutes after receiving them.

Imagine how hard it was for me to explain that to my host family using only nonverbal signals after just meeting them. 

There were lots of confusing looks followed by hysterical laughing and that’s pretty much how almost every conversation between us goes. It’s a constant game of charades and makes every interaction interesting.

During my first week in Mongolia I learned how to master the squat outhouse and I’m confident my legs will be made of steel by the end of the summer.

I also learned how to make a proper fire in my stove and how to (not so) effectively shower in a tumpin – a fancy word for a slightly large bucket. 

I’ve traded shopping malls for mountains, and traffic jams for cow crossings, but I think I’m finally getting used to this place.

I look forward to going home after class and spending time with my family each day and retreating to my own little oasis in my ger every night. 



Apart from feeling like I’m camping and killing a million spiders a day, I can thoroughly say I enjoy the ger life – for now!  

It’s a simple way of living but a lot of work, which I hear gets even harder in the winter. I don’t know if I could manage but I guess I’ll find out at the end of summer when I get my permanent site placement! 

And of course, my favorite part of living in Mongolia so far: Tommy! 


I was initially surprised by how many Mongolians dislike dogs. Most people see them as wild animals, only good for protecting the house, but luckily my family treats Tommy pretty well.

Other than that I’m alive and well! 

From Detroit to UB

This entire week has been wild.

From being told I was a part of the “Chosen 13” who were staying an extra night in South Korea, to learning I will be living in a ger during Pre-Service Training (PST), Peace Corps Mongolia has been an amazing experience thus far.

After arriving in San Francisco with 60-something other Peace Corps volunteers, I learned in one of our first few meetings that I would be a part of a group that would need to stay an extra night in Seoul, South Korea because there wasn’t enough space on the plane for us.

Initially, I was pretty bummed and experiencing some serious FOMO but then I realized that I was able to eat amazing Korean BBQ and explore Seoul – something I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise for a while.

When I finally arrived in Ulaanbaatar (UB) I was overwhelmed and completely exhausted. The “Chosen 13” arrived pretty late at night and squeezed onto a 14 person van to make the drive to our training site.

The following days were spent in meetings learning about all of the Peace Corps rules, expectations and what to do when we experience the inevitable bout of diarrhea.

I also made some amazing new friends that will be along for the ride with me for the next 27 months.

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While this entire week has been fun, exhausting and really exciting, I was still anxious to learn more about my host family. We were instructed that we would learn about our family dynamics and where we would be living during PST on Friday during our last session.

To say I got the best deal of the bunch would be an understatement.

I will have a host dad who is a lawyer and local government official, and a host mom who is a teacher. I have four sisters, ranging from the ages of 4 to 18. My oldest sister has studied English for a few years so communicating should be a little bit easier. I will also have a guard dog on the property that I am assuming will become my best friend. And the best part of all: I AM LIVING IN A GER!

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Only 4 of us were selected to live in a ger and I have no idea how I am one of them.

I will be living with electricity, but without running water. I will be tending to a fire during the colder summer nights and getting the full on Mongolian experience.

I will still be living on my host family’s property and I’ll be able to use these next 3 months as a trial run to see if the ger life is for me.

I probably won’t have reliable wifi during PST but I’ll try to keep everyone updated as often as I can.

Pre-Departure Jitters

In two days I will be getting up bright and early, taking a trip to the airport, and getting on a plane to San Francisco, CA for Peace Corps staging.

I’ll spend three days in SF attending meetings, exploring the city, meeting the other M28s (we’re the 28th group to go to Mongolia), and eating a lot of In-n-Out Burger.

From there, in the early hours of May 27th, we’ll be flying to Seoul, South Korea, eat some Korean food during the layover, and then fly to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

It’s crazy to me that in just less a week from now, I will be in the “land of the blue sky.”

I remember getting my acceptance email back in October while I was at work and crying from how happy I felt.

I remember thinking May 24th would never arrive and I’d be stuck in Michigan for what felt like decades.

I remember making a countdown that said 210 days until my departure, and now I have two.

A lot of people keep asking me how I feel about leaving home for so long and I never really knew what to tell them – until now.

Have you seen Jaws? Of course you have! And if you haven’t, don’t fret because you will still know exactly what I’m talking about.

When Chrissie – yeah, I’m talking old school, original Jaws – takes her infamous last swim and the haunting “dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun, da-na-na!” plays eerily in the background as the great white shark makes his slow approach, you can’t help but feel on edge because you know this huge event in the movie is about to happen.

And that’s exactly how I feel!

As the number of days until my departure lessen, I can’t help but feel like this journey I am about to embark on is going to be a major part of my life, and to be honest, my emotions are all over the place.

Some days I’m happy and excited, while other days I’m sad and anxious.

I just want the day to be here already.

Now, I don’t mean to compare this huge life event of mine to a death scene in Jaws (sorry mom!), but I just wanted to create the perfect metaphor that captures my ultimate love for Shark Week and my anxious/excited feelings about the Peace Corps.

Thankfully, after giving my readers that great visual, I’ll be heading to a landlocked country – so no need to worry about any sharks!

 

 

A Year in Reflection

A year ago from today my mother dropped me off at the Windsor airport.

I held back my tears on the drive there, but ultimately began sobbing once I hugged my mom goodbye. It was the first time we would be so far apart for so long. I was terrified.

Now, when I think back to everything that I experienced when I was away, I can’t believe I was so terrified.

I watched the sun set from seven different countries over the course of 200 days.

I ate Belgian waffles in Belgium, and I fell in love with Kasteel Rouge.

I drank a Guinness in Dublin, and I sat on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher.

I saw the entirety of London from the London Eye, and posed for a typical tourist pic next to a red phone booth.

I toured the oldest castles in Wales, and watched the biggest rugby game of the year in a pub.

I tried banana beer in Germany, and walked the beautiful streets of Kleve.

I did my best to make zero eye-contact in the Red Light District, and I visited as many coffeeshops as possible in Amsterdam.

I went snorkeling every day in Malta, and I ate the best burgers from the Hot Shots burger van every night.

I cried tears of joy and tears of sadness when I landed in America.

After coming home, I finished my last semester at Ferris and I was a featured student at my commencement ceremony in December.

I spent my semester co-planning the Conversations on Race event on campus, and I tutored Umair, a Pakistani international student, in English. He passed his Michigan English test and I somehow managed to pass my exams.

I applied to the Peace Corps and was accepted as a Secondary Education English teacher in Mongolia, my country of choice!

This past year has been the best year of my life – so far – but I know the years ahead will be great too.

Below, you can watch the short video I made composed of pictures and videos from my time in Europe:

Peace Corps Timeline

There were a lot of helpful blog posts about the timeline for the Peace Corps when I was looking to apply, but they all varied depending on the country and the person. I decided to make a timeline to inform my readers of the process I’ve been going through for the past four months.

Mid-August: I recently returned from living in Malta and I decided I wanted to continue to work and live abroad any way that I could. I began researching my options and I came across the Peace Corps. I researched every country that had volunteer positions available and I decided that my top choices would be Mongolia, Kosovo and “Anywhere in the world.”

September 4-5: I began the application process on September 4th. I updated my resume, wrote my essay, and answered some basic application questions. On September 5th, I submitted my application and was informed I needed to fill out a Health History Form, submit a soft-skills questionnaire, and then I selected my country preferences.

September 6: I spoke to a local recruiter over the phone who said I have a good shot at being considered for Mongolia. (I was obviously excited since that was my first choice.)

September 27: I received notification from the Peace Corps Placement Office that I am being under consideration for a Secondary Education English Teacher in Mongolia. (YAY!)

September 29: I receive an interview request from a Placement and Assessment Specialist. I was asked to choose from 10 or so dates/times and I chose the soonest option. I was also given information about what types of questions would be asked so I could prepare for the interview over the weekend.

October 3: INTERVIEW DAY! The interview took place over Skype and it was kind of awkward. My interviewer told me at the beginning of the interview that she would have to interrupt me during my answers to make sure she is getting the information she needed. This only happened a few times but it definitely did throw me off a bit. I left the interview not feeling too confident, but also hopeful because I knew my interview didn’t go how I had planned due to the set-up.

October 4-12: I signed up for two Peace Corps webinars to learn more information and I also sought out ways to gain more experience. I emailed my interviewer twice throughout this time, once to thank her for the interview and explain that I would be looking for ways to gain more experience, and the second time to tell her about one of the webinars I attended.

October 12: I received an email from my interviewer thanking me for making an effort to learn more about the Peace Corps, and she informed me I would be receiving good news in my email that day.

…10 minutes later: I RECEIVED MY INVITATION!!!!! I was told that I was selected to serve as a Secondary Education English Teacher in Mongolia, pending medical and legal clearance. It was the best email I have ever received in my life. I even cried at work.

I was given 3 days to accept or reject the invitation, but I think I accepted it about 20 minutes after I finally stopped crying.

October 13: I began completing tasks in my new volunteer portal. These tasks included beginning the application for my visa and PC passport, updating some information and my resume, completing a hometown press release, etc.

October 14: I completed an online Background Check Certification which allowed PC to conduct my background check, and I also patiently waited for my fingerprint charts to come in the mail so I could get those done and mailed out as soon as possible.

October 18: I mailed my fingerprint charts to the headquarters.

October 26: I was emailed about my access to Learning Space, where I needed to complete a few online training courses. These courses each took about a half hour and I was able to get them done within a couple of days.

November 5: The Medical Clearance forms became available! I was told I had until January 5th to turn in about a million documents. I scheduled a bunch of doctors appointments for November to make sure I would have all of my stuff in early, in case if there were any issues.

Which there was.

November 23: I attended my physical exam, not thinking too much of it. I had a bunch of blood work done that was required from PC and I found out I had high cholesterol. Not your average high cholesterol, like REALLY high cholesterol.

I informed my PC nurse right away because I read horror stories online about people not being medically cleared or being deferred for up to a year because of small issues like this.

My PC nurse required me to have my doctor fill out a form stating that I was healthy enough to complete 27 months of service and told me she would need to contact the Medical Advisor before they could medically clear me.

December 12: I submitted all of my documents and hoped for the best news possible and no issues with my high cholesterol.

December 13: I AM MEDICALLY CLEARED!

This was a huge relief. I haven’t technically been legally cleared yet, but I don’t have anything on my record so I think I should be good to go in that department.

Now, my only worries are figuring out how I am going to fit 27 months of stuff into two suitcases!

Peace Corps FAQs

After being invited to serve in the Peace Corps as a Secondary Education English Teacher in Mongolia, I’ve been receiving a lot of questions from my family, friends, and random people in my classes. I figured I would take the time to write a blog post dedicated to all of these important – and sometimes silly – questions, to give you all an idea of what I am getting myself into.

What made you want to join the Peace Corps?

I’ve been asked this almost every day, from every person I’ve told, and I think my answer changes every single time.

Basically, I loved my time abroad in the Netherlands and Malta so much, once I returned home I began seeking opportunities abroad for after graduation.

I knew I didn’t just want any old job abroad. I wanted to do something that would make a difference, something that would put me out of my comfort zone, and something that would make me miss home – but not enough to return.

I looked into being an au pair, a flight attendant, or even a translator, but I realized none of those things were really what I was looking for.

I soon remembered hearing about the Peace Corps from all my time spent in the international office at Ferris, and I figured I would look into it and maybe even consider applying. After all, I had a lot of experience with tutoring international students in English, and if you pair that with my passion for volunteering, I was a perfect candidate.

Once I saw the opening for a Secondary Education English Teacher in Mongolia, I realized it was meant for me. I knew I was going there the second I started filling out my application – not kidding.

I guess I just have a really accurate intuition!

I heard the application process takes a really long time, how long did it take you?

For most people, it does take a long time. There are a lot of steps you have to take, such as filling out a bunch of medical paperwork, updating your resume, answering a soft skills questionnaire and writing an essay. I dedicated an entire Saturday to my application and I was able to get almost everything done.

I say almost because I contacted a local recruiter the following Monday and he gave me some tips to strengthen my resume and go over my application. Not everyone has to do this, but it REALLY helped me out.

According to the Peace Corps website, 55% of applicants who contact a recruiter are more likely to become volunteers. And I’m one of them 😉

 

Where will you be going once you get to Mongolia? Will you be living in a ger? Or with a host family?

I actually have no idea.

I know I’ll definitely be living with a host family during my three months of training, but after that, I’m clueless. I don’t think I’ll be finding out anytime soon, but I secretly really want to live in a ger.

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Original photo from Bernd Thaller.

How are you going to communicate with Mongolian people? Don’t they speak another language?

Yes! They speak Mongolian and I will be going through three months of intensive language training before becoming a teacher so hopefully I’ll be fluent enough to get by toward the end of training!

But before that, when I’m living with my host family, I assume I’ll communicate with lots of smiling and head nodding.

And if you’re wondering what to get me for Christmas this year, a Mongolian dictionary is high on my list.

So are you just going to be eating a bunch of Mongolian BBQ every day?

Uhhhh, I wish! Mongolian BBQ is great. But I think Mongolian BBQ in the US is similar to Chinese food in the US….it’s nothing like the real deal.

If I could walk up to a cart filled with  fresh veggies, meats and noodles for every meal, I think I would be in heaven.

But luckily I’m not a picky eater and I’m up for trying whatever anyone puts on my plate.

Aren’t you going to miss your family and friends?

Of course!

I’m sure I’ll miss them every day but it will get easier with time. I’m really nervous for being away for holidays, but other than that I think I’ll do just fine being away from home.

With all of the modern technology, I’m sure my mom will still be blowing up my phone every day and I’ll be able to stalk all of my friends through Facebook.

What are you getting yourself into?

I really have no idea, but I know I’m ready for it.

Peace Corps Update

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As some of you may know from my previous blog post, I recently applied to the Peace Corps.

I applied for secondary English teaching positions in countries all over the world, but my top choice was Mongolia.

I sent my application in on Sept. 9 and was invited to interview with a Placement and Assessment Specialist on Oct. 3. After the hour long Skype interview, I was told I could be hearing back from her regarding my application as soon as that day or as late as Dec. 1.

Hearing that, I obviously checked my email every five seconds hoping for an invitation to serve.

This morning while I was reading my usual Buzzfeed articles at work, I noticed a new notification in my e-mail from the Peace Corps and my heart stopped. Literally.

I opened the email and read “Congratulations!” and I started to cry. At my desk. In front of my boss. Before I even read the rest of the e-mail.

Once I calmed down and finished reading the e-mail, I was informed that I have been invited to serve in the Peace Corps as a Secondary Education English Teacher in Mongolia. I officially accepted my invitation – about five minutes ago – and I am planning to depart in May 2017.

Have you ever felt like running a marathon and shouting from the top of a roof simultaneously? Same. To say I am excited would be an understatement.

So what does this mean for me now?

Well, first of all, I have to contain my excitement and finish my homework due today.

Then, I have to pass medical and legal clearances, buy a Mongolian dictionary, and celebrate with family and friends.

I knew I started this travel blog for a reason. 😉

Post Travel Blues

It’s been awhile since you last heard from me, but rest assured, I’m alive and well.

I returned home on July 31st and was thrown right back into my old, every day lifestyle. I bought a car, learned to drive in Detroit traffic again, went shopping at the over-sized American supermarkets, and began living in my old apartment again.

It was great seeing all of my friends and family members because I missed them so much, and I loved telling them about my trip, but I probably repeated my favorite stories five times a day and eventually it got old. For everyone.

After the initial excitement I felt upon returning home, I eventually started experiencing some post travel blues. I wanted to go back to my life in the Netherlands, where I could hop on a plane and fly anywhere in Europe, ride my bike along a canal, or even go back to Malta where the only thing on my daily agenda was sunbathing on a beach.

But instead of annoying people and sulking over my amazing experiences, I decided to take action and plan for my next one.

Don’t get me wrong, Michigan is great, but now that I’ve had a little taste of life across the Atlantic, I can’t wait to go back!

Since I’m scheduled to graduate this December, I began researching careers and volunteer opportunities abroad that I can begin applying for right now.

I considered joining the circus, working for a U.S. embassy, selling my car and traveling until I go broke, or applying for the Peace Corps.

All of the above are great options (joining the circus the most tempting all), but I decided the best one for me right now would be joining the Peace Corps.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Peace Corps, it is a volunteer program for Americans who want to help communities abroad. It’s different from the other volunteer opportunities abroad because you don’t have to pay a high fee to join, and instead you actually get paid to be there. The volunteer opportunities range from teaching school children English (what I applied for), to health outreach, and even agriculture related positions.

If I were to be offered a volunteer position with the Peace Corps, I would be shipped overseas (I’m hoping for Mongolia) and live and work in a new country for 27 months! It may seem like a long time, but in the big scheme of things, it’s really not.

Plus, I would be working in a controlled environment near other volunteers and have access to adequate health care.

I think this would be the next big step for me, and I have already been contacted by a recruiter who thinks I have a pretty great shot.

Fingers crossed!