Happy new school year!

Another month later…

My internet situation has been a little more questionable than I’d hoped for — I’ve only gotten public internet access as of this week.

This post and the previous one backdate to when I thought I would have internet within the week.

Written for September 2nd, 2015

Yesterday, September 1st, was Mongolia’s national first day of school. The teachers greeted each other in Kazakh, clasping hands, and I leaned over to one of my counterparts and asked what the words meant. “Happy new school year!” she told me.

In Mongolia, every school year begins with an opening ceremony. I gave a speech in front of the whole school — in Kazakh, written with the kind help of one of my counterparts — and sang an American song. At least two of the kids recorded the event, so there is now a video somewhere of me mangling Kazakh words and forgetting the lyrics to “I Dont Wanna Miss a Thing”[1].

I am super excited about my placement. Here are some of the awesome things about my school:

  • My CPs have high fluency and good comprehension — meaning we can speak exclusively in English, because they understand what I say and can answer in an appropriate way. (This is not true of all English teachers in Mongolia, unfortunately.)
  • I’ve already gotten suggestions for four or five different projects, as well as individual requests for specific help (e.g. grammar, TOEFL, teaching the college-prep 11th and 12th grade classes) — and I haven’t even started work yet.
  • The school has had multiple PCVs in the past, so they know what to expect and how to work with me.
  • The kind of projects being requested of me are very much in line with Peace Corps values — so, while it’s true I’m likely to help tutor advanced students for the Olympiads[2], I am also being asked to run a weekly English club for disabled students and help design student-centered, inductive lessons[3].
  • My CPs are super excited to have me specifically because I am a woman, and the entire English faculty at my school — bar one — is female. Cross-gender friendships are not a thing in Mongolia, but the division between work and personal life is not as strong as it is in the ‘States. My CPs really, really want to get to know me as a person, not just as a teacher, which they couldn’t do before — their previous PCVs were all male.
  • Related to the last: I am super well cared for here, as PCVs often aren’t when they live in apartments. While I spend a lot of time alone at loose ends — a chronic problem in PC/Mongolia — I’ve made contacts. I already have somebody to buy dairy from (it’s a thing here to buy dairy fresh), and my nearest neighbor/landlady is a CP’s sister. (Also a huge sweetheart who is gradually lending me half of her kitchen cabinet.) Last Friday at lunch I told my CPs my phone number, and my phone immediately started ringing off the hook as my CPs made sure I had theirs. “So you can call us in the evening,” one of them told me.

There are, however, some challenges in store.

  • I have eleven CPs. All of them have been excited to meet me, and about half have already suggested projects they want to work on. Scheduling could get…interesting.
  • I’m at one of the bigger schools in the province — there can be as many as 35 students per class. I really don’t like big classes, as a student or as a teacher; a lot of the fun of teaching, for me, is in getting to know the students and adapting my lessons to their needs. The more students there are, the more difficult this becomes.
  • I don’t know Kazakh. I really, really don’t know Kazakh. I can buy food at the market and mumble through some pleasantries (though I’m not sure which of the five ways to say “hello” is appropriate at any given moment). Because my CPs speak good English, and my landlady and school personnel also speak Mongolian, I could theoretically get by without learning much — but that’s not, in my opinion, a good thing. Most of my CPs speak Kazakh to each other, and in meetings the faculty speak both Kazakh and Mongolian (sometimes switching within a single sentence). I need to learn the language if I want to know what’s going on, but it’s going to take a lot of initiative on my part, since I can almost always ask for a translation instead.

I’d say, though, that these problems are surmountable with a bit of attention and planning.

All said and done, while I was petrified when I first got the placement (“I have how many CPs? There are how many students in this school?” not to mention that bigger schools are usually higher ranked and have a better reputation), the more time I spend here, the happier I am about the time I have ahead. I’m really looking forward to getting back to work.

[1] The story behind me singing in front of a crowd of Kazakh children is a tale unto itself, too long for this humble post.
[2] English competition, about which I shall write another day.
[3] Teacher jargon, about which I probably will not write.

2 thoughts on “Happy new school year!”

  1. Gooooood to hear about your placement and your challenges! You seem to be handling it very well and continue moving forward with a positive projective. So glad for you! Take care!

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