Saturday, March 12, 2016

An Explaination

I've been home for about two months now.  It's permanent; I'm not going back to Mongolia because I ET'd (early terminated) in February, on Valentine's day, to be specific and slightly ironic.  It kind of feels like a break up and I'm still reeling from the aftermath.

In January, I received one of the worst news I've ever heard in my life, my mom was really really sick, and everything about her situation was uncertain.  The weekend was torture, waiting, praying, crying, calling people, hoping, booking flights, and packing.  I was planning on coming back, so I left in a rush, and didn't really say good-bye to anyone, which I totally regret now.

My return flight was in February, but after praying and thinking about it, I felt like I needed to stay.  So I did, and while I don't feel regret in making my decision, I'm still sad because I didn't get to end things on my own terms. I didn't get to hug and say good-bye to my kids, to my friends, to my teachers, or to all the random people that made my life happy (the neighborhood stoop kids, the vegetable lady at the market, the shop keepers by my apartment, the stationary lady, the bus station lady, that one bus driver...).

Even though my service was full of ups and downs, I still had so much hope and so many plans so I could end the year strong.  Honestly, I was still considering leaving in December, but I had made a conscious decision to stay and to really enjoy my last few months.  It is a little ironic now, since I had wished so many times that I could be home, and now I'm homesick for Mongolia.

But, right now, I mostly wish that my mom will get better.  I thought Mongolia was going to be the most difficult thing that I could go through, but that's nothing compared to this.  Haha, perspective, am I right?? (And yet, as I will always remind myself, things could be even worse than THIS/ be thankful for everyone and everything I have/ all those super corny inspirational sayings that are so lame and so true)

After 18 months of Peace Corps, I'm now back at home, and so many things are different and yet not.  I feel different, but also just like a more messed up version of myself before I left, haha.  Peace Corps Mongolia was one of the best experiences in my life in that it was one of the worst experiences I've ever gone through, ha ha ha.  I've learned so so so much about myself and challenged myself and made it! I don't know how long it's going to take me to process through everything that's happened, I still can't find the words to completely describe anything: what Mongolia was like, what my service was like, what it feels like to be home, or even what my feelings are right now.  For now though, I'm moving forward, looking toward my future :)

And, I just want to say a huuuuuge MAHALO (THANK YOU) to everyone here in Hawaii and back in Mongolia, for believing in me, for being a huge support, and for being great friends.  I'm so thankful for every single one of you, and there are no words to express my gratitude...

Back in August 2014, right after I arrived at site in Arvaikheer to begin my 2-year service! Standing in front of the horse statues on our town's "hill"

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

World Cultures Cooking Club

The World Cultures Cooking Club is probably one of my favorite activities that I do at school.  I came up with this idea in the beginning of the school year, trying to decide what my school plan was going to look like for my last year in Mongolia.  I had a better understanding of what the teachers at my school were willing and capable of doing.  I had worked really well with one of the biology teacher's 7th grade homeroom class last year.  She was really great because she was the only teacher who willingly co-facilitated weekly life skills and origami classes with me to her homeroom class.  

This year, I decided to be a little more subtle with the life skills, and do a fun cooking "club" with her students each month.  Each month, Oyundalai teacher (the biology teacher) and I teach her students briefly about a different country, ask them to think critically about the differences between that country's culture and Mongolian culture, and teach them how to make a simple food item from that country.

Three students each month (there are 27 students total in the class) would take charge of cooking the food.  The goals of the club were to improve the student's self esteem (by allowing them to develop their skills in cooking), communication, problem solving, critical thinking and empathy (by learning about the diversity of the world).

A majority of her students are from poorer families, so I decided that I would not collect a fee for the food ingredients.  I had tried to apply for a grant through World Vision, but they weren't able to help me.  I use some of my living allowance to pay for the ingredients.  I figured since I am an adult, I should be able to budget $20, 000 tugriks a month (our monthly allowance is about $300,000 tugriks) for the club, but doing this doesn't make the club very sustainable.  However, I feel like it's worth it to expose my students to different cultures and foods of the world.

Making spam musubis and learning about Hawaii/America

Making pizza and learning about Italy

While the food is being made, we have small activities for the students to participate in, this was a puzzle of Mongolia


Making maki sushi and learning about Japan


Making paper dolls (dolls with kimonos)

The other two 8th grade homeroom classes heard about what Oyundalai class was doing, and asked me to teach them about Italy and how to make pizza, so I was able to make pizza three times.  It was really fun. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Mele Kalikimaka!

Merry Christmas!

My second and last Christmas and birthday in Mongolia, and it was a really great day yesterday.  I felt so so so loved because of everyone who texted, called, messaged, emailed and even SANG to wish me a Merry Christmas and happy birthday, my sweet English speaking club students who surprised me at the bakery with cake and presents, my teachers who came over to my apartment to celebrate my birthday with me, Jenni, my sitemate who was my personal chef and hung out with me all night, and my 27 crazy 8th grade students who completely surprised me:

I was hanging out with Jenni and the teachers in my apartment, enjoying the pizza Jenni made, when we heard knocking on the door.  When I opened it, it was all the students from 8г class (their homeroom teacher and I teach them each month about a different country around the world and cook food from that culture) crowded in my hallway of my apartment. SO completely shocked and surprised. They are the sweetest kids ever, and I'm still kind of speechless. It was the best birthday surprise ever.

Friday, December 4, 2015

And through it all, it is well

Thanksgiving 2015 in Bayanhongor aimag 
(Got picked up on the side of the road, sat on a bag for 4 hours in a bus aisle to get there)

All the film I brought back

A two legged dog, haha nah he had four legs

At a house warming party with the Korean volunteers, her son dressed up for us

At the same party, one of the teachers and his daughter she was so funny

On Saturdays Ayumi and Jenni and I go to the ger district (where the poorer families live) to fold origami with the kids (at the church where some Italian missionaries came to live about 10 years ago).

After origami, they get tsuutei tsai (milk tea) and biscuits

This baby

Sometimes when I'm sad I just look through my stack of photos :)

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I'm back home in Hawaii, for vacation, and I've been home for almost two weeks.  My flight back is on Saturday.  At first I wasn't sure if going back home was a good idea, and I kind of liked the idea of not going home for two years.  But after this summer, I felt like I had to go home just to get recharged and refocused.

If I can be perfectly honest, I had been feeling really disillusioned about my service, what I had (or actually, haven't) done, and whether I was even making an impact.  It was just a barrage of things that continued piling up on me and I had spent the last two months feeling miserable, thinking I was wasting resources, time, and money trying to be a volunteer.

At the beginning of summer I got into a huge disagreement and had a falling out with another volunteer over a project I had thought we were collaborating on together.  I was really disappointed since I realized that I had been duped by people with agendas,  people who don't necessarily believe so much in PC values but rather in making a name for themselves.  I always knew people like that existed but it's always kind of surprising to see that in an organization that's promoting goodwill and peace among mankind.  Maybe that was naiive of me.

It also didn't help that I had to say goodbye to many volunteers this summer (volunteers who completed their 2 years and also to one of the closest friends I had made here), who were sort of my support system.

I did have fun this summer, organizing my youth camp, volunteering with the reindeer herders, and training the new generation of CYD (community youth development) volunteers.  But going back to site was another story.  I was really, really excited to go back to work.  Being away from site for 3 months had helped me to restructure my goals and my vision for next year.  And I was excited to see everyone again after being away for so long.  Arvaikheer felt like home.

But of course, wishing that things would be different doesn't always mean that it's going to magically happen.  Work at my HCA (Host Country Agency), a secondary school, with my assigned CPs (Counter Parts) was always challenging.  Mostly because of our language barrier and it's their first time working with a foreign volunteer.  Feeling useless and being told that there is no work for you wears you down, especially when it's an every day occurrence.  Of course, I find work for myself, and do what I can with the teachers who are excited to still work with me.  But I had a long time to consider whether all the small victories could amount to something substantial that would outweigh all the hardships, the squeezing loneliness, the confusion, and the inability to fully communicate my needs or wants.

In a weird way, struggling like this has helped me to appreciate things more.  Little accomplishments can be a cause for celebration.  And it has helped me redefine myself, when I no longer have work, family, friends, church, or education to classify me, I finally got to see who I thought I was, stripped of everything that I thought gave me purpose in life.  And I saw that those things DON'T define me, they are not who I am. I know who I am now.

Two days before my flight home to Hawaii, I was shopping with Ayumi (the JICA volunteer, JICA is sort of the Japan version of Peace Corps) in the marketplace.  I bought something, and was talking to the shop keeper, who I've never met before.  After telling her I work at 4th school as a social work volunteer, she looks at me and asks (in Mongolian), "You work at 4th School?  Then, did you ever meet Sandra Bagsh (teacher)?  She works there too!"  Ayumi and I were so surprised, and so was the shopkeeper when she learned that I was Sandra!  Haha, her younger sister apparently attends 4th School, and she is one of the students in my English Speaking Club!  The shop keeper said that her sister talks about me all the time.

I wanted to share that story only because, I realized that even though I had struggled soooo much, and felt like I hadn't made a difference at all, that I have.  I have affected at least one person here.  And that was all I really wanted.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


A few weeks ago, my sitemate, Jenni, and I happened to walk past a new restaurant that opened in our town.  It looked to be selling pizza and chicken, and it was actually their first day of business!  We went back to try it one night, and boy, it was so exciting, since this is the second restaurant in town that sells pizza.  The other crazy thing is, this is a popular chain restaurant in Mongolia, and it's the FIRST EVER 24/7 restaurant in Arvaikheer!  Who knew we would be here to experience this?! Crazy!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

winter arriving

Last night I made one of my better life decisions as of late: sleeping in one of my coats (the heat won't be turned on for another week).  I got this idea from Nicole (M24), my sitemate last year, she's now in America.   It is -1 C (26 F) inside and outside my apartment at night, and 13 C (54 F) during the day.

About a week ago, a pipe in my bathroom sort of burst, thankfully I got home before it flooded my whole apartment and before it got to my carpets.  But it was quite the experience running around trying to find an adult (the first apartment I knocked on had 6 children and no adults in it) to call the apartment maintenance to shut off the water.  Flooding in Mongolian is "Үерт автах."