Since we started telling people we are moving to Mongolia with the Peace Corps, we have gotten a lot of questions (heck, we had a lot of questions ourselves!). We’ve decided to assemble and answer them in this FAQ. All of these answers come with a caveat: we are doing all the research we can, but the reality is that we are not there yet and therefore some of our answers are sure to be flawed. Here goes.
Peace Corps? Is that still a thing?
Yes, it is! For those of you who don’t know, the Peace Corps is a federal program that was created under the Kennedy administration after John F. finished reading “The Ugly American” and realized that what our foreign policy really needed was less bombs and more Americans on the ground and being themselves: industrious, humble, and willing to teach new skills. The Peace Corps has programs all over the world working on everything from AIDS prevention, to English acquisition, to water sanitation. The overarching goal of all these programs remains capacity-building while fostering international understanding on a grassroots level.
Why did you choose to join the Peace Corps?
It is something both of us had thought about long before we even knew each other. We both have a strong sense of service and identify with the Peace Corps’ mission. Since we both love to travel and explore, this is a great way for us to do that while doing something worthwhile. On a lighter note, we don’t have a hell of a lot of other responsibilities yet, so the timing is perfect. When we found out they had done away with that pesky marriage requirement for couples, it seemed like a no-brainer.
What will you be doing there?
Currently, we are slated to be English teachers at the university or secondary-school level. Mongolia has established English as a second official language, and we will be helping to build their capacity to teach English—not only by working with students, but also by helping Mongolian English teachers strengthen their language skills.
We will spend the first three months living with separate host-families and being trained in the subtle art of “English: a complicated language” before being assigned a place to live together somewhere in Mongolia, probably a city large enough to host two volunteers.
So, where is Mongolia again?
Mongolia is a landlocked country nestled between Russia and China in central Asia. It is the least densely populated nation on Earth. The country of Mongolia is also referred to as “Outer Mongolia”, differentiating it from “Inner Mongolia”, a portion of China which is ethnically Mongolian.
Is that the one with the yurts?
Yes, but what you mean to ask is “Is that the ones with the gers?”. Yurt is the Russian-ized name for what Mongolians call a ger.
They look like this:
They are widely used as lodging, especially because 30% of the population is nomadic, and gers pack up nicely and are easily transported. However, gers can also be part of an urban lifestyle. The capital, Ulaanbaatar, has a well-established ger district, for example.
That sounds cold.
That wasn’t a question. But seriously, it is very cold. In the winter, it gets as low as -40, which is that magical temperature where you don’t have to specify Fahrenheit or Celsius.
We were hoping for a tropical paradise, and instead we are being sent to literally the coldest country the Peace Corps serves in.
What language do they speak there?
Mongolian. It isn’t really similar to any other modern language, but it may be distantly related to both Turkish and Korean, if that gives you any idea of difficulty level. That being said, now that we have tried to explain idioms to non-English speakers, we are not convinced English is a spring walk in the park either. There is a Mongolian script, developed under Genghis Khan, which is still used in inner Mongolia, but it was replaced in outer Mongolia by the Cyrillic alphabet in the 1940s.
Do they still have a Khan?
No, they do not. They are currently operating under a democratic government and have been since their peaceful revolution in 1990. Before that they were working under a communist government, an import from their Soviet Union neighbors to the North.
Why did you pick Mongolia?
We didn’t. We actually didn’t have a country in mind when we applied, and we were willing to go anywhere. However, when the Peace Corps asked for our preferences, we looked at the list of available posts, and chose some jobs and countries that ‘sounded neat’. This was a mistake. Little did we know, that meant we had to be considered for (and rejected from) those jobs before they could even consider us for any other posts. Finally, after months of waiting on our eventual rejection from Madagascar, we were contacted by a Peace Corps placement specialist who though we might be a good fit for Mongolia. If you’re reading this, thank you Sarah!
Note to any future Peace Corps Volunteers: Unless you have your heart set on a particular job or country, tell the Peace Corps you’ll go anywhere. Firstly, they have a lot of experience finding people jobs they are actually qualified for. Secondly, all of the places are neat.
When do you leave?
At the end of May 2016. It sounds like a long time from now, but we have a lot to do until then.
How long will you be gone?
We will be gone two years and three months, with the option to extend our service for a third year.
Are you guys going together?
Yup. We applied as a couple and we are serving as a couple. We aren’t allowed to work in the same school, to spread the English around a bit, but we will still share a home (except for the first three months when we are separated to ensure we both get a handle on the Mongolian language).
Wait, does this mean you’re spies?
We would say that this definitively proves that we are not, nor will we be. There is a hefty firewall between the Peace Corps and all the intelligence gathering organizations, to the point that if you have ever worked for an intelligence agency you are barred for life from joining the Peace Corps. This makes sense: to do the kind of work the Peace Corps accomplishes, there needs to exist a trust between the parties that would be damaged by the insinuation that Peace Corps is a front for anything.
Are you scared?
Terrified! Have we mentioned how hard Mongolian is to learn? Also: MINUS FORTY DEGREES!
That being said, we are beyond excited. We feel like the luckiest people ever, for a lot of reasons, but this is one of them.