This year was the 25th anniversary of Peace Corps in Mongolia, which Peace Corps used as an excuse to throw a nice big ceremony for our swearing-in.
The ceremony took place in the National Opera House, which is located on Sukhbaatar Square, downtown Ulaanbaatar. The building itself is a rather unpleasant color of pink, but the inside was beautiful.
The oath to become Peace Corps volunteer is the same oath taken by everyone who enters government work, from military personnel, to the President of the United States:
I [state your name] do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.
Sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? When we took the oath, we became full-fledged Peace Corps volunteers and took on all the rights and responsibilities that entails, part of which is acting as representatives of the United States of America twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the next two years. Again, pretty serious.
Peace Corps as an organization decided that, okay, this is a solemn and huge moment for our volunteers, but maybe having them pronounce that they will “defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies” is not what we want to emphasize to our foreign partners, so they developed their own oath that emphasized more of the reasons we are here.
I [state you name] promise to serve alongside the people of [country of service]. I promise to share my culture with an open heart and open mind. I promise to foster an understanding of the people of Country of Service, with creativity, cultural sensitivity, and respect.
I will face the challenges of service with patience, humility, and determination. I will embrace the mission of world peace and friendship for as long as I serve and beyond. In the proud tradition of Peace Corps’ legacy, and in the spirit of the Peace Corps family past, present, and future- I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.
What this meant for us was that Ambassador Jennifer Zimdahl Galt administered the official oath to us in private before the ceremony, we started the ceremony that was comprised of a lot of speeches by a lot of important people, we were administered the unofficial oath by the Director of the Peace Corps, Carrie Hessler-Radelet in front of the audience, and only then were we allowed to celebrate becoming volunteers.
I was not allowed much time to bask in the relief of having made it through training because my training group (dubbed Jim and the Nomgonettes) had decided to preform at the ceremony and we were hustled back-stage to change.
My host-mom is a dance teacher and we learned some traditional dances with her group of students after classes as a fun way to culturally integrate during training. One of us casually suggested we preform a dance at our swearing-in ceremony before we understood what a big event the Embassy was making this out to be (25 years! That’s a quarter of a century!). Only two performances and one trainee speech were picked and very quickly we were under a lot of pressure to be good. They only wanted four dancers, so two of the girls became our invaluable coaches and made us practice every day that week, and our incredible language teacher found us dancers’ costumes at a local theatre.
We were the first performance and while we were passably good and I was happy with it, the other group made us look like amateur hour: they had an opera singer who could throat sing (which I have been told takes years to master, and here he was, throat singing after three months, nbd). On the whole, I was really happy we did the dance, mostly because it was so much fun to be able to go through the process with people I love hanging out with so much.
Because our supervisors had come to meet us and watch our swearing-in ceremony, we didn’t get much time to explore Ulaanbaatar. The afternoon after the ceremony, I went hunting down as many spices and dried beans I could get my hands on/fit into my already overstuffed luggage and went out with James and friends to eat my weight in Indian food.
The next morning we left Ulaanbaatar for the second time this year, this time not as trainees, but as volunteers, and it feels darn good to say that.