Pre-Winter in Mongolia

“Life can seem short or life can seem long depending on how you live it.” –Paulo Coelho

Fall, or pre-winter, as I call it, is a different experience in Mongolia. In Mozambique, it would start to get hot around this time of year. In Chicago, the leaves are changing colors and it’s just starting to get cold. Our leaves changed colors here around mid-September. For a week or two, they were beautifully orange and yellow, but soon the colors faded and the cold rolled in. Our first snow was September 24. The temperature flitted between 20 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and we’ve had a few more snows since.

It feels like winter to me. The sun doesn’t rise until I’m cozy in my room at work at 7:40am. It begins to set around 5:30pm, and is fairly dark by 6. We’ve had a few cold days at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, but these days it tends to be around 20. Today it snowed. I’m told it will only get worse, that it will reach -40 degrees at some point, that it’s not really winter. But it feels like winter to me.

Last weekend I went with a group of other teachers out to Secret History Camp, a small lodge/ger camp tucked away in the mountains about two hours from UB. We rode out there in an old Russian van that drove well over the ruts of the dirt road to the camp. Pulling up to the gate, we saw a picturesque scene before us: gers ascending up towards the lodge, the mountain rising behind it. It was beautiful.

The lodge itself was quite nice. It was sort of the style of a western lodge, with big beams of polished tree trunks and a very lodge-y feel. There was a foosball table and pool table that we could play on, a big TV, a spa, a karaoke room, and lots of open space. We ate a mix of Mongolian and western meals in the big dining room, and spent a night predicting our futures with the sheep anklebones. Apparently I will have many successes…


The second day there we decided to go horseback riding. 4 of us wanted to go, so we requested 4 horses for 2pm. We showed up, but there were no horses outside. We saw some people in the enclosure in the distance, but no one with horses. After an hour, the man finally came back. To our surprise, he didn’t have 4 horses, but rather 2 horses and a camel. He told us they were unable to catch more horses, so 2 of us ended up riding horses and one on the camel. Rather than following a guide or going off on our own, we ended up being led around. It wasn’t the most successful horseback ride I’ve had in Mongolia.

After two days of relaxing, Gilmore Girls, and card games, we headed back to UB for a fairly busy week. Report cards were due on Wednesday, so I had a lot of grade-entering and note-writing to do. My students are also finishing up quite a few of our units: We finished our unit on Plant Growth in Science by making recycled planters out of plastic bottles and planting flowers and herbs. We are finishing up our Frindle unit by making an action plan to make a difference in our community. On Tuesday we’re going on a field trip to a cultural show to see Mongolian dance, music, instruments, costumes, etc. Should be fun!

Last night was ASU’s 10th anniversary gala. After an afternoon of getting nails and makeup done and curling hair, we arrived at the banquet hall with other teachers and parents. There was a banner outside the hall where we could take pictures in front of the ASU logo. We took some pictures, mingled with others there, and then headed in to find our seats. Pretty soon, the show kicked off. We saw a performance from our sister school, School 60, where the kids were dressed up in the traditional outfits they had made. They sang and danced, and were truly talented students. The founder of the school gave a speech, as did one of the board members. Then, it was our students’ turn.

The first performance was a dance performance from our students. Two girls from my own class, as well as a few I’ve come into contact with, participated in a traditional Mongolian dance. A group of younger girls did a ballet dance. The older kids did more of a hip-hop dance. I was so proud of all the students after watching them perform. They did a great job!

Afterwards, the music teacher at the high school did a beautiful job singing a Mongolian song. He called his acapella group from the high school on to stage to share some modern songs, then later on had the concert band play a few songs. I spent most of the evening ignoring my food to watch performances and chat with other staff members and parents at the gala. At the end of the night we danced the night away in big circles, parents and staff, Mongolians and foreigners mixed. It was a really fun night!

The next few weeks are going to fly by, with conferences, American Thanksgiving, the Christmas party, the holiday show, and everything else that will come up before winter break and my trip to India. Hopefully I’ll get another post in during that time!

Mongolian word of the day: морь (more) means horse


Fall Break

“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for – and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool – for love – for your dreams – for the adventure of being alive.”-Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to update the blog. With teaching, report cards, and getting to know Mongolia, I’ve been pretty busy since the day I got here!

Three weeks ago began our fall break. Sure enough, since I can’t seem to sit still, 6am saw me in a taxi on my way to the Dragon bus station, armed only with my backpack and a piece of paper with “I want a bus ticket to Arvaikheer” written in Cyrillic. Most of my travels thus far have been to countries where I’ve either spoken the language, a majority of people speak enough English that we can get by, or the system is western enough that it’s pretty clear what I should be doing. This was a bit different.

I arrived at 6:30. Buses were already lined up in front of the station, and people were rushing in and out. Keeping a hand on my pockets, I entered the station. I tried to buy a ticket from the man at the desk. He just looked at me, annoyed. Another American couple lurked nearby, trying to figure out what to do. We decided to stick together for solidarity. Finally at 7am the ticket counter opened and people began flocking to a line. I waited patiently as people pushed in front of me, and when it came my turn, I handed her the paper and 20,000 Tugrik (about $10). I got my ticket.

From there it was fairly easy to find the bus. I boarded and waited until 8am. A few vendors came on, selling pastries and corndogs, but they didn’t hassle me as they might have in Moz. At 7:30 an older Mongolian woman came to occupy the seat next to me. We nodded at each other. Finally at 8:04, we took off.

The roads were paved, and mostly smooth. As we flew past grass-covered mountains and bare plains with the occasional ger, I drifted to sleep, only reawakening once we got to our halfway rest stop. It was just a strip of shops and restaurants in the middle of nowhere, but I got out to explore the nub of business along the road. When I got back on the bus, the old woman next to me offered me some pine nuts from her bag. Pine nuts are difficult to eat because you have to crack them with your teeth and spit out the shell, and they’re about the size of tic tacs. We sat there in silence for an hour or so just crunching on pine nuts.

Once the bus left again, they began playing Mongolian music videos on the TV screen in front. They were very thematic, often filled with stories of romance, family, and horses. I watched those for the next few hours until we finally arrived at Arvaikheer around 3:00.

Jenni met me at the bus station. Jenni is a Peace Corps Education Volunteer in her 2nd year in Mongolia. We dropped my things off and went for a bit of a walk around the town. Arvaikheer, which is the capital of Ovorkhangai aimag (province) has a very different look from the part of Ulaanbaatar where I live- It is very flat (at least in the direction we were walking) and rather industrial looking. We went to Bookbridge, a program she works with where they teach English to Mongolian kids. The whole building was very impressive, and it even had a library of books in English bigger than my library in Cuamba! We chatted for a bit with one of her counterparts, who was really nice and told me more about the program. Afterwards, we headed back to her apartment and then out to dinner with her sitemates.

Jenni has two sitemates who are both education volunteers in their first year. Sitting together with them at dinner definitely brought back saudades for my two sitemates and the times we would sit and gripe about the problems we were facing in our projects and discuss the things we were excited about. I mostly listened, occasionally offering a story from my Peace Corps experience, and got to know the girls. Afterwards, we met Jenni’s counterpart from before and two Germans who were also helping out with Bookbridge for karaoke. Karaoke seems to be popular here in Mongolia, and we had fun singing old favorites.

The next day, we slept in, went boot shopping, and went to the market. The markets seemed to be more of a series of indoor shops that were set up as market places for different things: dairy, vegetables, meat, etc. A big staple of Mongolia is their dairy products, so in the dairy market there were just vats of yogurt and cream, chunks of butter, and piles of aaruul, which is dried milk curd and a common snack here. Jenni bought some to take back to the states with her for people to try, and we moved on.

We went to another of Jenni’s counterparts’ houses for lunch. She served us a noodle dish with some meat and veggies, as well as traditional milk tea, and cake and biscuits. Afterwards, we sat on the floor and played games with her, her mother, and one of her 5-year-old sons. The game involved rolling 4 sheep anklebones as if they were dice. Each way they could land represented a different animal: the horse, the sheep, the camel, and the goat. The goal was to get a horse, and then you could move your “horse” further along the line of bones until there was finally a winner. Apparently there are a lot of different games you can play with the ankle bones! We played for a bit longer, tried on one of her deels (traditional Mongolian clothing), and headed back to the apartment to make a pizza dinner, in true Peace Corps fashion. When you have cheese…

The next day I went in to Jenni’s school to see her teach. She teaches English to 5th and 6th grade students with a co-teacher and mentors and works with other teachers at the school. Her school is fairly big, with two buildings because a newer one was more recently built. Half the school has class in the morning, the other half in the afternoon. She has about 40 students in her class sitting at long tables. Watching her teach brought me back to my Peace Corps days—she was miming simple actions and teaching them 5 vocabulary phrases at a time. It was pretty cool that she got to work with another teacher—the first time Jenni modeled the lesson and the second lesson her co-teacher took the reins. The students seemed to have about the same level of English as high school students in Mozambique (little to none), but the activities were fun and engaging.


Something that really struck me about the Peace Corps experience, at least here in Arvaikheer, was that the volunteers seem to have more of an impact, or at least more of an ability to get things done. That’s not to say that volunteers in Mozambique didn’t do great things, but there seemed to be a lot more administrative hassles in my experience. Permission had to be asked from the right people at the right time in the right way, oftentimes people wanted to just know where the money would come from, people didn’t follow through or changed their minds about details, the list goes on and on. Here, it seems like the volunteers have an easier time and more support from their schools putting plans into action.

After school, we had dinner at a Mongolian restaurant and went to bed early since I was riding back the next day. I had an effortless ride back to UB and got a night to relax before setting out on the next adventure. I had plans to drive out with two other teachers, one of whom had a car, to Khustai National Park, one of the few places on earth where there are still wild horses, and then on to Kharkhorin, the former capital of Mongolia.

We set out around noon the next day, driving along the same westward road that I had driven the day before with our music blasting and watching the cows pass by. About two hours in we came across a sign that pointed towards the open fields on the left: “Hustai Tourist Camp 13 km.” We turned onto the dirt road and drove off in the direction of the sign. We came across a closed ger camp, which turned out to be the edge of the cell phone service, and kept going slowly along the bumpy dirt roads. Sometimes the road split into 3 tracks and we just picked one to follow. Eventually, we made it to our ger camp around 3pm.

We moved our things into the nicest ger I’ve stayed in yet. It was painted beautifully, and kept very warm by the stove in the middle. We were going to relax for a bit, but the receptionist told us we had better get going if we wanted to see the wild horses that day, so we set off in Maggie’s car. Unfortunately, the road was even worse than the dirt road to the camp. The bumps, ditches, and uneven trails for 10km took us about an hour to navigate in the small Prius. We were about ready to give up when another passing car promised us we would see hundreds of horses if we kept going another 2km. We can do this, we thought.

There were quite a few steep hills, and one really treacherous ditch that we managed to navigate ourselves over. Finally about 3 km later, we came across a herd of something (maybe deer or gazelle) and 3 wild horses off in the distance. We got out, took some pictures, walked around, and enjoyed the beauty, but I for one was rather underwhelmed. We watched a lone horse walk off along the road, then headed back to the car.

A few minutes in, we came back to the treacherous ditch. Coming over, we had managed to navigate the steep hill on one side of the ditch, but coming back we were having trouble. I was sitting outside the window trying to give directions so that we wouldn’t get stuck, but we found ourselves on the brink of tipping over. When one wheel went over the edge and the car dangled slightly, our hearts stopped. No matter which way we turned, it seemed like we would tip over. I decided to get out and brace against the car to add some extra pressure as we drove forward. Turning the wheels up the hill, we slid down a little bit, allowing the car to bypass the hole and drive to safely. It was quite an exhausting moment for all of us, but especially Maggie who was driving.

Another kilometer on, we came across a herd of horses. We finally got to see them (kind of) up close! We approached and took a few pictures, but had to head back before it got dark. We enjoyed a nice dinner and didn’t enjoy so much a boiling night in our ger, and decided to go back to UB the next morning instead of going on.

I was lucky that another group of teachers would be taking a day trip the following day, so I still got to do some more sightseeing in my holiday. We took a bus out to the tallest statue of a man on a horse in the world, a giant statue of Chinggis Khan. We walked through a small museum and then headed up to the top of the horse’s head to see a great view! Afterwards we drove to Terelj National Park and saw Turtle Rock, the rock shaped like a turtle, and a really beautiful monastery. It was a pretty eventful daytrip!

Another blog post is coming soon about other fall adventures and school!

Mongolian Word of the Day: unetei ve? How much is it? This phrase has come in handy

First Days of School and a Month into my Life in Mongolia

“It’s the oldest story in the world. One day you’re 17 and planning for someday, and then, quietly, without you ever really noticing, someday is today, and that someday is yesterday and this is your life.” –Nathan Scott

My 3rd grade class is reading the book Frindle by Andrew Clements right now. In the chapter we read this week, the main character was dreading 7th period when he would have to present a report on the dictionary. He described how when one is looking forward to something, it seems to take forever to arrive, yet when one is dreading something, time seems to pass quickly. This led to a very interesting conversation amongst my students about the relativity of time, which really stuck with me long after my students dispersed for the weekend.

I can hardly believe I left home a month ago today. In some ways, it feels like I’ve been here a year. I’ve got my routines, my stores, my coffee shops. I’ve been out to the countryside, ridden horses, hiked, made friends from all over the world, and planned a lot for my school year. At the same time, however, I am constantly reminded that I haven’t been here long. I’ve begun to notice the day get shorter, and I can only imagine at this stage what the winter will be like. Talking to family and friends feels like I was there yesterday. I’m still stumbling across new things. Today, for example, we stumbled across an archery competition where everyone was wearing traditional outfits. It was a small reminder that there is still so much yet to learn and see here in Mongolia.

I’ve got a lot to learn as a teacher as well. I teach 3rd grade, and my class currently has 19 students, most of whom are Mongolian. They are adorable (a lot of the time), and I really feel they’ve gotten settled and got routines mostly down. My biggest struggles so far are keeping them organized (the desks in my classroom aren’t great for storage), turning homework in on time, and keeping my own energy levels up. Teaching elementary school is also a lot more stressful than I remember it being, since they have to be taught how to do everything and guided in practice before earning independence in most activities. They’re finally developing that independence in some of the things I started teaching them, which has made me so proud already. They’re avid readers, curious kids, and just altogether generous beings, and I’m lucky that I get to watch them grow during my time in Mongolia.

Aside from family, friends, and my dog, I’m not really missing much here. UB has most of the things I missed in Mozambique, and it is an inexpensive place to live. I don’t feel I’ve met anyone here that I wouldn’t get along with, and have quite a few people to call if I’m bored and want to do something. It’d be nice to be within a day of a beach—even if that meant hitchhiking for 13 hours to get there—but even a month in I find myself amazed by these mountains. Again, we’ll see how I last in the winter. I feel like there are a lot of Game of Thrones references to be made.

The first weekend after school started, the school took us teachers on a trip out into the Mongolian countryside. We drove past camels and sheep and cows and horses and touristy falcons. We drove through winding passes and trudged up mountains. Finally we arrived at our ger camp, where we were escorted in by some men on horseback and ushered to a circle of chairs. We were fed milk tea and milk curds, as per tradition, and then released to spend the day as we pleased. I sat and talked for a while with friends, played a bit of hacky sack, and then went to ride horses. When I got back, I went on a walk, and came back for the party. It was a really fun and relaxing day, and being out in the open gave me a feeling of such control over my own life and comfort in my choices. It was just overall a good day.

We slept in the gers, which are traditional Mongolian homes. They’re built in a circular shape with a stove and a chimney pipe in the middle, and actually stay quite warm while the stove is lit. Each ger had 4 beds and a table in the middle. I actually got a really good nights sleep too. In the morning, we had breakfast, packed up, and left.

Otherwise my weekends here are a lot more relaxed. I usually spend some time with friends from around the city, some time shopping or wandering, and some time drinking or going out with friends here. This morning we went to the Fall Festival at the International School of UB, which was pretty cool. There were all kinds of artwork and clothing being sold, and I got to see some of their impressive school. Tomorrow, a bunch of us teachers are doing a color run here in UB, so that should be enjoyable! I still have some hiking, horseback riding, and traveling on my bucket list before it gets cold, and we’ll see where the days take me in general!

Mongolian word of the day: Баяртай (bayartai) means goodbye

Week 1 in Mongolia

“Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their head in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it.”

Well, I’m in Mongolia! One more country to scratch off my map! My first week here has flown by, with so many adventures already, and I’m really loving it so far.

I arrived around 2am last Friday morning due to a delayed plane. Luckily, our vice principal was up to date with the news and was indeed there to meet me at the airport. After 27 hours of traveling I was exhausted, and there wasn’t much to see in the dark. Upon getting to the apartment building, though, I suddenly found another burst of energy, and of course decided to unpack. Why not?

My apartment is roughly the size of my house in Mozambique (minus Catia’s room). I even have running [hot] water and electricity! But really, I also have wifi, cable TV, a big fridge, an oven (not even a stoven), and a nice big bed that isn’t as comfortable as it looks. It’s quite the step up from Moz. There’s no air conditioning, but the government apparently turns on the heat once it gets cold. So far it’s been chilly at night, but pretty warm during the day, so I just sleep with my windows open. I also have a great view of the Zaisan Monument out my window, which is beautifully lit at night.

My first day in Mongolia was mostly spent setting up my apartment and exploring. There’s a grocery store, a KFC, a Pizza Hut, and a few bars/coffee shops down the street from us, which is very different from the far reaches of the IFP in Cuamba! We also have other shops, restaurants, banks, hotels, and clinics nearby. Walking up the 4 flights of stairs to my apartment upon my return, I met two returning teachers to the school. They invited me out to the nearby ski resort to watch a meteor shower that night, so we piled into the car with a Mongolian boyfriend and friend and drove about 10km out of the city to the mountain. From there we walked to the top, where there was a telescope and some Mongolian students, and sat under the stars, drinking wine and looking for meteors. I felt so lucky to have already found such welcoming people!

The next day I took a chance and headed downtown. I wandered a bit around the Chinggis Khan square (Genghis Khan for the rest of the world), got my phone card set up, and shopped a bit. I walked to and from town, a distance of about 5km, the whole time just amazed by the scenery around me. The mountains kind of surround the town, rising into the distance with the ger camps that are visible from a higher point. The skyscrapers give the feel of a city, but with the mountains all around and the river that passes through, I find myself forgetting that it is a city.

The rest of the week was spent meeting new people, shopping, hosting dinner parties, and with new teacher orientation. There are 12 new teachers at the elementary school, and maybe 6 or 7 at the high school. We’ve mostly had meetings about the culture of Mongolia or things like setting up bank accounts, but they did take us to a Mongolian cultural show that was really cool. They played music with traditional instruments, did some traditional throat singing, danced, and showed off beautiful costumes in bright colors. It was really touristy, but such a cool thing to see! I’ve also been setting up my classroom. It looks like I’ll have about 22 3rd graders, mostly Mongolian. I’m having a lot of fun decorating and deciding how I want my classroom to look. The first day of school is Thursday, so soon!

Today I had another interesting adventure. Joann, the vice principal at the secondary school, offered to take us on a hike to a nearby mountain from which we could see the palace of the president, which is tucked away in a valley. At 9am, a group of 8 of us set off. We walked for a while and eventually got to the trail. At the start of the trail were a bunch of “tents” used by shamans. They were really colorful because of lots of scarves attached. Apparently that is one of the places they have their ceremonies. After taking pictures there, we started climbing. The view was breathtaking, and I couldn’t stop myself from turning around every hundred feet to take a look (and a picture). Behind us, the city rose out of the floodplains and stretched to the ger camps that went up the far mountains. In front of us were these magnificent rolling mountains, light green with grass and sun. On the sides, the mountains rose quickly, partially forested and partially bare, but full of color. The height and the beauty and sun energized me and made the steep climb much easier.

Once we got to the spot we had decided to stop, Joann mentioned that there was another nice spot about 20 minutes onwards. One of the other teachers, her Mongolian friend, and I decided we would continue. We’d come so far it seemed silly not to go another 20 minutes for another great view. We had been following some gatherers who were headed deep into the mountains to collect pine nuts. They told us that if we only continued on a bit, we would come to patches upon patches of juicy, wild berries. Enticed by the idea of raspberries and strawberries, we decided to continue on with them until we reached the berry patch. It’s close, they assured us. Turns out close to Mongolians is similar to close for Mozambicans. We continued on the path that wasn’t really a path but some stomped down grass with trees in the way for another 30-40 minutes. Finally, we came upon a big clearing of boulders stacked on top of boulders. Here we are, they said. Turns out, there were some very delicious red currants and raspberries that we went on to pick. We shared our findings with them, they shared their biscuits with us. Not having planned to be out past lunch, we appreciated the food. They chatted with us (and by us I mean Karey and Anna who actually speak Mongolian) for a while, then left us with a bag of pinecones and went on their way. To get to the pine nuts, you peel back the pointy part and bite off the shell of the nut. They were so fresh!

Around 1:30 we decided we should head back and get some things done. Do we take the path that our guide had pointed us in, saying that it would lead to the road and risk finding ourselves on the president’s property, or should we go back to the path we came on, we debated. We decided that we could probably remember the way and would rather not run into a fence or an armed guard, so we headed back to our original path. Only thing is, we had wandered a bit and weren’t quite able to find the original path. Big piles of rocks don’t look too different from each other, and neither do fallen trees and grasses. We wandered in one direction, stopped to eat some berries and wonder if we were going the right way, wandered in another direction, stopped to eat some berries and wonder if we were going the right way, etc. This brought us way far away from the path and feeling a great deal of confusion. We were also exhausted, as we had run out of water and were climbing over boulders and fallen trees. It was like an obstacle course, climbing over and under and trying to avoid the mole holes.


After a few hours, we decided to give up on finding that initial clearing and just head north down the mountain. We knew the city was in that direction somewhere, and we wanted to get down, but grew more and more frustrated as we hit more patches of boulders and giant fallen trees. We were also getting further away from signs of civilization. And we’d been walking over 3 hours with only berries as our sustenance. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we heard human voices. We started yelling, and soon spotted two berry pickers in the trees. They offered to lead us back, saying it was only half an hour. What were you going to do if you had to sleep out here, the man wondered. What about the wolves? What about the snakes? What about the two foreigners who got lost and froze to death overnight? He had plenty of stories to try to scare us straight. In the end, it was a bit over an hour back. Turns out, we had wandered so far east that we had actually encircled the original mountain we climbed and ended up on the far end of the mountain to our left when climbing. We came out at the bottom—sweaty, dirty, exhausted, and scratched up—to find that we were on private property of these really fancy homes. Some official came and yelled at us, but let us go (his guard had to drive us out of the complex) once he heard our story. The berry pickers got in trouble for picking berries in the restricted area we thought, but later found out they were construction workers who had left their job at the complex. Either way, they were our heroes of today.


Those breaks in the trees are where the giant boulders were (one on the right and one on the left). We hit at least 6 on our way down.

Overall, I’m glad I went. 9 hours hiking was neither what I had expected nor prepared for, and I could do without the scare and sore ankles, but it was truly an adventure and bonding experience. I now have a newfound respect for guides and berry pickers (it takes such a long time and effort!) and will not be wandering off trails in the woods for a while.

School starts on Thursday and next weekend we’re going with the school to a ger camp. It’s going to be an exciting week!

Mongolian word of the day: баярлалaa (by-art-la) means thank you

New Adventures

“The future always arrives a little before you’re ready to give up the present.”

My blogs really dropped off after my computer broke mid-Moz, but here I am again about to embark on another adventure! This time I’m off to a new country, continent, culture, and experience. In a few short hours I will be boarding a plane to Beijing, and then to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia! For the few of you who don’t know, I’ll be working there at the American School as a 3rd grade teacher for the next two years. I’ll be teaching all subjects in English, and about 85% of my students will be Mongolian. The others, as well as my colleagues, will be from all over the world! Despite being at an American school, I expect to dive headfirst into the language and culture when possible. I’ll even have the chance to work with Peace Corps volunteers in the country!

I’ll arrive in Mongolia in about 20 hours, yet I still know relatively little about the country and the city where I’ll be living. I know that about 60% of the population lives in the capital city (about 3 million people), and that Mongolia is the country of Ghengis Khan. I know they speak primarily Mongolian, and some speak Russian and English. I know they experience mild summers, bitterly cold winters, and lots of pollution. That’s most of what I know.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in my next 24 hours, let alone my next 2 years, but surprisingly I’m not feeling nervous. Maybe it’s because I’ve flown out of O’Hare 4 times already, not to return until months later. Or maybe I’m just so excited. I think part of it stems from an utter confidence I’ve discovered in myself, the confidence in my own ability to deal with any situation that might arise. I’m comfortable not knowing what to expect, and having no expectations both makes it more exciting and makes me less likely to be disappointed later on. I’ve become a very capable person through traveling, and it’s given me the ability to problem-solve with less stress. And I can only grow from here!

I’m ready to go, but, as always, part of me is sad about all the things I planned on doing but didn’t have time to do—camping, Six Flags, swimming with old friends, actually catching up to GoT… the list goes on. The future always arrives a little before you’re ready to give up the present. I wish I had more time to do all those things I wanted to do, but alas, time doesn’t stop. I’ve already got my list started for next summer. Until then, I’ll be adventuring in Asia. Stay tuned for more adventures!


I have a lot more stuff this time around!


If you want to mail me postcards or quotes, my address is as follows:

Samantha Krueger

American School of Ulaanbaatar

Post Office Box 2365

Central Post Office

Ulaanbaatar 15160



Mongolian word of the day: Сайн уу (sain uu) means hello!

Watching Ivan’s Lesson and Mosquito Net Distribution

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks around is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” –Einstein

On Sunday morning I received a text from one of my former students:

“Good evng trner!How hve u been these days? Me fine.i invite u trner to observe my lesson on wnsday at my school, on Wednesday can I be hopeful about?Ivan”

*Trner=trainer, what my students call me since I’m a teacher trainer.

We discussed my class schedule—Wednesday wouldn’t work because I teach all day, and Thursday I would have to return by noon in order to observe teaching practices. I suggested it might be better to wait until after my trip and the coming holidays. In response, I received this message:


Well, lucky for Ivan, I felt the power of the caps lock and I decided, despite my busy schedule, to schedule him in for Friday afternoon. According to him, he taught two periods starting at 9am and had a friend who could drive me and would pick me up at 7am. So sure enough, I waited in front of the IFP at 7am. True to his Mozambican nature, the friend, another English teacher I’ve worked with a bit, picked me up around 9:30am.

“It’s only 20 kilometers. We’ll make it to his classes and I’ll have you back by eleven,” he said as we drove off into the bush, the mato, where most people cut down trees and carry them 5 kilometers on their heads to make a living. We drove past majestic trees that cut into the sky, grass houses that were shuddering in the wind, and calm people who stood and just stared. After about twenty minutes, I realized he had never been to the school before when we pulled into another school to ask directions. Straight ahead, they told us, so we continued on.


At the second school we came across, they told us to turn into a VERY mato path. It was dirt that had never been smoothed over and was bumps the whole way. We kept driving, every once in a while asking for directions to make sure we were on the right path. We realized how far away it was when a man pointed at a mountain in the distance and told us very clearly that it was on the other side. Overall, it took us a bit more than an hour to drive 18 km (10.8 miles), but we did make it there eventually.

Behind that mountain in the distance...

Behind that mountain in the distance…

Luckily, as Ivan had failed to mention, his second class wasn’t until 11am. I made it in enough time to meet some of his colleagues and take a few pictures. His pedagogical director is another 6th and 7th grade teacher at the school. There are about 60 kids per class. Ivan is the first English teacher to work at the school, despite English being a national requirement for 6th and 7th grades. He and the other single teacher live right on the school grounds, and have very little furniture. I took some pictures, and headed into the classroom for Ivan’s lesson.

The school and some of the students

The school and some of the students

The first thing that struck me upon entering was the silence of the students. I’m used to the city kids who are loud and crazy and always talking. Here, the students just sat and stared, not even taking out notebooks or pens until the command was given. They stood up upon his entry and greeted him with your standard, “Good morning teacher, how are you?” and sat quietly as soon as he told them.

Once I had a seat I got a chance to look around at the classroom itself. It was a mud building with a thatched roof. The children all sat on narrow benches that resembled trees cut in half and polished a bit. The chalkboard was a piece of plywood that was framed. It was difficult to see, though the white marks from the eraser upon the dried mud were not. Almost all the children had books, which surprised me. I don’t know if that was because I’m used to children not having books or because I expected them to, being in such a mato school. Nevertheless, they were all following along with the lesson intently.


Ivan did a really good job teaching the lesson, and it really showed me how he’s grown into his role as an English teacher at that school. Talking about school pictures, he brought in examples of pictures. He had the students repeat and translate and discover words to the point that he only used Portuguese or Makua to affirm what they said. He also used some of our classroom management techniques, such as “hands on your head” when he wanted them to stop writing and pay attention. He also brought it back to them in their school by asking who the roles (teacher, class leader, headmaster, etc) were there. It was clear the students understood the words!


At the end of the lesson, he had the students sing their version of “Are you sleeping Brother John” to us. We left the class and sat outside to discuss the lesson. I remarked on how well behaved his students were, and his response was really touching—I really care for them and want them to improve, and they know that. He then realized he hadn’t officially dismissed them, meaning his students were just sitting quietly on their benches waiting for him to let them go. It was so different from the city, and so interesting!

We said our goodbyes and I made my way back. It really hit me on the way back what a cultural experience this was. Your average tourist, heck, your average Peace Corps Volunteer, doesn’t often get the chance to go out to the bush and see a primary school class! It was an awesome experience, and I really hope I get to see more of my former students teach!

Me and Ivan

Me and Ivan

Today was also an interesting day: distributing mosquito nets with my JUNTOS group. It was very organized for the first hour and a half: people would come in, mark their house on our map (so we can go back and check to see if the net is hung properly later), get their receipt checked and stamped by me, and receive their three nets. It soon got crazy though. People were showing up without receipts, they mobbed the doors and pushed their way into the place where we were having our event. It took us a good 20 minutes to get the building under control. Once we’d finished distributing, we literally had to make a run for it to a JUNTOS member’s nearby house with the nets for our group members. It was like a zombie attack: people were literally following us wherever we went, and kept finding ways through different fences and openings to where our group was. Finally we were able to distribute the nets to our own members and disperse the crowds. Thank god that’s done!

JUNTOS giving a lecture about how to use a mosquito net

JUNTOS giving a lecture about how to use a mosquito net


Look at all the nets we got! (750)

Look at all the nets we got! (750)

Now onto the next adventure: Home!

Portuguese word of the day: Pendurar- to hang. We hung an example mosquito net from the tree.

French word of the day: fatigué- tired. I’m exhausted after today!

Makua word of the day: omattoni- in the garden.

Holidays, Travels, and Teaching

“So plant your own garden and decorate your soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.” –Jorge Luis Borges

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write. My life recently has been quite busy! After the JUNTOS Workshop, I had to finish up my grades and the semester at the IFP and prepare French work for my students. Then I left for the JUNTOS handover in Chimoio! Because transport was difficult, this was a 3-day trip for me just to get there—a night in Nampula, a night in Beira, and finally Chimoio on the third day. It was fun, getting to see different parts of Mozambique! Beira is the second largest city in Mozambique, and is a big port city. We didn’t see much, but we got a small tour on the way to our hotel and later on walking around. It’s got it’s own Chinatown that is actually owned by China, as well as a giant abandoned hotel where a lot of people now live. It’s a very interesting city. Chimoio too is an interesting city. We didn’t see much, but it reminded me a lot more of the states than any city I’ve been in in Mozambique. Maybe it’s due to the large expat population and proximity to Zimbabwe…

Our JUNTOS handover went well. I think people taking the new leadership roles were pretty confused, but then again, so were we last year… Afterwards, I had the opportunity to travel a bit in the south of Mozambique and meet up with a bunch of fantastic friends who hosted me and showed off their sites. It was interesting how different some things were in different parts of Mozambique, including construction of houses (circular huts or bamboo shacks as opposed to mud houses with thatched roofs), behavior (more educated people and conversations, women wearing shorter skirts/pants), and transportation (lots of big buses, pretty regular chapas). It was a great experience!

The Old and New JUNTOS Leaders!

The Old and New JUNTOS Leaders!


Afterwards, I met Caitlin in Maputo and we flew to Zimbabwe! We landed in Harare and made our way to a hostel, where we stayed that night. In Zim, they’ve used the American dollar since their currency collapsed. It was weird using dollars again! The next day we took a bus to Bulawayo, another big town, and then an overnight train to Victoria Falls. The train car had 4 beds and a sink that turned into a table… it was nice having a place to lay down compared to the Cuamba train! We made it to Vic Falls town around noon and checked into our hostel, then went to look for bungee jumping deals. Unfortunately we didn’t find any, but we did find great coffee!

The Train to Vic Falls

The Train to Vic Falls

The next day we visited the falls. They were beautiful! We were only in the park for about 2 hours, but we walked along the falls, got soaked by the mist, and watched people bungee jump off the bridge! Afterwards, we took a stroll back to town, accidentally passing through the historic Victoria Falls Hotel, which was very much above our price range. It was very fancy! It was the 4th of July, so we made a burger and fries feast for dinner and hung out at our hostel. The next day we took a bus back to Bulawayo and then to Harare, where we stayed a night before getting on a bus to Tete in Mozambique.

IMG_1153 IMG_1185

It was interesting coming back to Moz after Zim. The people on the bus were VERY distrustful of Mozambicans. When we arrived at the border post, they announced that Mozambique was a dangerous place full of thieves, and that we shouldn’t take money or valuables off the bus. Funnily enough, Caitlin and I felt relief coming back to Mozambique. There was a lot more trash though as soon as you crossed the border…

We managed to catch a ride from Tete city to Angonia where we spent a few days at the IFP and even went into the English class. It was fun to see how Tania teaches her class compared to us. After, I spent a day in Zobue before making my way across the dreaded Malawi back to Niassa. In my opinion, Malawi is a beautiful country that is best appreciated from a private car and not public transport. I made it across Malawi to about 30km from the border on my own route by 3:30. The border closed at 6. I should have been at the border with plenty of time, right? Wrong. I got there right at 6pm because we had to wait for the minibus to fill up and then it broke down twice. Luckily the Mozambican border guards were awesome and let me across. I also managed to find a car pretty quickly that was going up north, so I made it to Massengulo in less than 2 hours.



I spent a few days in Massengulo, a pretty town a stones throw from Malawi, with Vanessa, a volunteer about to COS. We relaxed and cooked and watched movies. It was a nice welcome back to Mozambique. Finally I made my way back to Cuamba and the IFP. It was nice to be back and hear everyone shouting my name and greeting me again!

Being back in Cuamba has been great so far. We’ve got a new director who’s really cracking down on the unprofessionalism and corruption, which I think has been great. I’ve also organized my schedule so that I have Fridays off! My IFP students have been doing well in class and actively participating in our conversation club. Our highlight of last week was watching Youtube videos and playing Never Have I Ever (the switching chairs version). I found out my EGRA program has been continued by one of my JUNTOS kids, even though he has his own school and no help! I was incredibly touched when I found that out. I’ve also got my JUNTOS group ready to distribute mosquito nets next week and planning their English Theater play. My French class was happy to see me, telling me, “Madame Sama, we missed your smile!” when I walked through the door. They’ve also been very actively participating in French Club!




This month I also started observing my students in their student teaching! I’m at a new school this year—Maguiguane Primary School—Observing 9 of my students. They have 40-60 students in their classes, but at this school they actually have desks and full chalkboards. My students are still figuring things out, especially classroom management. Turns out all of the windows are broken and some teachers don’t come to class, which means that a lot of kids will either be running past the classroom making a lot of noise or else standing at the (nonexistent) window making comments about the makunha in the classroom. They’re doing a pretty good job in general though, and I’m excited to see how things progress!

One of my students teaching

One of my students teaching

I’ll be heading home next week for 11 days for wedding and birthday festivities, yikes! I don’t know how I’m going to react to being back in the states, and I’m actually pretty nervous. People at home should be ready for me and my changes, including but not limited to me stating the obvious, being amazed by simple things like laundry machines and hot showers, not showing my legs above the knee, being more blunt than normal, and wearing a sweatshirt in 75 degree weather. Get ready, USA!

French word of the day: Une pêche- a peach. We’re watching a video where they talk about peaches.

Portuguese word of the day: a média- the mean or average. All my students want to know their média for the trimester.

Makua word of the day: ovoreiha- to get sick