Monday, September 15, 2014

A Tall Shot of GIN

It was Saturday morning and I was baking cookies.  Freakin' kids.
Back in June two of my favorite students (by which I mean actual favorites, not "You're all my favorites!") came and asked if I would be an advisor for our newly founded Global Issues Network.  They said they were asking me because I'd been in Mongolia for longer than most of the teachers and was involved with the greater community...and because they wanted to use my classroom.  But personally, I think that while the above are good reasons to ask a teacher to be an advisor for your club, the real reason they asked me is the fact that I'm a sucker.  Engrish put it most succinctly when she said, "Like you could say no to them."
Even if it hadn't been those two, I probably would have said yes.  I heard about GIN for the first time at the ACAMIS conference I attended this spring, and was hoping the school would get involved in something similar, if not GIN itself.  When a former classmate attending our rival school came and presented about it, hoping to get our kids involved, the response was overwhelming.
Well, this past Saturday was the commencement of their first project - a kind of Saturday afternoon community center in one of the ger districts.  The issue they are working on is "Education for All," and I was really proud of how they organized everything - from the activities to the games and even the food and drinks for their opening ceremony.  My students had a great time, and I know that the kids they are working with will learn a lot.  I couldn't imagine a better extracurricular activity to be involved with - they are developing a lot of great leadership skills, have done an excellent job of delegating what needs to be done so that everyone is involved...I couldn't be more proud of them if I tried.
I remember, when I was about 13 years old or so, my family went to Kansas City's theme park, Worlds of Fun.  My mom had just finished watching the "Stax of Wax" show in their nice, air conditioned theater, and I was bugging her to buy me something, when she said something that has kind of stuck with me for more than 20 years.  She said, essentially, "When you work as hard as those kids in that show, I'll buy you anything you want."  I look at these kids now - especially my seniors - and I think I understand what my mom meant.  I may be a sucker for them, but it's because they are so damn good.  They're not perfect - hell, there have been a few times I've lost my temper with them - but they have good hearts and strong minds.  They give me hope that all is not lost for us here in this little corner of the universe.

And that's why I'm taking them to Turkey.  My plans for a spring break trip focused on art and history got approved a week ago, and while willingness to take 20 hormonal teenagers to the other end of Asia on my free time may be a mark against my sanity, the admin team approved it anyways. If it weren't for the fact that it will be shortly followed by their graduation I wouldn't be able to wait.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mongolia is Not Boring

We've gotten our whole new crop of newbie teachers in the last month, and I really couldn't care less.  I mentioned this a little more than a week ago.  This probably makes me a terrible person, but tons of them are married and I really haven't had much of a chance to talk to them.  And the fact is, I know that a fair number of them will be whining about Mongolia and/or our school in the next month, if they aren't already.

"Mongolia is boring."

"There's nothing to do in Ulaanbaatar."

Well, those of them who say it - like those who have said it in the past - are wrong.  I would like to call them lazy and stupid, but the fact is that even though it is NOT boring here, it can be a little harder to find out what's going on.  You don't speak Mongolian, so updates on tv and radio probably aren't going to help you get out more.  So today I am bringing your the guide to finding out what the hell there is to do in Ulaanbaatar.

Step 1:  Make friends with Mongolians.
This should be a huge, "WELL, DUH!" but there are plenty of expats (myself sort of included) who live in an expat bubble and don't really talk to Mongolians.  Which is sad, because the Mongolians actually hear about what's going on (them knowing the language and all), besides which they're really nice and funny.  Wild Ass and our driver, Enkhaa, have been a gold mine when it comes to getting out more. 

Step 2: Read the UB Post.
This is a little harder than I would like it to be.  I never seem to be able to find the paper when I want it, but it's worth the effort, because their events page has lots of good stuff, and it's in ENGLISH!

Step 3: Get Connected.
There's this thing called the interwebs and it KNOWS EVERYTHING.  For starters, you can watch Expats in Mongolia on Facebook.  It will require you to ignore a large number of misanthropists who can't let a single thread pass without commenting on how much they hate it here (in spite of having lived here for most of a decade and having married Mongolians), but you'll find - in between those hateful comments - discussion of what's going on.  InfoMongolia is in English and usually posts "Upcoming Weekend Events" every Friday evening, and sometimes even announces events further in advance.  Other groups to connect to - with the added benefit of getting to know other people if (unlike me) you're not 100% satisfied with your awesome group of friends - are IWAM and Internations.

Step 4: Pay attention to your surroundings.
Mongolia has the charmingly outdated tendency to post flyers about events on poles and walls, at bus stops and, well, pretty much everywhere.  Other events may have a huge banner hanging outside the venue or at the central post office.  Most of these banners are in Mongolian, but if you snap a picture with your phone and ask a Mongolian friend or coworker for a little help, that's not really a problem. 

Finally, be proactive.  If you heard of something happening in years past, keep an eye out for it.  Somebody knows about it somewhere; you just have to figure out who, and get the information from them.  By now you should have figured out that you're an adult (at least I hope you're an adult - I swear and rely on crude humor too much for this to be a child-friendly blog) and nobody is responsible for making you happy but yourself.  If you want to sit at home and be miserable, nobody's going to stop you.  If you want to spend every weekend getting hammered and picking fights with Mongolians (aforementioned misanthropists on Expats in Mongolia, I'm looking at you), go for it.  It just means there will be more elbow room for me and mine when we go to the circus, the ballet, lantern lightings, awesome musical performances, fashion shows, and the other events we've been enjoying over the last two years.