On September 13, 2013 I got my official invitation to become a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia. I began the application process in June 2012. I figured I’d just take it one step at a time and check in along the way to see if I wanted to keep moving forward. When I applied, I had no idea where they’d want to send me, and I didn’t express any preferences (they say you have a better chance getting placed if you’re willing to go anywhere). But when the invitation arrived and I saw the word ‘Mongolia,’ I was so happy I cried. I can’t imagine a more different place to live or world to experience than the Land of Blue Sky. I’ve been fortunate to travel to a lot of places in my life, but this will be a true adventure.
I’m told that Mongolia is considered by many to be the ‘last great outpost’ of Peace Corps. I don’t exactly know what that means, but here are a few things I’m learning about what my life could look like once I arrive:
- If I end up in the capital city of Ulaanbataar, I may live in a Communist-style apartment (still trying to figure out what that means exactly). More than likely however, I’ll live in the countryside in a wooden house or a ger—that’s Mongolian for yurt. The typical Mongolian family is able to dismantle their ger, load it onto an ox-drawn, wooden cart, move it, and rebuild their home on another site in a single morning.
- It gets down to 40 below regularly in the country. I guess it’s the price you pay for having 250+ days of sunshine. Forced air or electric heating? Think again. I’ll be chopping firewood for heat and using a single wood-burning stove. If I’m in an area where firewood is scarce, I’ll burn yak dung. No joke.
- Bucket baths and squat toilets or outhouses. What else is there to say?
- The diet is primarily meat, dairy, and pastry. Fresh produce is hard to come by and onions are the primary vegetable. One of my briefing docs said the best word to describe the chicken is ‘athletic.’
People have asked me if I’ve lived abroad before. I tell them that I lived in Paris for two years right out of college, and also spent seven months last year in Singapore, living at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. That should be good preparation for Peace Corps service, don’t you think? No?