Merry Christmas!


We are wrapping up Christmas Day here in UB, and I hope that those of you reading this who also celebrate this holiday have a wonderful one wherever you happen to be in the world. I don’t have much to say beyond that, but I’d like to share a video that I first saw last winter and that a friend in the US shared with me earlier today. It’s a fun take on a Western holiday song, using traditional Mongolian instruments.

A note about the clothing in this video, the deels worn are primarily winter style, which are lined with fur or sheep skin and are much warmer than the summer style. TheĀ deels we had made our first year are summer style and are still quite warm! šŸ™‚



Merry Christmas!

Beth sig

PS. Any tips on how to get a 7 month old to smile in more formal pictures? šŸ˜›

Horse Head Fiddle


We are almost done with the first term of school and are heading into a student holiday. I’ve been sitting on this idea for a little while now, but I thought I ought to post before things get too busy come November. In the last post, I briefly mentioned the morin khuur, or horse head fiddle, but I did not talk about it much. In reality, the morin khuur deserves its own blog post as its reputation holds mythical status.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mongolia has a long and rich history. Most Westerners’ knowledge of Mongolia stops at Chinggis (Genghis) Khaan, and even their understanding of Chinggis Khaan is mostly superficial. (I’m speaking for myself here.) Horses are an irreplaceableĀ part of Mongolia’s heritage and are still an important aspect of modern Mongolian culture. Without Mongolian horses, Chinggis Khaan’s armies may not have had the same success that they did.

Sturdy and tough enough to survive the brutal winters, Mongolian horses remain mostly wild and outnumber Mongolian people thirteen to one. In addition to the cows, camels, yaks, and goats that are useful for dairy products, mares are also milked. In the summer festival Naadam, one of the “three manly sports” is horse racing. As I understand it, the winning horse receives just as much–if not more–honor than the winning rider. I could go on, but I think you are probably starting to get the picture.

The morin khuur’s origin is veiled by antiquity, but there are several myths that pertain to its conception. One of my students wrote about one of these storiesĀ in class, so I will share her version. Long ago, there was a young man who was married but loved another woman. His most prized possession was a winged horse, which he would ride at night so that he could spend time with his lover.

One night, the man forgot to fold the horse’s wings, and his wife realized what was really going on. In an angry fit of jealousy, she cut off its wings, which led to the horse’s death.Ā When the young man discovered his dead horse, he mourned his loss.Ā Then he took the horse’s head and formed the neck of an instrument. The horse’s mane and tail becameĀ the strings on the instrument and the strings of the bow. (The strings of the morin khuur and its bow are still made with horse hair.)

Today, the morin khuur is a national symbol of Mongolia. Its sound is wild and lilting, mimicking the sounds of a horse herd tearing across the steppes with abandon. Frequently, songs played on the morin khuur end with a sound like a horse’s whinny.

In this video below, you will see both a morin khuur and a dombra. The footage comes from a variety of locales in Mongolia, including western Mongolia, which is mainly Kazakh. I love the blending of the two instruments and the musical and visual narrative. Listen for the horse’s whinny at the end of the video, and enjoy!

School Days: Milk Tea and Morin Khuur


Currently, I’m sitting on our divan wearing flannel jammies and sipping instant milk tea–I’m not brave enough to try making it on my own yet. We are wrapping up our sixthĀ week of teaching, andĀ things are chugging along well. Our students are a delightful challenge. They are so much fun, and I just want to do my best to teach them the skills they need to succeed. I have already learned a lot about and from my students, and I look forward to learning more with them throughout the rest of the year.

Eric and I are both teaching three different kinds of classes with a variety of students. Eric is teaching an English math keywords to our tenth graders as they prepare for their IGCSE exams. He is also teaching oral English to 9th and 10th graders, and two afternoons a week, he is teaching classes for the Mongolian teachers at our school. My classes are 10th grade IGCSE, 11th grade TOEFL, and 12th grade SAT. In these classes, my focus in teaching has circled around essay writing, especially for the upperclassmen. Occasionally, I have good ideas, so as we have been working through essay structures, I have tasked my students with writing about Mongolia. This serves three purposes: first of all, my students get to write about something that excites them; secondly, my students are eager to defend their positions because of their topics; and thirdly, I get to learn a lot about Mongolian culture, history, and current events through my students’ words. It is a win/win situation in my book!

Because there is so much more to talk about, let me just include some brief anecdotes and accompanying pictures to bring you, gentle readers, up to date. šŸ™‚

Training in Terelj

The week before school started, we joined the rest of our language institute’sĀ teachers and staff for training in Terelj National Park. We stayed at a hotel in the countryside and spent the week getting to know one another better, getting excited for the school year, and bonding within our smaller teams. We also enjoyed a variety of Mongolian meals at the hotel and managed to fit in some local sightseeing around our various sessions. We even built a ger. Of course, what I mean by “we built a ger” is that three skilled Mongolians directed about 30 teachers over the course of several hours in how to unbuild and then rebuild a ger. I think if they didn’t have us around, they could have done it all by themselves much faster. šŸ˜‰ Unfortunately, Eric picked up a stomach bug during training and missed a lot. (Fortunately, he was back to normal by the time school started!)

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Our School

The academic year started on September 1, and weĀ were in for a few wonderful surprises. To begin with, Mongolian schools hold opening ceremonies that include speeches, performances, and a ceremonial ringing of the first bell of the school year. Because our school is technically bilingual, these ceremonies included both English and Mongolian, so we weren’t totally clueless. Later in the day, our students had a welcoming ceremony for Eric and me, which was very touching. It was short and sweet, but we felt very honored by the students’ well wishes and musical performances.

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Teacher’s Day

In early October, there is an international teacher’s day. On this day, none of the teachers taught, and there was a special schedule drawn up to include classes for all the different teachers. Students taught from our lesson plans, and we were able to attend a few of these classes as students. I will say that by and large, our students are a confident group of public speakers! There were more performances on Teacher’s Day that included skits, songs, and dances. Everyone in our school really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, and I smiled and laughed so much that my face hurt. That evening, the faculty from our school joined with the faculties of our two sister schools to enjoy a banquet, even more musical performances, a lottery for prizes, and a lot of dancing. For someone who grew up not dancing in public, I sure am glad that our coworkers encouraged me to join in the fun. Even Eric–who does not like drawing attention to himself in crowds–got up and cut a rug or two. Teacher’s Day was easily the most memorable day of our time in Mongolia thus far and is one of the most memorable days of my life. It was simply wonderful. šŸ™‚

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There is more to say than this, but I will resist writing more at this point to keep from overwhelming you all! I hope to update more frequently now that we are starting to get into something of a routine here in UB.

Love you all!