I miss Safeway.

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**I feel like it would be easy to misinterpret the intention behind this post, so I want to clarify that this post isn’t meant as a complaint but as an illustration of a challenge and an adjustment for an American living abroad.**

Because I grew up overseas in several developing nations, I was used to the necessity of shopping around to get all of the household goods. Or at least, that’s what I thought I was used to before moving to UB and realizing how little I understood what my parents actually went through to keep food in the house. See, by “used to the necessity of shopping around”, I mean, I knew that’s what my folks did, but I rarely participated in those shopping trips because I deemed them boring and just wanted to stay home and read a book. Let’s be honest, I still find shopping boring and would rather stay home and read a book.

As an adult, the only shopping I was used to was going to Safeway or Albertsons or whatever big name carry-all grocery store was closest, loading up on everything I needed in one trip, filling my car trunk, and going home with enough supplies to last for several weeks at a time. Here in UB, I’ve had to adjust my grocery shopping paradigm. For starters, we don’t have a car, so I can only buy what I can physically carry. Every time we go somewhere, I try to think of what else we can do in the relative area of where we are going (or what we can accomplish on the way) to help cut down on trips. Otherwise, I could easily be gradually purchasing throughout the week and would never feel “done” with grocery shopping. Factor in carrying a baby (in a snowsuit, he no longer fits in the baby carrier), and shopping becomes a bit of a challenge! Fortunately for me, when we have students over, I can usually convince them to come with me so we can bring home more at one time, rewarding them with food and chocolate. (You know who you are, and I thank you so much!!!) Also fortunately, our neighborhood grocery is well-stocked with the basics, and is about a five minute walk from our apartment.

However, to get the best deals on different products often involves shopping around at different markets. A meat market, for instance, is going to be cheaper than purchasing meat in my neighborhood grocery, and I can find meat for a wide variety of prices depending on where I go. The best deals on different products might be found through a friend who knows a guy who sells something out of the back of his truck. (Totally not as shady as it sounds!) A friend of mine connected me with a guy who sells Japanese diapers in bulk for cheaper than what we can find in any store so I get diapers delivered–handy, especially in winter!

One of the interesting things about household products and groceries here is that they come from all over the place. Sure, there are the expensive American import stores full of Skippy peanut butter and Starbucks coffee beans that go for $90 for a few pounds, but in our neighborhood grocery, we have stuff from Korea, China, Russia, Germany, Mongolia (duh), Kazakhstan, Poland, Hungary, and so much more! I’ll include some pics from our neighborhood grocery to give you an idea of what a basic supermarket holds. 🙂

Eggs typically come in a carton of 10, not a dozen, although you can find both. Alternately, you can buy eggs in singles (recycle an old carton for this task or use a produce bag) or as many as you want. A single egg at our grocery store costs 320mnt, which is like 10 cents. The bags above are local yogurt–delicious!

The instant noodle aisle is full of wonders to behold! Step aside, Top Ramen, you’ve been replaced by so many more delicious noodles!

This the cured/processed meat section. There is something similar to summer sausage available most places that’s both cheap and easy to incorporate into meals.

As an example of household goods, I wanted to include this image to show the variety of countries that source products here.

Produce doesn’t have the same regulations that it does in the US, which means your onions are not going to be uniform sizes. (Honestly, who really cares about that anyway?)

You might find American products with different flavors.

Case in point. ^_^

So that’s an idea of what it’s like to go grocery shopping here. They opened an Emart (Korean store similar to American Target or Walmart) at the start of the school year, but I have yet to go because I’ve heard that it’s super busy all of the time. Also, I still don’t have a car so it’s not really worth it to me to make the trek. I’ve heard that they might open another Emart that’s closer to us, but I’m not sure how much truth there is behind that rumor.

School Days: Milk Tea and Morin Khuur

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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 sixth week of teaching, and 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. 🙂

Training in Terelj

The week before school started, we joined the rest of our language institute’s 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. 😉 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 we 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. 🙂

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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!

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