Return of the Blog!

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Tomorrow is the first day of our third year of school here in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. It’s hard to believe that two years ago, we were about to start our journey at our high school. Those two years flew by while also making it feel like we’ve been here a lot longer–in a good way.

I hope to post some updates on what we actually did this summer, but in the meantime, enjoy this video with traditional music and dancing:

Cheers,

Beth sig

Approaching the Finish Line

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Eric and I are just a week and some change away from our finish line, but we are approaching that line in two different ways. That finish line at the end of May represents two different goals: 1) reaching the end of our second school year in Mongolia and 2) our baby’s due date. It’s uncanny how close those lines are.

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Taken on Sports Day, September 2014. Imagine this is us racing to the finish line, only all I can manage at this point is a rapid waddle. So on second thought, don’t imagine that at all. Carry on.

I began my maternity leave at the end of April giving myself approximately four weeks to get ready for the final push before Baby Judd arrives. Compared to my American mom friends, I realize how blessed I am to be able to take a whole month off prior to our due date, rather than needing to work right up until labor starts as so many have to do. (Mongolian maternity leave is more generous and flexible than what is typical in the US.)

Since this is my first time to go through a full-term labor and delivery, I was concerned about being prepared–not to mention being a newbie means I have no idea what I’m doing. Add to that being in a country where I still can’t fully communicate in the national language and where getting things done just seems to take twice as long as I’m used to, and I was worrying that I wouldn’t have time to get things done that I wanted/needed to accomplish before the baby showed up. So for me, May has been a combination of resting, running errands, and continuing to attend our Mongolian language lessons.

Eric, in the meantime, is still teaching at our school. He picked up some more hours–along with our Aussie coworker–to help cover my classes when I bowed out at the mid-term. Every day, he comes home with anecdotes about the entertaining and frustrating elements of the day, which I appreciate because it helps me feel connected to school still. I’ll be honest: I miss my students! Yesterday, I went to school to eat lunch with him, and it was a lot of fun to see the teachers and students again. 🙂 (I’m planning on making this a regular occurrence next year, only with Baby Judd in tow.)

In a week, my mom will be flying in from the DRC to stay with us for a month, and then in early July, Eric’s folks will come from the US to stay with us for about the same amount of time. We are looking forward to seeing family–since we aren’t heading back to the States this summer–and to get a chance to show them around the city and country that we now consider home. Of course, we’re also looking forward to having some help with a newborn because, again, we have no idea what we’re doing, and they’ve at least done this a time or two before! 😉

Until next time!

Beth sig

 

PS. For those interested in helping us get some last minute items for the new baby, here is a link to our Amazon registry. Purchased items will be shipped to Eric’s folks and will arrive here with them in July. Thank you in advance! ❤

“Pop Art” by Brian Doyle

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I’m doing some reading for my current MA class (Nonfiction Fundamentals) and ran across this fantastic excerpt:

In nine years I have been graced with three children and here is what I have learned about them. They are engines of incalculable joy and agonizing despair. They are comedy machines. Their language is their own and the order of their new halting words has never been heard before in the whole history of the world. They are headlong and hilarious. Their hearts are enormous and sensitive beyond calculation by man or machine. Their pride is vast. They are cruel, and move in herds and gaggles and mobs, and woe unto the silent one, the one who looks funny, the one who speaks awkwardly, the fat one, for she will be shouldered aside, he will never get the ball, she will never be asked to jump rope, he will not be invited to the pool party, she will weep with confusion and rage, he will lash out with sharp small fists. Yet they are endlessly kind, kind by nature, and among them there is often an artless democracy, a linking of arms against the vast puzzle of the long people. They search for rules and rank, for what is allowed and what is forbidden, and poke the rules to see which bends and which is steel, for they wish to know their place in the world, where they might walk, what they may wear, which shows are allowed, how far they can go, who they are. They rise early in excitement and return reluctantly to barracks at night for fear of missing a shred of the daily circus. They eat nothing to speak of but grow at stunning rates that produce mostly leg. They are absorbed by dogs and toast. Mud and jelly accrue to them. They are at war with wasps. They eat no green things. Once they learn sarcasm they use it with abandon, slashing here and there without control and wreaking havoc. When they weep they weep utterly from the marrows of their lonely bones. They will not speak of death but when it comes, a dark hooded hawk on the fence, they face it without fear. They are new creatures hourly, and what you think you know of them is already lost in the river. Their hearts are dense books no one can read. They speak many languages of the body. To them you are a stone who has always been and will always be. When they are ill they shrivel. To father them is not a brief noun but an endless verb that exhausts, enrages, edifies, elevates, educates; I am a thinner and grayer man than I was; and closer to joy. They frighten me, for they will make a new world on the bowed back of the one I love; but they delight me, for to have loved them is to have tasted the furious love the Maker has for what He made, and fathers still, and always will. (Doyle 43)

Being a parent and being a teacher is not nearly the same thing, although I’m sure a venn diagram could show some overlap. I am also not saying that our students (all in high school) are this young. Still, there’s some more overlap, especially the joy in watching young people grow and change over the course of time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this!

Beth sig

Work Cited

Doyle, Brian. “Pop Art.” The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction. By Dinty W. Moore. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2007. 43-44. Print.

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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Erdenet

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Cайн байна уу!

There is a very possible redirection of our upcoming move to Mongolia. Originally, we were expecting to live and work in Ulaanbaatar, but it actually looks very likely that we will be moving to Erdenet instead. The second largest city in Mongolia with a population of ~100,000, Erdenet is also the capital of the Orkhon province and is north-west-west of UB. As far as settlements go, Erdenet is very young in comparison to the rest of the country as it only got started in the 1970s when copper was discovered in the region. (This is actually quite young considering Mongolia dates back to the 13th century and earlier.)

Close up of Mongolia. See Erdenet? That's home sweet future home!

Close up of Mongolia. See Erdenet? That’s home sweet future home!

The copper mines contribute to the local economy and make the city relatively middle class. Erdenet is also at a lower elevation than UB and slightly warmer, although not by much. A few additional facts that I’ve gleaned from my internet searches:

  • There is a large Buddha statue on the outskirts of the town as well as a Buddhist monastery to the northeast of the city.
  • Besides the copper mines, there is also a carpet factory which makes wool carpets.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about Mongolia online in general and even less about Erdenet. I will keep up my searches, however, and post when I find out anything new.

If everything continues to go according to current plans, Eric and I will be joining a veteran teacher to form a smaller teaching team in Erdenet, which will be nice for us to know another expat who also knows something of the country, culture, and language. In addition to the new location, we may no longer be teaching in a local university–even though there is higher education in Erdenet. Instead, we will likely be teaching high schoolers. Either way, we are excited to have a few more certainties to stand on in regards to this big change.

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Teaching Writing

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Currently, I’m taking a course on teaching writing, and I am learning a lot! Getting these kinds of classes under my belt for my program pre-departure for Mongolia could not be better timing. Truth be told, I am still rather intimidated by my fellow classmates–most of whom are currently teaching in their own classrooms. Although I have a BA in education (English/TESL), I have limited classroom experience. However, my classmates have not held that against me. 😉

This course is almost philosophical in nature as much of our work and discussion revolves around exploring different practices and methods for teaching writing. Our professor encourages a variety of pedagogical positions, but he does not enforce any one philosophy.

As we near the end of the course, I can look back at the weekly topics and have a much stronger appreciation for the syllabus. At first, I couldn’t really see where the course was going, but in hindsight, I like how everything slowly built on previous material. It has given me a lot to consider in my own future classroom, and I am getting very excited to put my ideas into practice. 🙂

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