Wednesday, November 2, 2011


In the process of pulling up Word to start plucking out a lecture I’m giving next week on motivation, I ironically decided I didn’t feel like doing that anymore. Either way, I’ve been trying to pull myself away from the loads of movies/tv shows I’ve been watching lately and instead been attempting to do more reading, writing, or strumming along on the ol’ geetar. So, at least on that front I’m still making progress.

Don’t really know what I was doing last time I wrote a blog, but I’m figuring that things have changed quite a bit since that time. I just tried to find my last document where I compiled them but don’t know where that went, so until I get to the internet I won’t really have an idea. Where to start, where to start…

So, as I probably had mentioned before, the business development center that I worked at last year was in flux and had a blurry future. At that time, they were funded through USDA and… some other organization that I already forget. Anyways, it was a program that was started through a grant I guess, and through no fault of the business, the funding for that program ended over the summer. Through a long and tedious process of trying to find ways to make the business sustainable without outside funding, the reality of the situation was that it would be closed down. Although I do believe that it was a valuable and worthwhile business, the hard truth is that you don’t start a business with a large staff, full office of expenses, etc. Advising/service firms need to be built from the ground up with one or two people and expand as the demand pulls it, especially in a developing economy.

Although the main office in the capital is still up and running, the periphery branches were all closed down. The final swing of the ax for my city’s branch came at the end of September, and from stopping in to see the remaining three workers, it seems like they are at least going to try and keep the business open. Although I don’t believe it will be connected to the main business anymore.

So, even though the volunteers involved in this project saw this coming from a year out, I didn’t actually bail out of that ship until the beginning of last summer. Through some English lessons I was having with a university student in town here, I learned that there was a Japanese volunteer who was teaching marketing classes in English at her school. Also, after learning that he would be leaving this year, the ol’ hamster got on its wheel.

I started to bring up that idea with Peace Corps as it was becoming obvious we were going to need to develop a backup plan. At first, both Peace Corps and the management at the school did not think that the students were proficient enough in English for me to teach. Apparently, the previous teacher didn’t have a whole lot of success with the endeavor. I brought up the idea of me teaching in Mongolian, which was more or less brushed aside because it really was laughable at the time. I thought, though, that if I studied through the summer enough it might be possible, especially if I also had some help with preparation/editing. Granted, I always tend to hit my language goals about 6 months later than I strive for.

Anyways, originally the business I was working with was paying for the apartment that I’m living in, which is actually reasonably expensive, at about 250,000T a month (~200$, or a teacher’s salary for a month). So, for a while I didn’t even know what was going to happen with my living situation when the other source of funding got cut off, what would happen if I couldn’t find another worthwhile job in my city, etc. When it all boiled down, PC stepped in and took responsibility for my housing, which was cool. And also, after this point, it made it easier to find another job because a new organization wouldn’t have to worry about paying for anything. So now, the university that didn’t have much utility for an English speaking business teacher also didn’t see a downside. Might as well have whitey walking around and make the school look better. Good news for me.

So, this all got funneled through around May or so. By then, anyways, my old job was more or less dead in the water. So, for June, July, and August, I started studying with my language teacher for 3 hours a day, 3 times a week. Beyond that though, on the days that I wasn’t actually in class, I was preparing enough stuff to correct and review for 3 hours. To facilitate this, I would do a lot of free writing, read the newspaper and mark grammar I didn’t understand, etc. Also, writing and reading was done with the intensive help of a translating dictionary. Since I’ve learned over the past 17 months that I can NOT remember words unless I write them down and study them, I made a shit ton of flashcards.

The pushing motivation for all of this was that, to the contrary or what others thought, I wasn’t going to waste my time standing in front of a class teaching in a language that nobody understands. I also wasn’t going to tie my success, or at least my ability to not be worthless, on co-workers that may or may not want to work with me. Or to even have the ability to do so. So, with the motivation of my language teacher, whom I love dearly, I set the goal to teach my courses in Mongolian. Fuck the haters, I say.

Granted, when I actually started work and met the people I was working with, and also my directors, it was immediately apparent that I would, in fact, be teaching in English. I wasn’t happy about this, and was pushing back awfully hard to do it in Mongolian.

One thing to say about my language skills: If I have to lean out and just shoot from the hip, my grammar and pronunciation are not good. Especially at this time, to compare the proficiency of my speaking to my writing was night and day. I was reasonably confident at this point that if I could sit and write out my lessons that I would be able to teach reasonably well in Mongolian and, at the very least, have the students understand a lot more than if I taught in English.

So, the conversations/arguments I had to let me teach in Mongolian probably weren’t really helping my case, although I did explain to them about being able to prepare first. The hardest part of it all was that they weren’t very willing to even give me a chance to do it, which I felt was a bit ridiculous. That general patronizing/disrespectful tone of the whole situation might have been more aggravating for me than actually being told that I needed to teach in English.
There was also a bit of the “Office Space” type stuff going on, with me having multiple people over me. I had the director of the business department, and also a foreign relations director breathing down my neck. Between both them and some of the other teachers that also wanted to use me as an English tool, I would catch shit from 3 or 4 different people for the same thing. But still, let the haters hate, I say. Like I’m going to take shit? If anything, them saying that I couldn’t just made me want to do it more. And what are they going to do? They weren’t paying for my housing or salary or anything, so I had a bit more leverage.

So, eventually the teachers stopped fighting with me, and more or less said, “ok, go on” and that’s exactly what I did. My first lesson was a 90 minute lecture on the current business environment in the world. That was stupid difficult for me to do. To prepare, I drilled it all out in English, and then translated it to Mongolian. Then I met with my Mongolian language teacher (probably would have quit Mongolia by now if it weren’t for her (no, not Mongolian, Mongolia)) and went through and typed it out and corrected all of my grammar and vocabulary mistakes. Which, at that time, were not sparse. That was also depressing and sobering. For real, that sucked. I left those two lessons feeling stupid and feeling like I won’t ever learn this language. A feeling which I still do feel on a weekly basis. That one was particularly rough though.

Anyways, after getting the lecture prepared, for hours on end I would read it to myself out loud to practice my pronunciation. I would also try to explain things to myself in other ways in case the class wasn’t getting the ideas, etc. I was a nervous wreck, literally losing sleep over the whole ordeal.
The actual lecture went okay. It could have been better, and it could have been worse. All in all, it was what I expected to happen. I would read a few paragraphs and then show a few graphs to explain further, which was difficult for me without preparation. e.g. trying to explain why the yen’s exchange rate shot up after the tsunami. I also passed out copies of my lecture so people could get accustomed to my pronunciation. If not for that, I’m sure people would have really struggled to understand me.

After that first lecture, pressure still continued to teach in English, although now they were saying half in English then in Mongolian. Fine, let’s try it your way, I say. So, in the next class about free trade agreements (how on Earth is a non-native speaker without planning going to understand a lecture about free trade agreements?) I started dropping knowledge in English. As I had said (because come on, when am I ever wrong) they didn’t understand me, and I hadn’t even gotten through 2 or 3 sentences. Switching back to Mongolian I explained that the teachers wanted me to teach in English, but I wanted to teach in Mongolian. I asked them what they wanted, and they told me to teach in Mongolian. So, expecting that, I had prepared the whole lecture in Mongolian as well and went from there. Since then, I’ve got my way and I teach in Mongolian. *waves hand and bows*

Granted, the true maximum amount of teaching I can do a week is about 90 minutes, so I do other projects and crap at school. More than 90 minutes is just too much for me right now. Although it’s getting easier, it’s still quite difficult. If I’m not working on it, I’m resting my dome so I can do more work later. i.e. I’m always thinking about it. I still get nervous, and I still need to practice out loud numerous times before teaching. I also teach a variety of classes (international marketing, finance, management) so it’s a lot of different lingo and junk that I need to get a hold of. And especially for non-finance stuff, I have to do a lot of research to just be able to teach in English for subjects. Who the hell can talk about free trade agreements for an hour? Or motivation? How do you find stuff that is actually worthwhile to say, and not crap to fill up time that will just be forgotten after a test? My position as more or less a guest teacher puts me in an interesting paradigm, although it does kind of disconnect me from the general goals of the other teachers. I could really care less if what I teach doesn’t relate directly to the material on a test, what’s germane to me is that they actually learn something from me. Even further than that, to learn something from me that they wouldn’t be able to learn from other teachers at the school.

Professors just monkey though a book and pull out stuff to fill up time (in America, too). They can teach about the 10 or whatever different kinds of free trade agreements, and I’ll talk about how NAFTA actually bends over the American factory workers. They can talk about the structure of the central bank and how the transactions are accounted for when reducing interest rates, I’ll talk about what actually happened during the financial recession. Actually revisiting what happened during my college career (beyond 1 or 2 professors) I do really agree with the rhetoric I’ve read lately that college really doesn’t instill the critical thinking/analytical skills that it is so widely believed to. Probably because people don’t actually really care, they just want the degree. But I digress…

And that’s my life in a nutshell. I teach on Thursdays/Fridays, then find out what I’ll teach the next week. Research Saturday/Sunday, write Sunday, translate Monday, translate Tuesday, prepare Wednesday, and then the cycle starts over. When this year first started I was awfully close to saying fuck it and bailing. The teaching was very stressful for me, people didn’t want me to do it in Mongolian, and I wasn’t going to stand in front of classes teaching in English as a novelty item. It was pretty much one day on, one day off, thinking about if this year was going to work or not. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to go home, it was more that I wasn’t going to waste my time and PC’s money just to be able to say I made it the full two years. It’s still not completely clear to me that the teachers really think I’m helpful/worth giving their class time to.

Also, I’m pretty over being the foreigner. I really miss anonymity. To be able to go for a walk and not have people starring at you, without having people say some stupid remark, poke their friends and look at you, etc, is something I can’t wait to get back to. For some reason or the other I always think about roaming around the South Side, window shopping, without having to worry about who’s around me. Not to mention a nice double IPA beer at Fat Heads with a Pens game on in the background. Yes, that is America to me.

Although I do miss America, and am reasonably apathetic about life right now in Mongolia, I don’t really see a situation where I would leave early as long as my work stays at least minimally productive. You do, however, start to look at the situation a bit more pragmatically as time goes on. Last year, it was more about not quitting, while now it’s more about justifying my stay through work and productivity. Last year I really never thought about it though. But I think in one of my first blog posts I made a comment about how getting itchy feet after being in Mongolia for a while was going to be a problem for me, and I think that was a pretty good prediction. I think especially after I reached that long, drawn out goal to teach this year… now what? Gotta figure out something else to strive for beyond just making it through, I think.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yea, so I havn’t done this in a while. After a little bit of poking from the old man over the phone, guess it’s time to jot some crap down. As time goes on, most people in the PC stop blogging because lives become pretty uneventful or at least not much different than life was before. Just because you live in a developing country doesn’t mean that every day is going to be this crazy adventure. After a while, life is just life again, and blogging kinda just seems a bit narcissistic. I think I had mentioned that in one of the first few entries I did, that I thought location doesn’t really make that much of a difference in how happy you are/quality of life. I guess I still feel the same way, even after a winter with -40 degree temperatures with only about 8 hours of daylight. Living is still living, you get the good ones and you get the bad ones. Ya feel me?!

But yea, about to hit my 10th month in country, which is absolutely absurd. Looking back, time has absolutely flown by. The first three months, from what I remember, sucked ass and went slow. I didn’t much care for those ones, having to live with a family that you didn’t know and sit through trainings instead of having a job. After getting moved in and getting my independence back, it’s really been smooth sailing here. I’m still really trying to learn this language, but I’m still not anywhere close to being fluent. The pronunciation is so fucking difficult, and the grammar screws with your head just as bad. In my opinion the pronunciation part is undoubtedly the harder part though. That being said, I am at the point that if I need to communicate anything I can do it, although my accent might be a bit harsh and I might have to say it a couple of times for people to really understand me, and of course have time to think before I speak. Especially if I can write first, my shit is nice. But, listening is still really difficult for me, and my plan is to really try and concentrate on improving my listening skills in the next few months. The personal goal I have for myself is to have functionally learned this language by the end of summer. If that will come to fruition or not is a different story, as all of my language goals have taken much longer than planned. (at the end of this post I’m putting an example of why Mongolian is such a mind fuck, if yer curious)

So, other than putting an awful lot of time into the language and it leaving me feeling like an idiot, I’ve also been going to work 5 days out of the week. There, I don’t really do a whole lot of exciting things. Sometimes I will give trainings about random topics that co-workers need to learn more about (e.g. email marketing, proper survey techniques) to other collaborative things like developing a new business plan for our company. As of right now, our business gets funding through the USDA, but funding is up for our particular project in the middle of the summer, so from there, we need to be self-sustainable or the doors will shut. So, there was quite a bit of work that was done with that. But after it was finished, I have not really been busy. The people I work with are pretty darn competent so there isn’t a whole lot I feel I can add to the whole back office scene of things, especially because there have been a few volunteers in my same business before me. Teaching English in the office goes on and off depending how busy people are. I guess in a nutshell, my actual assigned position isn’t very exciting, although I really do like all the people I work with. They are all genuine, fun, funny, good people.

Outside of work, I recently sent an application for a grant I’m waiting to hear about that deals with bringing some agricultural equipment (more or less an aeration/tilling machine) up here that will be used to test out a number of different ideas. Really briefly, if all goes as planned, I’ll be working with a dude here to set up pilot alfalfa growing programs in some areas that could be really beneficial to herd animals and dairy farmers. Could also help with getting other deep rooted plants a better chance to thrive here and also help with reducing excess runoff from rains. All stems from issues with the soil here being really hard and difficult, not to mention the harsh weather conditions. ( …reading this it sounds dull as all hell, but I’d be really happy getting into some farming/agricultural hands on pilot work.)

Other than that, I’m starting the groundwork with a co-worker of mine about how to get a cooperative together of disabled people that would want to start a sewing business or a carpentry business or something along those lines. If we could get some people together, which I think we will be able to, I should be able to write a grant or get money to help get the proper trainings and equipment and a building, or at least really cheap loans to help facilitate it.

So, those are the two projects at the moment that I am excited about and really hope that something can come of. This week I plan to stop by a few different organizations in town and introduce myself and tell them what I’m doing here and trying to figure out what kind of projects they are working on and if they can use me in any way or use me to write grants for projects, etc… Starting to get to the point where I’ll be comfortable doing this with the language skills that I have, but it will take patience on the part of the other side. One way or the other, it’s for these reasons I have been trying to learn this tongue. If I don’t I will more or less be stuck behind a desk for the time that I am here and will not have a huge degree of professional independence. Well, I will, as most all PCV’s do, it’s just that I wouldn’t have a whole lot I could do with it.

Also have English/Mongolian lessons with some university students two or three times a week, depending on who doesn’t cancel on me. Those are a joint effort of mine to 1) practice mongolian 2)teach English to motivated students, and 3)to try to meet friends.

Although I am not lonely, per-se, I definitely need to get a crew together that will go out and party with me a little bit. Most friends that I have here aren’t much into having a few beers and dancing like an asshole at a night club to loud house music. Unfortunately for me, that is a hobby I have grown quite fond of over the past few months. It’s just, ah… such a release. But my attempts to find some bros have been a bit hit and miss. Every now and then I can catch a good hang, but I could really go for a good Mongolian bromance. If I can get a little bit of a crew together, things could be a lot more fun and eventful around town. And I mean, let’s be honest here, if I want to go out with some girls I’ve met I can’t just be rolling solo here. I need a home base.

Need. Bros.

So yea, if you’re a Mongolian guy reading this, my names jon, I like long cold walks on the gobi sands, staying out late and dancing… send me an email or give me a call. Can teach English on request.

Alright, all I can drudge up for now. Maybe ill do this again in a week or maybe I’ll catch yinz guys in another 6 months. If anybody is curious about anything in particular let me know and I’ll write about it. Peeeeeeace!

An example (er two) of why this language is difficult, and why it will make you feel like an idiot:

English: I argue I don’t know how to take this cup

If this was in Mongolian, you would have to add endings to the words to denote which ones are the direct objects, among numerous other things. For example:

Mongolian: I argued I don’t know-aar how to take-iig that cup-iig

Because you are taking that cup, but you don’t know how to take it. And I argued through the idea that I didn’t know…, hence the aar ending. It’s also important that it is THAT cup, and just some other cup…

Whatever, it just builds up when you start getting into more complex conversation/story… its different from English because I kinda have to think ahead to what I’m going to say to figure out which are direct objects. Also, if you have complex sentences, and the subjects are different, you have to change the pronoun to a different case.

English: If I write this sentence, you can understand it

Mongolian: If me-iig write-(bol) this sentence-(iig), you can understand it-(iig)

(But the 'iigs' are kinda dependent on the situation and how well defined that particular sentence is)

(also similar things happen in sentences like: When I was in America, you lived in Pittsburgh)

The point is, I have to think to change that first “I” to the direct object version of “me” because you are the subject in the second part. It’s not that it’s super complicated and impossible to learn/figure out, it’s just that English speakers don’t need to think ahead to what the subject of the second part of the sentence is. It doesn’t sound important either, but it is, because if you don’t change it, it implies that… eh, fuck it, it is important though, and just a couple examples of why I sometimes want to throw my head through a wall.

I think, of course, similar things happen to Mongolians learning English. So, like I have to think ahead of what the subject in the second half of the sentence is, Mongolians have to think about if the sentence is conditional or not. In English, we must say “if” at the beginning of the conditional, but in Mongolian, just putting a (bol) ending at the end of the first sentence/verb is adequate.