Open letter to the M24s,
No more months or weeks, you’re now counting down the days before staging to prepare for arrival in Mongolia. Like you, I had many questions and turned to the web for answers. I found my greatest resource to be a PCV blog, and I read it word for word from the beginning. But since everyone’s experience is different, I committed to keeping my own blog, as much for me as for you. Thirty-seven posts later, I hope you’ve found something useful in here.
Probably also like you, my biggest concern was the weather. Well, let me allay that fear first. On a Saturday in January—what should have been the dead of winter—I sat in my apartment with the window open, wearing a pair of jeans and a sweater. The temperature was -11C/13F. I don’t want to give the impression that it hasn’t been cold, just that it’s possible to adapt to the point where 13F feels pleasant. I can’t believe it myself.
As you’re scrambling to get those last-minute, must-have-in-Mongolia items, and I’ve seen lots of discussions on the group page, I’ll remind you that everyone’s list will be different, depending on who you are, and who you want to become, as this surely is an opportunity to reinvent yourself.
With that, these are my top three items from home:
My pillow: If you have no attachments to your current pillow maybe you can dismiss this, but I really liked my pillow from home. (Mongolian pillows might not even be pillows… I actually heard of a teddy bear inside a pillow case.) Yes, it’s bulky, but it doesn’t weigh much at all. I strapped it to the back of my backpack so it didn’t take up any room. It was nice to have on the planes and during that first week of moving from place to place. And at my host family’s, having a plush pillow compensated for the firm bed that was only as cushy as my sleeping bag folded in half.
My sunhat: Keeping the sun off my face and out of my eyes was a priority even before I felt how strong the summer sun is here. It never occurred to me to disregard the no-contact-lenses directive so the sunhat was needed in lieu of sunglasses. We had quite a bit of rain last summer, and my water-resistant sunhat doubled as a rain hat.
My Kindle: One of my personal goals as I would be starting over was to kick the TV habit (i.e., turning on the TV and then finding something to watch). Thanks to my e-reader, in the past year I’ve read over 40 books—probably an 800% increase. While I haven’t loved all of the books, I’ve loved all of the time I’ve spent reading them. Just one way in which I am becoming the person I’ve wanted to be.
Other items have been quite useful: the watch with 3 alarms (since we didn’t have phones during PST), the Swiss Army Knife (specifically for the can opener which takes some getting used to but has to be safer than my host mom using a kitchen knife—I couldn’t watch!), the camelbak backpack , the hiking boots, the hard-drive (500GB, probably not enough), the iPod (especially nice on the long bumpy rides), and the Skype account so that I could call my family and friends who aren’t online.
Of the Peace Corps staff, I’ll say this: I’ve always felt that they have my safety at the forefront of their decisions. I find them to be highly competent, compassionate, and professional individuals who are dedicated to the mission of Peace Corps/Mongolia. You’ll be in good hands.
Of the PCT/PCV peers, I’ll say this: Being completely candid, at first glance, I wondered about some of them “why did they want to be here?” and “how did they get chosen to be invited?” And, yet, those few about whom I had reservations, after just a few one-on-one conversations, every single one beautifully expressed their genuine desire to be here in Mongolia and to serve in the Peace Corps. As soon as you’re tempted to dismiss someone, go over and introduce yourself instead.
Of the Peace Corps experience, I’ll say this: We are part of a government agency that has bureaucracy, reporting policies, a chain of command, and expectations of accountability. As a way to manage your own expectations, it is important to remember that The Peace Corps is made up of individuals: we are not perfect, we make mistakes, and we have bad days. This is a unique experience that requires a bit more understanding, a bit more patience, a bit more forgiveness than you might be prepared for.
But you are coming to a wonderful country, rich with culture, and full of friendly faces. There will be more good days than bad. The time will go quicker than you imagined. You will learn from those around you. You will learn about yourself. You will see breathtaking sunsets. You may even ride a camel. But above all else, you will reach people, personally; you will make an impact; you will be remembered.
Welcome to Mongolia. I look forward to meeting you.