a third year

February 24, 2014

There are many opportunities for PCVs to take on additional roles during our 27-month commitment. We can offer ourselves for consideration as a VAC member (voted in by our PCV peers), representing our region as a liaison between Volunteers and Peace Corps/Mongolia staff. There are various task forces (e.g., disabilities, alcohol) to join and other projects (monthly newsletter, cookbook revision) to take on. We can apply for non-Peace Corps projects (such as judging an English competition or leading a summer camp). We can apply to attend, with a counterpart, PDM (Project Design and Management, I think), an optional training/seminar about half-way through the first and/or second year. We can apply to be a PST trainer for the incoming class of Trainees, after our first or second year. Any of these ad-ons is what really makes each PCVs service unique. Additionally, we can apply to be a PCVL (L for Leader) in a third year, with time split between a Host Country Agency and PC responsibilities (In-Service Training, Mid-Service Training, etc.). And, finally, we can apply for an extension of our current position (or with a new HCA) for 3 months to a year.

A third year is something we discuss within our different circles (PST site mates, permanent site mates, project group members, friends), maybe beginning after the first year. From the beginning, I hadn’t considered a third year. To my mind, I came to the Peace Corps for the Peace Corps experience and after these two years are up, I will have gotten it. I came to Mongolia for the living abroad experience and I have gotten that. By coming here, I paused my life-in-America and I was eager to restart it with this new experience chronologically behind me but forever a part of me. So, when I say that I hadn’t considered a third year, I literally mean I hadn’t considered it.

Recently, my friend asked me if returning home was the default option. Meaning that, since I’ve now lived abroad, is it something I would like to continue to do (in Mongolia or elsewhere). Now, if this thought didn’t occur to you, maybe it springs from her living in Singapore for 4 years, because, the truth is, yes, returning home is the default option. Now that I’ve lived outside of America, I really would like to continue living abroad, or to do it again in the future. Some TEFL volunteers go this route post service, using their Peace Corps experience as a stepping stone to continue teaching English abroad. As for me (my own worst critic), I don’t feel my particular classroom experience has given me this confidence. I’ve no doubt, however, that many volunteers finish well prepared for the tasks of lesson planning, classroom management and teaching the four aspects of language. So, despite the fact that I would indeed like to continue living abroad, I really don’t know how I would go about it, absent the TEFL angle. I suppose another option would have been to apply to an international graduate school, but I didn’t get my act together enough to apply to any school, which precludes the international school altogether. Basically, I am preparing to return home to nothing… not to dismiss all you lovely people awaiting my return, but I don’t have a plan for a job or even where I will live (and the two cities on the table are not remotely close).

I got the email from the Country Director announcing the possible Close of Service dates. It was very exciting to begin the countdown. But sitting right next to that in my inbox was the lengthy email with information for a third year. Though I hadn’t been considering it, I read the email. It sounded exciting, rewarding, and meaningful. I thought of the projects that are just now getting underway and how amazing it would be to see them through. I thought of my opportunity for language improvement and deepening my friendships with my Mongolian friends and my PCV site mates. Part of me thought, “well, I don’t have a plan anyway, so why not?” Within all these rapid fire thoughts, and entirely unexpectedly, I found myself considering a third year of Peace Corps Service in Mongolia. With a very uncertain frame of mind, I sought guidance for this decision from my mom and sister-in-law, both of whom were completely supportive of either decision, which was really no help at all! I also discussed with my site mate her reasons for applying for a third year.

Well, this blog post isn’t building up to an announcement. Ultimately, I have decided not to pursue a third year. But, I want you to know that the decision was not easy. And, for the record, at no point while I was making this decision did I consider the extreme winters, the scarcity of produce, or the once weekly shower as reasons for leaving. I’ve just come to see that the feeling that “there’s so much more to do” goes hand in hand with working in a developing country. So, instead of thinking of what I will miss by leaving as scheduled, I’m going to try and focus on what I’ve done, and what I’ve still to do, as these last few months tick by.


love

February 14, 2014

Last spring, a few of us Govi-Altai PCVs (the ladies) were invited to speak at a Young Families Conference. Fifty couples, married 2-5 years, participated in this conference. Topics covered included: family planning in the context of marriage, children’s rights, nutrition (including breast feeding), domestic violence, alcoholism, and financial planning. We were there to show that there is great variety in American families, so that these Mongolian families can recognize that they have choices. The information for the first part of this blog comes from our meeting with the Director of the Department for Children and Family Development. These were my notes taken during an informal session and I take responsibility for anything mis-heard or misunderstood.

love (lower-case L) in Mongolia
– average age for first baby: 22-25
– parents encourage marriage after completing university
– average age for marriage: 25
– more common to marry baby’s father
– divorce is common after a few years marriage
– variety of family-planning methods available: pill, condom, IUD, shot
– men may think pregnancy prevention is not their responsibility
– both parents are financially responsible
– women are more highly educated, so expenses mostly fall to them
– belief that if a woman has an abortion at the first pregnancy, she will never become pregnant again
– belief that giving birth is more difficult after 30
– women generally want a baby, even if they don’t have a husband
– high-risk women who don’t have children “find it difficult”
– average number of children per woman: 2-3

Love and love
Of course, I did the math before I even applied to the Peace Corps. If I started at 36, I’d finish at 38. It would be 2014, the year of my 20-year high school reunion. I mention it because the thought had crossed my mind that, with Peace Corps service, I’d be taking myself out of the dating pool and that maybe I’d miss out on meeting someone. But, the likelihood of that seemed so remote, that it was hardly a deterrent.

My single status is not something I think a lot about. I’m comfortable with where I am in life and never really put much effort into “finding someone,” outside of a few half-hearted craigslist posts over the years. But, when I do think about it (usually having nothing to do with February 14), to be perfectly honest, I find it kind of crazy. I’m a catch, man! I could rattle off my good qualities, and think my bad qualities are pretty insignificant to a relationship. But, no love for Love.

Love and love in Mongolia
After name and nationality, rounding out the top 5 most commonly asked questions in Mongolia are age, marital status and children. (Mongolians are very direct about these things; these questions aren’t considered rude. Also, they all guess that I’m ten years younger than I am 🙂 ) Common follow-up questions to my being single and childless are, “Why?” and “When will you get married?” During PST, we were taught to view such forward questions as an opportunity for a cultural exchange, rather than take offense to them. For example, I can explain that most people in America don’t get married in their early 20s. But, that doesn’t really answer the question of why I’m still single, does it? In fact, these questions sting more than the reality because they remind me that my single status isn’t my choice. Not being a mom isn’t my choice; it would have been a conversation to have, if there was someone to have it with. But there’s not. This here is the best I can do to answer these questions in English. In Mongolian, all I have is “bi medexgui” (I don’t know).

While it may seem improper to share these thoughts with such a wide audience, they are a part of what goes into making the decision to apply to the Peace Corps when you’re a single woman in your mid-30s. Yet, in all my pre-Peace Corps research, I didn’t find anyone else speaking from this perspective. So, I’m assuming that role for the other 30-something single ladies who want to apply to the Peace Corps but are hesitating because they are 30-something and single. I had wanted this Peace Corps experience for a long time, but I wasn’t ready in my 20s. Just like many people (at any age) who get married and have children (in some order) aren’t ready for those responsibilities. In that way, I’m kind of lucky that I didn’t have kids when I was ready to serve in the Peace Corps.

love (lower case L) in the Peace Corps
Despite the fact that I’m single, Peace Corps romances are pretty common. In our group of 60 or so volunteers, there are lots of couples and the cynic in me wonders if they would have paired off under different circumstances. Not that it matters. They’ve got someone to comfort them during these two years away from home, someone who (merely by being a PCV) probably shares some core values, someone who can understand their day-to-day challenges, and I bet that’s worth a lot to them. Of course, there are occasionally Volunteers who find love in a Host-Country National (HCN, in Peace Corps speak) and my little group has those, too; two engagements (that I know of)! I’d love to see their pictures in the Peace Corps marriages photo album.

And, finally, to reinforce that I have a sense of humor about my single status, here is a list of the reasons to date a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), which will be me in just a few months!

PS, responses welcomed, but, in case it needs to be said, please refrain from any of that “you’ll find someone” type of encouragement since the point of this post is that, whether my being single is by choice or not, I’m content with my life the way it is. Which isn’t to say that I’ve “given up on love” or ruled it out for my future, but just that I’m someone who lives in the “what is” and not the “what if.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!