Jason Fox, Mongolia (97-99)
Although most people think of Peace Corps volunteers as people who are devoted lifelong to altruism and word travel, I never left the country before 1997. I was by profession a backwater nurse in Central Florida with a recently earnedBA in history. There wasn't a lot of soul searching, but rather a somber decision that as I got older and more entrenched in my everyday life, options such as Peace Corps would become less possible and more unrealistic. In retrospect, it wouldn't be fair to say that deciding to join Peace Corps was a difficult decision to make at the time.
One of the most anxious moments of my life was awaiting a call from my placement officer telling me where I would be for the next two years of my life. It was intensified when I thought of all of the exciting places that Peace Corps sent people in the world. Visages of Chile and Nepal swirled through my head. I was told that it would be in the Asian region, but at first there were no specifics. Then the call came one afternoon.
"How does Mongolia sound?" he asked.
"Um pardon me, where?"
"There is a strong need for a TEFL/ Health teacher there. Are you interested?"
"I guess it sounds as good as anyplace," I said.
We talked for a few more minutes. After our conversation I paged through my atlas to see where Mongolia was. I honestly thought that I was being sent to Africa for a minute. Then, I remembered. For some reason I thought all Asian countries were supposed to be hot. All I could think of at the time was the opening sequence at Ice planet Hoth from Star Wars. Still sounded better to me than Lake Helen, Florida.
The next part was easy and expectable. I ran down to my nearest Burlington Coat factory and bought the coldest arctic gear a person could find in sunny Florida. Then I left my nursing job and traveled around the country by train for a month. It's something I highly recommend to anyone planning on entering the Peace Corps.
We all met for staging in San Francisco, and then we were whisked to Beijing where we spent the night. In the morning of June 17th, 1997 all 26 of us landed in the Capitol of Mongolia, Ulaanbataar. To my surprise, everything was lush and green. The people there are highly fashion conscious and suddenly, I felt a little raggedy.
Training was intense, but it wasn't a deselection process by any means. We lived with Mongolian families who knew from the Peace Corps staff that Americans had to have their own space at times. For most of us there weren't any problems. It was more like a highly structured summer camp for me. To be completely honest, my Mongolian language was terrible after completing training.
I was stationed in a small provincial town to the north called Bulgan. Living in ger, or yurt was romantic, but difficult at first. It was also a little hard as nobody in my hospital, and very few people in town spoke anything other than Mongolian or maybe some Russian.
I taught health and English in my local health center. I also helped to build a medical library. In my last year, I worked closely with the local hospital
After I got acclimated to my job I made a lot of friends. My ability to speak Mongolian also improved. In time, the homesickness lessened. I realized that this was one of the best times of my life and soon it would be over. Returning home, believe it or not, was a little harder for me than going there.
In retrospect, describing my Peace Corps experience to other people is akin to describing colors to a blind man or emotions to a computer. Every Peace Corps volunteer has a different adventure. For me, almost certainly I would have made more money to not leave America, but money comes and goes. Time is another thing altogether, but for that short time I spent in Mongolia, it seemed to stop (if only for a short while).