Every month, Fulbridge interviews an ETA from around the world to get a glimpse of what life is like in different placements. This month, Ayat Abourashed, 2016-17 ETA in Indonesia and Fulbridge’s Indonesia Country Representative, talked with Ryan Kertanis, current ETA in Mongolia.
Q: Why did you choose Mongolia?
A: I chose Mongolia for many reasons, namely the pursuit of a long time childhood dream. It started with the National Geographic documentary about Roy Chapman Andrews discovering dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert, after that it grew into a fascination with Chinggis Khan and his vast Mongol empire. I think it really culminated for me in college studying Anthropology and Environmental Science. Mongolia is a fascinating holdover of an ancient nomadic culture with close to half of the population still practicing this ancestral style of living (albeit now with very modern touches). I guess you could say Mongolia has been in my heart for a long time and this is really a dream come true.
Q: Where are you located and what school/university do you teach at?
A: I teach at Orkhon University in Ulaanbaatar the capital city of Mongolia.
Q: Since every country ETA program has different requirements, what all does your grant entail?
A: I think that my placement is fairly straightforward, I teach 20 hours a week, prep and run other clubs for an additional 10 hours. The community here is very tight so the Fulbright ETA’s g to a lot of embassy events and work closely with the embassy funded programs in Ulaanbaatar. My favorite is giving talks at the American Corner.
Q: What does a normal weekday look like for you?
A: A normal weekday is usually pretty busy for me. I teach an average of 4 hours a day so I start with a nice breakfast and a walk with my beautiful Mongolian puppy Tsagaana. After our walk I pack up my bag and head to work around 830. I teach until lunch and then run home to take the puppy out. Depending on the day I either head back for one more class or stay at home and do some lesson planning. The afternoon is either a club meeting or another long walk with the dog. Week nights in Ulaanbaatar usually have a lot going on so I try to meet up with my Mongolian, American and German friends at least 2 or 3 times a week. We usually listen to music or go to art shows, something along those lines, city life!!!
Q: If you have, how have you gotten more involved with the university outside of the classroom? How have you gotten involved with the community?
A: My school has been a little hard to get close to but I have a lot of different community organizations that I work with. The major ones are ACMS (American Center for Mongolian Studies) where I routinely volunteer and do book readings for kids. The other major event I have going is a charity horseback ride in the summer. This 700km ride supports a school in the poorest part of the city. I go out there as often as I can to play with the kids and to do basic English lessons. I have a large group of Mongolian friends so I try to get out and do Mongolian things as much as I can.
Q: What have been some challenges?
A: I can see how food would be a challenge although I really enjoy the food here. The winter is also hard because it is really, really cold, that being said it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen to go riding in negative 35 degree weather. You really just have to make the best of it.
Q: What have been some highlights?
A: There have been so many highlights it is hard to name just a few. Traveling has been awesome, I implore any ETA’s who end up here to travel as much as possible, it will make your lessons better and your time so much more memorable. I’ve really taken up horseback riding as an obsession and since it is such a huge part of Mongolian life it has opened up so many doors and conversations for me. Getting involved in something you are really passionate is always the key to doing the things you love.
Q: What was your best lesson plan?
A: Probably my first one, I have learned that teaching is hard and momentum is even harder.
Q: What will you miss the most?
A: If I ever leave, which remains to be seen, I will miss the honesty of the people and the openness of this place both physically and personally. It is a huge country and the wildness of it is intense, and yet the community here is also all encompassing. You will be welcomed wherever you go, and whatever you want to do you just need to ask, it is a truly remarkable place.
Q: Why should prospective grantees apply to Mongolia?
A: I would apply to Mongolia if you are willing to seek out an adventure in a country that will surely give you one. This place is tough in many ways and you have to work for it, but what you put in is multiplied a thousand times over. Truthfully this place is not for the faint of heart, but it has challenged me and pushed me to grow in ways that I will forever cherish. Apply to Mongolia if you feel like you need an adventure, and adventure that will find its way into the deepest parts of your soul.
To learn more about Ryan’s Fulbright experience in Mongolia, check out his blog!