Mountain Stuff

January 23, 2010

Sometimes I like to get above the town to Undurlig (Mongolian for ‘peak’)  for a few minutes to kind of center myself whenever the weather permits. I used to have to walk an hour to get there when I lived on the south side.  Now, though, it’s right behind my house. (Many of you might be bored to death by the same photos I take every time I go up there, but I don’t care, because I love posting them.) Today the temperatures on my mountain were about 20 degrees warmer than they were downtown, so I decided to walk up there for the first time in a while and relax for a bit.

I usually sit right here:

and while I was up there today I listened to this song:

It’s called “My Juvenile,” by Bjork and Antony Hegarty. The original video is nowhere to be found, but luckily a bunch of youtubers made their own (and the above is one of those). I started listening to it a lot when I first got to Mongolia. For me, at least, the minimalist makeup of it kind of lends itself well to looking out over vast expanses of land and letting my mind browse all of the intense and amazing things that have happened in my life over the past few years. I think it holds a special significance to me because of the fact that it’s about a son growing up and leaving home. Listen to the lyrics–they’re actually really poignant.

After I sit for a while, I usually head north and down aways to the Wishing Tree. It was set up by some monks last August, and since then Arvaikheer residents have been tying traditional sacred bolts of cloth to it and making wishes. I walk around it three times, as is common here, and think about all of the nice things I’d like to happen for my family back in America. Out of respect I won’t upload any pictures of it, but I’ll put one up of the stone pile next to it. Circumlocution around the stone pile three times is a kind of blessing which I think is borrowed from Shamanism. At some point during each rotation, people usually throw a pebble onto the pile.

It was a perfect hike. Getting up in the mountains from time to time is essential for me; I need the peace and quiet and visibility of it all to remind myself of where I am, and to purge all the little anxieties and confusions of everyday life here. It’s just an extremely positive feeling.

Also, look at this awesome hat I bought yesterday:

Victory in suede and faux-fur.


A Sappy but Necessary Note

January 22, 2010

My hashaa family– Mom, or “older sister Zaya,” as she prefers, my 13 year-old brother Garidaa, and my three-year old brother Tingis –just came over for a quick and long overdue exchange of gifts from my trip to America. I’d hinted to little Tingis over a late night teatime a few weeks back that I would be returning the following day with presents, and he immediately started tearing things off the wall and stomping around and throwing his toys in fury that the presents weren’t there at that exact moment. So I decided I’d wait a while, rather than rewarding that behavior on the spot. I’m glad I did, because the scene I just experienced was worthy of record.

I unlatched the lock on my door and let the three of them pass under the elaborate scarf-and-blanket insulation project I’d fashioned in the threshold. Little Tingis was a ball of warm clothes, and he looked so excited–not a shred of the animal-like outrage he’d shown before. They remarked on how incredibly warm it is in my ger (91 Fahrenheit, 32 Celsius) compared to the outside temperatures (0 F, -18 C) and stripped off all of the layers before sitting down on my futon. Tingis roamed around and asked me what various spices were on my shelves while I fished the gifts out from under the bed. I decided to give his first: three light-up swords that I found at a mall dollar store in Maryland. He was beside himself.

We sword fought for a few minutes before I handed Garidaa his English crossword puzzle books [both of which were the exact same edition, he noticed (before I did) with some disappointment.] I diverted his attention away from this by pulling out the big green lizard (or something) kite I’d bought for them to share, and that seemed to make up for it. I figured it would be great in such a perpetually windy place. I passed on a knit bag of festive napkins, designer stationery, and facial cream to Zaya from my mom in the States, and she seemed ok with those, too. I sweetened the deal by throwing in some over-the-counter decongestants to help out with the horrendous cold she has.

Tingis stopped on his way out to tell me, better than most three year-olds would be able to, that my tattoos were “Prison-like” and that I should find a way to “wash them off.” This is a step down from the time he told me I looked like a thief.

The part that was really worth all of this windup, though, was something I’m not sure I’ll be able to describe without having it lose its aesthetic poignancy. When they left my ger, I watched them through the slightly open door for a moment. The three of them ducked and danced around each other in the dark, swords lighting up the whole hashaa with bright yellows and reds and blues. I could hear little Tingis making happy sounds as he swung at his mom and brother, their breath billowing out around them in the cold. They didn’t know I was watching. I closed the door and went back to my routines way happier than I’d been before they came over.

It all makes me feel so grateful that I no longer live completely alone in that cold, dusty, danger-of-electrocution apartment on the south side of town.

Library Project

January 21, 2010

Hello to everyone who reads this thing! I’m posting the proposal from the library renovation project I mentioned in a recent post. My counterparts and I have been working on it for a few months now and trying to secure funding, and some parties have expressed interest in giving material support of one kind or another. We’re trying really hard to get this thing done before I leave for good in July. (Fyi, the school is pronounced “Mer-ged”, and not like the English word “merged”).  The formatting is a bit strange from the paste-in, but check it out anyway:

Refurbished Library Project Proposal


Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language

Arvaikheer Soum

Uvurkhangai Aimag

Project Facilitators:

B. Unurbayn, English Language Department Team Leader

Z. Zolzaya, English instructor

Oyunirden, English instructor

Patrick Hamilton, English instructor

D Dulamsuren, Japanese instructor.

S. Erdenbileg, Director

Chimeddorj-Oedov, Network specialist

Executive Summary

Students at Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language were forced to leave their former school facilities last April due to structural concerns, and the new buildings were not large enough to accommodate both classrooms and space for the contents of the previous library. Even when the old library was operational, its resources and accessibility  fell short of students’ and teachers’ requirements. Recent renovations and the upcoming completion of a new and larger building have opened up new space for a refurbished library, and the faculty and students are very excited at the prospect.

We intend to open a new library in order to restore independent learning and pleasure reading to the routines of the student body and to continue to improve on the general quality of education at Merged. Part of this process will be to engage our enthusiastic upperclassmen in a student-librarian program that will maximize student control and participation in the management and usage of library resources. Not only will involving students in the program bring them closer to their learning materials, but it will also ensure project sustainability in the future.

Needs assessment conducted among the student population has yielded results that are in overwhelming support of the construction of this library [see Appendix 1]. The available resources at Merged have already enabled us to begin work on the library, and schools and organizations overseas have already pledged their material support in the form of over 1,000 books. With the proper funding to acquire the remaining necessary items, and with careful monitoring and evaluation through frequent surveys and checks carried out among students and teachers, the full educational potential of our library can be reached.

The implementation of the new Library will serve as a tremendous improvement for all of the departments at Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language. This project will increase student involvement and hands-on participation in library resource management, encourage the use of new electronic learning tools, and promote extracurricular activities, research, and pleasure reading in an open study area and in the home. The augmentation of our book collection in a brand new space will bring a level of sophistication and student-control to the scholastic culture of Merged that will surely contribute to its national reputation and bring new opportunities to its much deserving pupils.

Total Project Cost: 5,141,000 MNT— $4,284.17 USD

Community Contribution: 3,506,000 MNT—$2,921.67 USD

Funding Request: 1,635,000— $1,362.50 USD

Project Background

The Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language in Uvurkhangai has maintained a competitive position in Mongolian education since it opened to Arvaikheer’s students in 1998. The school offers clean, well-equipped facilities to students from kindergarten- to eleventh-grade on tracks in math, science, and/ or foreign languages. These students have historically ranked among the top in national standardized tests and competitions—particularly in the areas of Mathematics, English, and Japanese.

This year, however, the old secondary school building was abandoned due to structural problems and its students were moved to the newer building. The school’s library remained in the old building, and all of its rather limited contents have been locked away and unavailable to students since last April. When 400 Merged students from grades five through eleven were given a survey to determine the necessity and intended usage for a new library space with more books, 64% of the students purported to have used the library on a regular basis prior to the abandonment of the old building  (see Appendix 1).  Merged teachers are therefore concerned that losing the library will hinder their students’ ability to use school resources to go deeper into the subjects they are studying or to continue research on their own.

There is also no longer a place for them to study or browse through books between classes, and nowhere for them to use computers.  In the same survey, students reported that having a quiet place to study in the building between classes and after school was the most important aspect they hoped to enjoy in a new library [see Figure 6]. Over 94% of students reported that they would make regular use of a library if it were to be refurbished, and 82.5% expressed that they would be interested in participating in a student-librarian program designed to help the student population have more hands-on involvement in library resource management [see Appendix 1] [see figure 2].

Renovations being carried out at the newer building have created new opportunities for infrastructural improvements, and the school is enthusiastic about the prospect of converting a large room for teachers into a student-centered library containing books in Mongolian, English, Japanese, and Russian, in addition to children’s books, books on physics, history, science, mathematics, and test preparation. Our director and training manager have already offered a space for the new library and helped to divide the responsibilities of setting it up among members of the faculty.

Many of the resources required for finishing the new library are already available at the school, including computers and other electronic learning tools. Additionally, electronic resources in several languages—Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, French, and German—were acquired by the school and will encourage students to take the initiative to learn independently through pleasure reading and browsing to build new language skills [see Figure 5].

Goals and Objectives

1. To increase the amount of available learning resources at the school

Objective 1.1. Acquire books in several languages for all the subjects offered at Merged

Objective 1.2. Set up electronic learning resources (language software, Internet, movies, cds, etc.) and their corresponding technologies in the library for open student usage

2. To encourage students to utilize a variety of learning tools for any subject

Objective 2.1. Hold tutorial sessions on library technology and book borrowing protocol

Objective 2.2. Integrate scheduled library usage into each class group curriculum

3. To encourage out-of-class learning and to provide students with a space for scholastic and extracurricular activities

Objective 3.1. Advertise and maintain open study hours throughout the week

Objective 3.2. Advertise and recruit for clubs and organizations to be held in the library (foreign language clubs, math and science clubs, book clubs, etc.)

4. To improve the quality of language education at the school

Objective 4.1. Provide a centralized location for students to hone their language skills in all of the languages offered at our school via software, the use of written resources, Internet, electronic media, and contact with other students

Objective 4.1. Provide a wide array of resources in languages not offered at the school in order to help students who wish to learn other languages

5. To allow students a place to study and have total control over the information at their disposal in a quiet, user-friendly   learning environment

Objective 5.1. Keep the library open from the time school starts to the time it ends

Objective 5.2. Keep library resources and facilities accessible and student-centered

6. To develop students’ and instructors’ comfort in using and maintaining library resources

Objective 6.1. Create a sustainable part-time rotating student-librarian program which would maximize student involvement in the initiation and  continuation of the library

Objective 6.2. Train student librarians in assisting library users with library resources

Project Description

With a combination of support from the Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language and resources from The Asia Foundation, we will go to UB to secure books in Mongolian, English, Japanese, and Russian, in addition to children’s books, books on physics, history, science, mathematics, and test preparation. While in the city, we will also use acquired funds to purchase the necessary repair materials, a rug, and whiteboards for the room. Upon returning to Arvaikheer, the books we secure will be kept in our storage facility until the language faculty, carpenters, and student volunteers have finished setting up the library’s furnishings. Carpenter Ts. Baatar will be commissioned to build five large shelves and three large desks.

We will then transfer the previously acquired electronic learning resources to each of the five computers in the new room and hold student librarian managerial elections. Ten students from our Merged tenth- and eleventh-grade volunteer pool will fill daily library-monitoring shifts of three periods each, Monday through Friday (five student-librarians per day with rotation). One library manager will be elected during this time to help oversee the creation and maintenance of the librarian schedule, to aid in the training of student librarians in the checking out of books and software usage, and to ensure student librarian responsibility.

In training the student librarians, Oyunirden, Unurbayn, and Zolzaya will hold three sessions during the second week of the first month to instruct the volunteer librarians on how to keep books catalogued and record book transactions, how to monitor student library usage, how to log hours, and how to assist class groups who have come to carry out their research and class activities. We will also get the assistants acquainted with the accompanying electronic learning resources, with anti-viral software acquisition and implementation, and with computer hardware. This part of the process will involve hands-on usage of the facilities and simple demonstrations, followed by a short quiz to test their knowledge on the material covered.

The final step in this project will be the process of familiarizing the teachers and students of our school with the library facilities and integrating its usage into their curricula. Each of the instructors at Merged will take his or her individual class groups to the library, and these groups will take turns occupying the library for the completion of research projects and class activities on rotating schedules throughout the week.  Debriefing meetings will be held on Fridays between faculty facilitators and student librarians to monitor the success of the project and to discuss new ideas and improvements.

The recent construction at Merged has created a competition for space inside the newer building, and therefore securing a set and accessible library room for the students will provide them with a place to organize into more extracurricular clubs and activities without having to work against the busy schedule of lessons in other classrooms. Students will be able to maintain consistent English Club, Japanese Club, Chinese Club, Poetry Club, Internet Club, and Book Club meetings in the new library while at the same time having immediate access to the materials they may need during club meetings.

Among the more beneficial aspects of creating this new library will be the peer-tutoring program we have already begun to organize. The library will provide young learners with the opportunity to improve on their studies not only through independent research, but also through scheduled tutoring hours with advanced students in every subject. This, paired with the aforementioned student librarian program, will set the stage for a new level of student responsibility and preparedness for the time after graduation.

Action Plan Summary

Action Facilitator(s) Time frame
Acquire language books from Asia Foundation, etc Zolzaya, Patrick Week 4, Month 1
Book categorization and cataloguing Patrick, Senior students Week 4, Month 1
Acquire room materials Erdenbileg, Zolzaya, Patrick Week 4, Month 1
Room layout and set-up Zolzaya, Patrick, senior students Week 1, Month 2
Language software computer transfer Oedov, Patrick Week 2, Month 2
Student librarian and managerial elections Oyunirden, Unurbayn, Zolzaya, Week 2, Month 2
Training of student librarians and creation of librarian rotating schedule Patrick, Unurbayn Week 2, Month 2
Implementation of student librarian program Unurbayn, Zolzaya, Oyunirden, Patrick Weeks 3-4, Month 2
Software training, internet set-up, and integration of the library into department curricula Oedov, Oyunirden, Unurbayn, Patrick, Zolzaya Week 4, Month 2
Monitoring and Evaluation (logs, surveys, quizzes and exams, etc.) Student Librarians, Unurbayn Weeks 1-4, Month 3

Potential Library Usage Breakdown

The following is a hypothetical weekly lineup of activities and scheduled usage periods for the library:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday

(student librarian 1)

10b class research time Open study Mongolian Language track research time Physics track research time Open study
8:40-9:20 (student librarian 1) Open study 9A English  class research time 11b English class research time Open study Open study
9:25-10:05 (student librarian 1) 10A English class research time 9b English class research time 11A English class research time Open study Open study
10:15-10:55 (student librarian 2) Open study Open study Physics track research time History track research time English read-aloud time with primary students 3
10:55-11:35 (student librarian 2) Electronic resource tutoring time Internet Club Open study English read-aloud time with primary students 2 History track research time
11:40-12:20 (student librarian 2) Open study Open study English read-aloud time with primary students 1 Open study Open study
12:20-1:00 student librarian 3 Open study Open study Open study 8a Japanese language research time 5A, b English class research time
1:00-1:55 (student librarian 3) Mongolian Language class research time 8b English Class research time 7a Japanese class research time 8b Japanese language research time 6A, b English class research time
1:55-2:35 student librarian 3 7g English class research time 7b English class research time 7b Japanese class research time Open study Open study
2:40-3:20 (student librarian 4) Chinese Club Open study time Japanese Club Open study Book Club
3:30-4:10 (student librarian 4) Open study English Club Test preparation assistance hour Russian Club Foreign Language Peer Tutoring
4:10-4:50 (student librarian 4) Poetry Club 10A Japanese   class research time Open study Open study Maths and Sciences Peer Tutoring
4:55-5:35 (student librarian 5) Foreign Language Peer Tutoring 10b Japanese class research time Japanese Movie Night Open study Open study
5:35-6:15 (student librarian 5) Maths and Sciences Peer Tutoring open study Open study English Movie Night
6:15-6:55 (student librarian 5) Open study Open study Open study Teachers’ English Club Open study


Integration of the library into Merged curricula will provide students with continued access to reference materials, electronic learning resources, foreign language books and software,  and pleasure reading toward a general improvement of the quality of education at the school.  Eleventh-grade students involved in the management and monitoring of the room will be in charge of assisting the faculty facilitators in recruiting and co-training new student librarians and managers for the following year prior to leaving Merged. Incumbent tenth-grade student librarians can also choose to run for the position again for their final year of school.

Current enthusiasm among students of all ages at Merged suggests that such a project, if designed and implemented according to plan, would be willingly and responsibly continued into the future despite potential volunteer absence [see Appendix 1]. Tenured faculty involvement is also very strong with this project, and that tends to be a main factor in the future continuation of, or disregard for, such endeavors.

Risks and Mitigations

As mentioned earlier, competition for teaching space is rising among teachers in the midst of the recent construction projects going on at Merged. However, our director and training manager are extremely adamant about the conversion of the current teacher’s lounge into a permanent library, and this should prevent any other parties from attempting to take over the space.


Refurbished Library Cost Evaluation

Item qty Unit Cost Total Cost Requested Funds (MNT) Arvaikheer
(MNT) (MNT) Community Contribution (MNT)
Books / 0 0 0 0
Carpet (rug) 2 50,000 100,000 0 100,000
Chairs 15 28,000 420,000 0 420,000
Couches 1 450,000 450,000 450,000 0
Large desks 3 60,000 180,000 0 180,000
Desktop computers 5 500,000 2,500,000 0 2,500,000
Dvd player 1 30,000 30,000 30,000 0
DVD’s / 0 0 0 0
Electrical outlet installation (renovation) 1 50,000 50000 0 50,000
Facilitator’s desk 1 45,000 45,000 45,000 0
Flooring (renovation) 1 400,000 400,000 400,000 0
Headphones 4 10,000 40,000 40,000 0
Internet (installation) 1 120,000 120,000 0 120,000
Keys 5 1,000 5,000 0 5,000
Paint (renovation) 5 5,000 25,000 0 25,000
Posters 10 5,000 50,000 0 50,000
Shelves 5 50,000 250,000 250,000 0
Software / 0 0 0 0
21” TV 1 300,000 300,000 300,000 0
UB Transport for Zolzaya and Patrick 2 28,000 56,000 0 56,000
Whiteboard/ 2 60,000 120,000 120,000 0
Total Cost (MNT) 5,141,000 1,635,000 3,506,000
Total Cost (USD) $4,284.17 $1,362.50 $2,921.67

Funds Management:

An alternate joint account at Khaan Bank will be opened in Zolzaya’s and PCV Patrick Hamilton’s names. All funds will be directly transferred to this account. Proof of requisite amounts for specific items, including the furnishing materials and technological resources stated previously, will be recorded by Zolzaya and Patrick during the purchase of said items.

Resources Available at Merged

Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language is willing to provide the space for our library, to cover the cost of Internet and concurrent monthly fees to be installed on our computers, of a rug, of large desks, of chairs, electrical outlet repair, and of foreign language posters for the walls. It is also willing to cover the cost of transportation to and from Ulaanbaatar for resource acquisition for Zolzaya and Patrick. We have the proper electronic learning tools at our disposal, and the school already has some books and materials in the old library.

All available computers were purchased by the school. Desks and chairs will be commissioned from a local carpenter, Ts. Baatar.

The Barnesville School in Buckeystown, Maryland, has donated a shipment of 1,000 elementary English language books to our Merged Library. These books will arrive in mid- to late-January. The local government of Okayama, Japan, will also be donating a shipment of Japanese language books and CD’s by the end of January 2010.

Monitoring and Evaluation:

Visitor satisfaction surveys will be placed on the facilitator’s desk in the library, and all users will be encouraged to fill one out before leaving the library [see Appendix 2]. This data will be compiled and discussed at weekly student librarian debriefing meetings with members of the faculty project staff. Mandatory post-setup completion surveys will also be distributed to all of the students making use of the facilities via their respective instructors after the first month (and every other month for the first year) to gauge their levels of satisfaction with the facilities and student librarians, involvement in library extracurricular activities and clubs, personal achievement standards, number of books checked out, and frequency of personal and/or extracurricular use [see appendix 4]. Weekly quizzes, personal interviews, and monthly exams will be given on the specific material covered during lessons conducted in the library or for lessons that made use of library materials and/or resources. The survey process will be repeated with addenda at the end of the year to evaluate overall faculty and student satisfaction.


Monitoring Question Source of Information Method(s) of Acquiring Information Responsibility Timeframe/ Frequency
What is the level of student satisfaction with the new facilities? Student library users Surveys available at library facilitator’s desk, compiled and discussed at student librarian debriefing meetings; student interaction with librarians Unurbayn, Student


Once weekly
What is the level of student satisfaction with student librarians? Student library users Surveys available at library facilitator’s desk, compiled and discussed at student librarian debriefing meetings Unurbayn, Student librarians *Librarians can ask library users to fill out a survey before they leave at any time
Are students making good use of the library outside of class? Student librarians Student librarian observations, discussed at student librarian debriefing meetings Unurbayn, Student librarians Once weekly


Evaluation Question Source of Information Method(s) of Acquiring Information Responsibility Timeframe/ Frequency
Is in-class library time having a positive influence on student performance? Teachers, Students Mandatory surveys (from students’ perspective); in-class research presentations; exams; teacher debriefing meetings; quarterly grades D Dulamsuren

Patrick Hamilton


Z. Zolzaya

B. Unurbayn

S. Erdenbileg


Monthly; end of each quarter
Are students’ foreign language abilities increasing due to room usage? Faculty, Students, competitions/ standardized tests, Exams and Quizzes Mandatory surveys (from students’ perspective); Personal Interviews; Teacher Interviews; Exam and Quiz Scores D. Dulamsuren,

Patrick Hamilton,


Z. Zolzaya,

B. Unurbayn

Monthly; end of each quarter
Are students reading more for pleasure now that the library has been open and available to them? Faculty, Student Librarians Mandatory surveys (from students’ perspective), Personal Interviews; Book Transaction Records; Student Librarian Observations Student Librarians, D. Dulamsuren,

Patrick Hamilton,


Z. Zolzaya,

B. Unurbayn

Is the number of checked-out  books increasing through library activity and social programming (extracurricular activities, info sessions, class work, etc). Student Librarians Book transaction records Student Librarians, B. Unurbayn Monthly, end of each quarter
Which clubs and extracurricular activities have been most helpful/ enjoyable? Students Mandatory surveys (from students’ perspective) Student Librarians, D. Dulamsuren,

Patrick Hamilton,


Z. Zolzaya,

B. Unurbayn

What is the most useful resource (technology or personnel) available at the library? Student Librarians Mandatory surveys (from students’ perspective) B. Unurbayn, Student Librarians Monthly

Appendix 1: Library Needs Assessment Surveys

Student Survey

Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language is conducting a survey to determine potential interest in the creation of a new library. Please carefully consider all questions and answer honestly.

  1. Did you ever read or study in the old library before it was closed?

Yes—256/400 = 64%            No—144/400 = 36%

  1. If the library were to be reopened at Merged, would it encourage you to read more?

Yes—377/ 400 = 94.25%       No—0 = 0%     (no answer) = 23/ 400 = 5.75%

  1. How many hours per week do you think you would make use of a new library? (Figure 1)

1—31/400 = 87.75%

2—82/400 = 20.5%

3—90/400 = 22.5%

4—58/400 = 14.5%

5—60/400 = 15%

more than 5—79/400 = 19.75%

  1. Would you be interested in participating in a student-librarian program in a new library?

Yes—330/ 400 = 82.5%          No—62/400 = 15.5%            No answer—8/400 = 2%

  1. What kinds of books would you most like to have available in a new library? (Figure 3)

Literature (Novels, Poems, Articles)—169

History books—187

Language and Grammar books—211

Math- and science-related books—180


  1. What kinds of activities would interest you in a new library space? (Figure 4)

English club—171

Chinese club—37

Japanese club—121

Book club—65

Poetry club—33

Essay writing prep—37

Peer tutoring—15

Computer club—152

Foreign songs club—68


  1. In addition to English, what other languages might you be interested in learning or improving your skills in via new library resources?  (Figure 5)









  1. What would you like to see yourself accomplish/learn/be able to do after using the new library facilities? (Figure 6)

Use new books and library resources—174

Improve communication skills—103

Develop your reading, writing, and listening skills—137

Spend more of your free time in a quiet study place—191

Improve your knowledge of how to conduct research—165


  1. In your opinion, how much would opening a new library in Merged improve your studies? (figure 2)

Very much—332/ 400 = 83%

Somewhat —39/400  = 9.75%

Not very much—8/400 = 2%

I don’t know—21/400 = 5.25%

Appendix 2: Weekly Monitoring Surveys

Library User Questionnaire

  1. How satisfied are you with the new library facilities?
    1. Very satisfied

b.  Satisfied

  1. Neutral

d.  Unsatisfied

  1. How satisfied are you with the assistance of the student librarians?
  2. Very satisfied
  3. Satisfied
  4. Neutral
  5. Unsatisfied
  1. How many hours did you spend in the library this week outside of class? (circle one).

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5 or more.

Appendix 3: Monthly Evaluation Surveys and Quarterly Evaluation Guidelines

Monthly Evaluation Survey

  1. Is in-class library time having a positive influence on your studies? Yes/ No
  1. Are your foreign language abilities increasing due to room usage? Yes/ No
  1. Are you reading more for pleasure now that the library has been open and available to you? Yes/ No
  1. Which clubs and extracurricular activities have been most helpful/ enjoyable?
  1. What is the most useful resource (technology or personnel) available at the library?

Quarterly Evaluation Guidelines

Questions to Consider:

  • Is the library schedule conducive to incorporating library resource usage into class curricula?
  • Is in-class library time having a positive effect on student performance?
  • Is the number of checked-out books increasing through library activity and social programming (extracurricular activities, info sessions, class work, etc)?
  • Are students’ foreign language abilities increasing post library-setup?
  • Have students’ test scores shown changes since the opening of the new library?

Appendix 4: Figures and Charts

The Recent Past!

January 19, 2010

My peaceful readjustment to the Arvaikheer routine was interrupted last week by an urgent email from Peace Corps Medical. It said that we were all required to return to the capital before January 15th to receive our H1N1 vaccines. I shouldn’t call it an interruption, really; I was actually kind of looking for an excuse to not have to do as much work during the highly stressful Audit Week, which I think I mentioned in a previous post (but if not I’ll summarize: insanely complicated external reviews of teacher-kept records, with consequences for failure to produce certain documents). I’m exempt as a co-teacher, but I still have to be around for it.  Anyway, I welcomed the distraction. I climbed down the mountain before the sun rose on the morning of the 13th and was reborn as I found myself climbing the steps to the widely rumored… DISCO BUS!

And this ain’t no Hubble false color image, either–that’s the real deal. The glowing red focal point in the background is actually a LASER DISCO BALL, the green and red beams of which caressed my senses into the wildest migraine I’ve had in years. All of this, and more—“Modern Talking,” the greatest German neo-disco duo that ever survived the 80s—first in MP3 loudspeaker, then in flatscreen video marathon.

This was one of the videos I watched many, many times on the bus ride to UB that week. There are no words, really.

After the sun came up, we had Karaoke. The flatscreen became a follow-along lyrical backdrop to rural Mongolian music, and two microphones were passed around the bus. The music was so loud and the windows were frozen solid, so nothing could be seen through them, and I think this is why people were a lot less intimidated when the bus nearly flipped twice.

I kept saying things like, “We’re going to die on this disco bus” and “I really think we’re going to die” as jolly numbers about Mom’s Milk Tea and the Soft, Soft World blasted through the speakers around us. We all had a good laugh when it was over.

Joy? Fear? Both.

We made it to the city safely, and I quickly found myself nestled in my cozy and customary wall-to-wall bed at the Hongor Guest House. The following few days were nothing out of the ordinary as large-group reunions in UB go; lots of partying, not enough sleep, and temperatures that would make a sizable portion of the Martian surface feel like Grand Bahama. One night after some celebrating I thought I could wrangle up some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my friends, and they turned out like this:

We only had a bag of crusts, for some reason, so we used those. I dropped some peanut butter on the dirty floor and mopped it up good with some of the unused bread, put it on a plate we were done with so I’d remember to throw it away, and then absentmindedly ate it five minutes later.

As for the vaccines, I got a fever after mine. I also had one of our medical staff members take a look at my throat, which had been swollen and heinously mucous-filled for almost three weeks, and she ended up prescribing me an antibiotic so powerful that it’s used to cure plague. That stuff works wonders. Apparently I started out with a virus, which ran its course, but in the meantime I got pollution poisoning and opened my system up to a ravenous bacterial infection. It’s hard for me to stop and think about the fact that these virions and bacteria manage to still move around out there in the ether, even though said ether is sometimes chilling at -50 degrees Fahrenheit (and sometimes even Celsius).

The rest of UB was kind of bittersweet…A good friend of mine has finally decided to head back to the States after a long struggle with some issues at his site. I was sad to send him off. Don’t really know what else to say about that, except that I’ll miss him.

I returned to work in Arvaikheer to find that Audit Week was actually just starting. Stress is high right now in the teachers’ lounge, but I know things will calm down in a bit. As for me, I experienced my own set of traumas today after a boy in one of my 9th grade classes punched a girl in the face in the middle of class. I reacted, of course, but no one else seemed to think it was out of the ordinary. I pulled him out of class and screamed more than I’ve ever screamed at anyone, at least since I can remember. The kid laughed, so I scared him into following me downstairs to Prominent Person X’s office. Prominent Person X is one of the most powerful members of the administration, so she is often asked to use her clout to deal with misbehaving students. I reamed the student out some more in front of her and said that he wasn’t allowed back in my classroom, went upstairs, and rejoined my co-teacher in the lesson we’d been teaching. She leaned in and told me, “Calm down. Because I’m a female teacher, I can’t get angry like that. Also, you should be careful, because that was Prominent Person X’s son.”

Guess who showed up for a random observation of my next class?

I rounded off a long day with dinner at my sitemate’s house. It was so cold that I physically couldn’t walk back up the mountain, so I called a cab. Tomorrow’s supposed to be even colder!

More later.

We had another Three Sun day yesterday, and though the pictures I took weren’t as magnificent as the one I ripped from Google, these ones should illustrate:

It was a weird weather day. It was barely warm enough for precipitation, and you can see in the image above that the sky was all white, which usually means snow. But it was more like frozen fog for most of the day. It looks more like a rainbow ring here than it has been the past week. But when the sun starts to dip down behind the mountain, the light looks intensified in contrast to the rest of the darkening sky, and it does actually end up looking like three suns. Pretty awesome.

Updates and Other -dates

January 8, 2010

I’ve recently returned from another jaunt to America, and it’s only appropriate that I talk a little bit about what it’s like to be a Peace Corps volunteer who’s gone back to the States not once, but twice.

In a word: Amazing. The first time I went home [see previous entries], the whole experience felt like an exotic vacation, and not much like going back to the place where I belong. Coming back to Mongolia last July felt like a return to how I’d always lived. This time, though, I flew straight into an East Coast snowstorm that yielded almost a meter of snow, and the result was unadulterated indoor couch/tv/family/dogs/cuisine time for much of my 13-day trip. This, in conjunction with the realization that my semi-permanent return to America is a mere 7 months away, made the vacation seem like a very real taste of the future. It was definitely harder to come back to Mongolia after that.

While home, I basically didn’t use my legs for a full two weeks. I sat on the couch, ate, and drove around with my sister to the movies and to restaurants, where I sat on more comfortable things and ate. It was incredible! I’ve never felt so OK about being so incredibly lazy. Sometimes, while lying on the couch and fisting boxes of cheezits and drinking eggnog, I felt like my entire body–every single cell–wanted to scream to the universe how insanely comfortable the whole thing felt. I hadn’t realized how much I needed a break like this; even during the aforementioned H1N1 school hiatus, living was still a lot of work.

I gained ten pounds in Maryland.

The visit was actually a surprise for my sister, who wasn’t told that I was coming home at all. I took some pretty absurd measures to prevent her from finding out. I had to think of a reason for why I’d be going into Ulaanbaatar before my flight, just in case she was suspicious, so I told her that I had to take my GRE’s. I’d previously told her that I was taking them on December 22nd, but she knew I was headed into UB on the 14th, so I ended up saying something about how the testing center burned down and the date had to be pushed up. She bought it. I also disabled my Facebook wall so no friends could post things like “have an awesome time in America.” I sent her a private message telling her I did it because of a recent Peace Corps crackdown on internet activity, which she also bought.

My parents set it up so that I’d be hiding in a large red plastic bag between their booth and the window in a local Japanese restaurant, and when my sister came to meet them, I’d pop out. When I did, she recoiled in confusion and started crying immediately. She said she thought it was a hallucination and was scared for a split second at her own insanity. It was so beautiful.

I couldn’t embed the video here, since it’s on Facebook (not one of the supported video hosting sites), but I uploaded it under a setting that enables anyone to watch it. Check it out here:

Last year I couldn’t really place myself mentally in the permanent American context, as I had so much of my service left before me. The whole visit was different from the first, in that it gave me an opportunity to visualize myself in a setting that I’ll be returning to very soon for good. I miss Maryland already!

I don’t need to go into any more detail about my trip to America…writing any more about it will just make me homesick.

I returned to Mongolia on New Year’s Eve and celebrated with some friends at a posh bar in Ulaanbaatar called ‘Sky Lounge.’ We missed the countdown, but we made our own, so it was OK. I remember stopping a famous Mongolian singer, Naran, in the middle of her performance there and making a song request, which she understandably disregarded. I also tried to dance with her.  I ended up spilling red wine all over my new outfit and decided to call it an early night.

This is a Naran music video:

I love Naran, but I wasn’t too embarrassed later on that I’d accosted her. Now, if I’d managed to make an ass out of myself in front of Maraljingoo, my favorite Mongolian singer of all time, I’d feel a little differently…

Although Maraljingoo is a bit of a diva. Two summers ago she performed at night in Sant at an outdoor 80th town anniversary  concert, and I attended with my friends. The setup had bright spotlights focused on her, and the beetles and moths went nuts in the light  and dove down her cleavage and into her hair, and she freaked out. It was pretty hilarious.

ANYWAY, when I’m in UB in the winter, I usually go to the same guest house and rent a 6′ x 10′ room that’s just a bed, wall to wall, and fall asleep every night pushed up against the radiator while watching documentaries and eating. The days I spent in UB after my trip to America were no different. I think this was a nice transition between couch-life and ger-life.

Apparently it reached -60 degrees Fahrenheit in Arvaikheer while I was away, and I felt fortunate to have missed that. But the temperatures dropped to obscenely low again after I got back to Uvurkhangai, and one of my sitemates actually got frostbite. Today it reached +20! I came home from work early to chop wood in the sun and overheated. It’s amazing how much our bodies adjust to fluctuations like that, and bizarre how it feels to be comfortable in temperatures I wouldn’t dream of putting myself through in America.

Yesterday there was an atmospheric phenomenon that Mongolians refer to as “The three suns,” which is supposed to signify the onset of a tremendously cold winter. It looked something like this over my mountain in the evening, but when the sun was a bit higher:

Some people think this means we are about to experience a Zud, the heinous and destructive winter that results in mass livestock and even human death. The economic implications for such a season are devastating. I was told today that 80% of Uvurkhangai is currently covered in snow, which means that the livestock on which much of the economy depends is unable to have access to adequate grazing grounds. Time will tell what this means for 2010’s agriculture.

To switch gears, an interesting note about returning to work after such a lovely break: it’s departmental audits-and-checks-time, so I’ve barely been able to get anything done. This is the time when teachers start to record grades and attendance and write up their lesson plans in official formats–and god forbid they do it in the wrong color ink!–lest they be fined obscene amounts of money or even fired. This means that the workplace priority has changed to prepping for the checkup, rather than actual teaching in some cases. I’ve taken the bullet and solo-taught all week. It’s made work pretty frustrating, as my job is to only co-teach lessons.

On an interesting note, tonight we showed ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ for our weekly English Movie Night at the local English library. We thought that the action-romance combo would be perfect for the mostly female audience, and indeed they loved it, but not the violent parts. When Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are shooting at one another in their house and destroying it in the process, the girls laughed and were riveted–but as soon as the shooting turned into guy-on-girl fist fighting, I saw many of them turn their eyes away. I remembered then how prevalent domestic violence is here, and immediately regretted the decision to show the movie. The students who attended thanked us profusely for having chosen it in the end, though, so maybe it wasn’t that traumatic after all.

Or maybe it’s just a glimpse at how absurd our own American viewership culture is; that we rate a movie with a big fat ‘R’ if there’s nudity or a sex scene, but not necessarily if there’s extreme physical violence. The fact of the matter is that most of us will NOT grow up to shoot another person or do murder, and will never have to defend ourselves in a fight against an armed enemy. And yet these things are taken for granted in our visual culture. Most of us will, however, grow up to experience nudity and sexual activity comparable to that found in any R-or-more-rated movie, and yet we stigmatize it to be this big taboo. Maybe our Mongolian viewers were just more jarred by the fighting than they were by the sexual nature of the film because they have a better grasp on that concept.

Well, I should get going. I’m nauseated suddenly, perhaps because it’s 108 degrees in my ger and it’s been a few hours since my last questionable meal. Happy New Year!