From Peace Corps Wiki
For the official Welcome Book for Mongolia see here
PEACE CORPS / MONGOLIA HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Mongolia
The Peace Corps established its program in Mongolia at the invitation of the Mongolian government in 1991. Since then, more than 600 Volunteers have served in Mongolia, working in the fields of education, environment, health, small business development, information and communications technology (ICT) and nongovernmental organization (NGO) capacity building. All Peace Corps Volunteers in Mongolia are considered community development workers and, as such, support community service activities as well as cross-sector initiatives including youth development, gender and development, HIV/AIDS awareness, and ICT. Currently, 104 Volunteers work in provinces throughout Mongolia.
The mission of Peace Corps/Mongolia Volunteers and staff is to provide community-based development assistance that addresses needs identified by Mongolian partners, and to promote cross-cultural understanding between Americans and Mongolians. Peace Corps/Mongolia programs emphasize sustainable community development and capacity building that rely on locally available resources.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Mongolia
During the next few years, Peace Corps/Mongolia will focus on English education, community health, community economic development and youth development. A brief overview of Peace Corps/Mongolia’s projects follows.
The English education and community development project builds the capacity of English teachers by teaching students studying to become future English teachers, assisting in accessing English language resources, introducing promising education methods, and facilitating community development projects.
Volunteers in the community-based health project assist with community health education, help update medical professionals and medical students with medical English knowledge, facilitate preventive health initiatives, and work with local teachers to educate secondary school students about healthy life skills.
Community economic development (CED) Volunteers share skills and knowledge of promising business practices to help increase income generation opportunities for Mongolians. Additionally, CED Volunteers increase the capacity of Mongolian professionals to support income-generation projects and development efforts in both rural and peri-urban settings around Mongolia.
Youth development Volunteers increase the capacity of Mongolian youth to overcome challenging life circumstances and become young adults who contribute to improving the quality of life for themselves, their families, and their communities. Volunteers work with youth-focused NGOs, children’s centers, schools, and civil society organizations to address major challenges confronting Mongolian youth today, such as education, life skills, employability and leadership.
To further support Mongolia’s development priorities and to strengthen the role of all Volunteers in community service and development, cross-sector initiatives in youth development, life skills, gender and development, HIV/AIDS awareness, and information and ICT will be pursued more extensively incollaboration with both Mongolian and international partners.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: MONGOLIA AT A GLANCE
The history of Mongolia spans more than 500,000 years. Archaeological excavations throughout the country have revealed artifacts from the Stone and Bronze Ages. The prehistoric inhabitants of Mongolia are culturally linked to Central Asia, not China, in that they were nomadic herders, not settled cultivators. Mongolia today embraces the heartland of Chingiss Khan’s empire, but it was the homeland of other nations long before the Mongols were first mentioned in the annals of the emperors of China. Recent investigations support the hypothesis that the Mongols originated from the Huns (Hunnu in ancient Mongolian), nomads who created a state in the area of what is now called Mongolia in 200 B.C., the first of many peoples to do so. (“Hun” translates as “man” and “nu” translates as “sun.”) Until its collapse in A.D. 98, the Hun state was the most powerful nomadic state in the sprawling Central Asian steppe and mountains. The Hsien-pi replaced the Huns as the ruling group in A.D. 95. Between 95 and 1125 A.D., a succession of nomadic, feudal tribes occupied and ruled the area: Sumbe, Toba, Nirun, Turkic, Uighur, Kirghiz, and Khitan.
In 1190, Temuujin, from the Esukhei tribe, took advantage of weak individual tribal territories and waged 35 battles against other tribes. By 1206, he had succeeded in uniting 81 tribes to form the Great Mongolian State, or Mongol Empire. His success in these battles led to his being named Chingiss Khan (universal ruler). The Mongol Empire of the 13th and 14th centuries was the largest land-area empire in history. At its greatest, it stretched from Korea to Hungary and included most of Asia, except for India and the southeast part of the continent. After Chingiss Khan’s death in 1227, the Mongol Empire was divided into dominions, expanded into Russia and China, and ruled first by his sons and then by his grandson Kublai Khan (1260–1294) of Marco Polo fame. After 1294, however, the Mongol Empire slowly disintegrated, beginning with the loss of China in 1368 to the rulers of the Ming dynasty.
In 1644, the Manchus, rulers of the Ching dynasty, conquered China and southern Mongolia (a territory later renamed Inner Mongolia) and the remainder of Outer Mongolia, consolidating the Mongol Empire under Manchu rule by 1691. The Manchus penalized the Mongolians for any act of insubordination, and their 220-year rule is considered the harshest period in Mongolian history. During this time, Mongolia became isolated from the outside world, the power of the Mongol Khans was destroyed, and Tibetan Buddhism was introduced.
The revolutionary sentiments in Russia and China at the beginning of the 20th century also existed in Mongolia. It declared itself an independent state in 1911 as the Manchu dynasty in China collapsed and the Manchus withdrew from Mongolia. Gegeen Javzandamba Hutakht was declared Bogd Khan, the secular and spiritual leader, and formed a new government. However, China and Russia refused to recognize it, so the Tripartite Agreement that established Outer Mongolia as a politically and territorially autonomous state remained unacknowledged until 1915, when Russia agreed to sign it.
In 1920, two small underground revolutionary groups joined forces to form the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) to defend the Mongolian nation (against China) and to protect the interests of Mongolian herdsmen. Under the leadership of military commanders Sukhbaatar and Choibalsan, the MPRP army defeated both Russian and Chinese armies. On July 11, 1921 (commemorated today as People’s Revolutionary Day), Mongolia proclaimed its independence again and became a constitutional monarchy with Javzandamba as the head of state. After he died in November 1924, the Mongolian People’s Republic became the world’s second communist state.
The emergence of a democratic movement in December 1989 brought swift and peaceful change to Mongolia as the government adopted a positive approach toward reform. The dramatic changes toward a free-market economy and fully democratic society began in 1990 and continue to the present day. A new constitution, adopted in early 1992, changed the official name of the country to Mongolia.
The government has an executive branch, a legislative branch (the Parliament is called the Great Khural), and a judicial branch, which includes a Supreme Court and a Constitutional Court.
The current head of state is President Nambaryn Enkhbayar, who was elected in June 2005. The head of government is Prime Minister Miegombo Enkhbold, who was appointed in January 2005 after the collapse of the government of then Prime Minister Ts. Elbegdorj. The president attended the most recent swearing-in ceremony of new Volunteers on August 20, 2005 in Darkhan. President Enkhbayar has been an active supporter of the work of the Peace Corps in Mongolia.
The first presidential elections were held in spring 1993. During the parliamentary elections in June 1996, the Democratic Union Coalition (DUC) won 50 seats out of 76. The coalition was formed from two main parties, the Mongolian Democratic Party and the Mongolian Social Democratic Party. The DUC’s term was marked by conflict between coalition partners, which split into three separate parties bidding for seats in the June 2000 elections. In those elections, the Mongolian People’s Republic Party won 72 out of 76 seats, regaining its hold on the Great Khural. Later in 2000, the MPRP also won most of the local elections, positioning it to exercise great influence in government.
The last parliamentary election was held in summer 2004. In that election, MPRP won 36 seats, the Motherland Democratic Coalition (MDC) won 34 seats, and the Republican Party won one seat. There were also three independent and two disputed seats. As no party held an absolute majority, a consensus government was formed. The MPRP nominated the speaker and the MDC nominated the prime minister. A new prime minister from the MPRP was appointed in January 2005.
Mongolia’s private sector is the primary engine of growth for the economy. Since 1991, traditional trading patterns have changed, with a large volume of imports from new sources entering Mongolian markets. Industries that developed during the central planning era have declined or disappeared altogether depending on their ability to export to communist markets. A major transfer of assets from state ownership to private ownership has occurred, accompanied by a rise in large private businesses in mining, textiles, trade, banking, information technology, and other sectors. The distribution of goods and services and retail prices are now largely decontrolled, with the exception of the state-owned utility monopolies.
Economic growth has been steady from 1997 to 2006 after stalling in 1996 due to a series of natural disasters and declines in world prices of copper and cashmere. Growth in GDP was restrained from 2000 to 2001 because of the falling prices for Mongolia’s primary exports, widespread opposition to privatization, and the adverse effects of weather on agricultural output. In 2004, the Mongolian economy grew by a record 10.6 percent, nearly tripling its 2002 rate. In 2005, growth was 6.2 percent, again fostered by high prices for Mongolia’s main export products (copper and gold).
Mongolia joined the World Trade Organization in 1997 and has received significant foreign aid and assistance in recent years. As of 2006, the international donor community pledges more than $330 million per year to Mongolia, with Japan being the largest donor. The United States is the third largest donor, providing $10 million per year. Mongolia’s international debt is approximately $1 billon.
Inflation has decreased from more than 11 percent in 2001 to about 9.5 percent in 2005. Growing unemployment, the primary cause of poverty, remains the government’s main concern. Extreme winters have highlighted the vulnerability of the rural economy and accelerated migration to urban areas by people seeking better access to social services and employment opportunities. For instance, the population has almost doubled in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, over the past five years.
People and Culture
Mongolian and foreign scholars give different explanations for the ethnic name “Mongol.” Some think it was once the name of a single tribe. Others believe it comes from a geographical name that means the river Mon. Still others assert that Mongol should be pronounced “mun-gol,” with “mun” meaning correct, basic, or true and “gol” meaning pivot, center, or essence, combining to mean “true essence.”
More than 20 ethnic groups make up the population, with ethnic Mongolians representing 95 percent. The remaining 5 percent are mostly Turkic people composed of Kazakhs and Tuvans. The largest group of ethnic Mongolians are the Khalkha Mongols, constituting about 70 percent of the population.
Mongolian is the main language of Mongolia, which is also spoken in Inner Mongolia and other parts of China, as well as in the Altai, Buryat, and Kalmyk Republics of the Russian Federation. Mongolian, along with the Turkic and Tungusic languages, forms the Altaic family of languages spoken by some 80 million people from Turkey to the Pacific.
Modern Mongolian, of which Khalkha (or Halh) is the most widely spoken dialect, is written in the Cyrillic alphabet. After experiments with Romanization in the 1930s, Mongolia adopted the Cyrillic alphabet at the end of the World War II, replacing the vertical Uighur, or classical, script in which Mongolian had been written since Chingiss Khan’s time. Since the 1990s, there have been movements to return to Uighur; however, the Cyrillic alphabet better reflects spoken Mongolian and will likely be used for the foreseeable future.
Mongolia’s religious roots are bound up in shamanism, the major religion of both the ancient Mongol states and the Mongol Empire. Shamanism might be considered an unconventional religion because it has no founder from whom its teachings originate. There is no collection of sacred writings such as sutras or a bible, and there are no monastic communities to preach or distribute its doctrines. Although officially replaced by Tibetan Buddhism in the 14th century, shamanism continued to be practiced by a few of the ethnic groups living in northern and western Mongolia.
Buddhism faced severe repression under the communist regime, and only one showcase monastery was allowed to remain open. In early 1990, Buddhism was again named Mongolia’s official religion. Today, most Mongolians call themselves Buddhist, although the Kazakh minority living in the western part of the country practices Islam.
The arts, enthusiastically supported by the Soviet Union when Mongolia was under its influence, have managed to survive the transition to a market economy. Throughout the winter in Ulaanbaatar, there are regular concerts of the melodic and haunting traditional dance and music (about love for one’s mother, one’s horse, the land, and one’s lover—in that order). The state circus is housed in a small, but elaborate permanent building—one ring with all the trappings. The ringmaster dresses like Chingiss Khan and often has a trained wolf accompanying him. The state ballet (whose dancers were trained in Russia) and the opera perform during the winter. As with most enterprises, the ballet is short of cash, so there are few props (often just a painted backdrop) and casts are small.
Mongolia observes the following official holidays: New Year’s Day, Tsagaan Sar (the lunar New Year) in early to mid-February (three days), Mother’s and Children’s Day on June 1, Eriin Gurvan Naadam (Festival of the Three Manly Sports) from July 10–11, and Independence Day on November 26.
The three “manly” sports popular with the Mongols since ancient times are wrestling, horse racing, and archery. These three games make up the core program of the Naadam festival, which has been held annually since the 13th century. Earlier, Naadam was associated with religious ceremonies (worshiping the spirit of the mountains, the rocks, and the rivers); currently, it is a national holiday held to commemorate the Mongol People’s Revolution in 1921.
Tsagaan Sar, the lunar New Year, is translated as “white month.” There are many opinions about the origin of this name. Some Mongolians believe that white symbolizes happiness and purity; others believe that the name refers to the abundance of milk products. In any case, the holiday celebrates the passing of winter and beginning of spring.
Mongolia lies in Central Asia, with Russia to the north and China to the east, west, and south. Mongolia is also called Outer Mongolia, the name China’s Ching dynasty gave to the area to distinguish it from Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region in northern China, and Buryat Mongolia in Russia. Mongolia occupies an area of about 1.57 million square kilometers, or 626,000 square miles (about the size of Alaska).
The current population is approximately 2.7 million, making Mongolia one of the most sparsely populated nations on Earth. Thirty-eight percent of the population is under 16 years old, and 4 percent is over 60 years old. Almost 60 percent of the population lives in urban areas (30 percent percent in Ulaanbaatar); the rest live in rural areas. Life in Mongolia is becoming more urbanized and sedentary, although nomadic life still predominates in the countryside. Ulaanbaatar has doubled in population over the past five years.
Mongolia is a land of contrasts: wild forests, alpine meadows, semi-deserts, vast plains, and snow-covered mountains. Mountains cover more than 40 percent of the country. The natural scenery in the northern section resembles that of eastern Siberia, while the southern section, which comprises two-thirds of the country’s area, features the arid desert and semi-desert of Central Asia.
The Gobi Desert in southeastern Mongolia supports almost no vegetation and is sparsely populated. North and west of the Gobi, the landscape changes gradually to rugged mountains with elevations of more than 3,962 meters (13,075 feet) above sea level. The highest peak in Mongolia is Nairamdal Uul at 4,373 meters (14,431 feet). There are small prairies and saltwater and freshwater lakes throughout the country, but water is more abundant in the habitable north. The only navigable lake is Huvsgul. The country’s longest rivers are the Selenge, Orkhon, Tuul, Hovd, Herlen, and Halhin Gol.
Mongolia has many places of breathtaking beauty. Mongolia is home to 136 mammal species, almost 400 species of birds, and 76 species of fish. The country is also known for its wolves, marmots, falcons, snow leopards, musk deer, and the rare Altai snow cock.
With an average of 260 sunny days per year, Mongolia is known as the “Land of Blue Sky.” Because it is so far inland, it has a continental climate with extreme temperatures and very low humidity.
Snow usually stays on the ground from October through April, although it seldom totals more than a few inches at a time. The summers are generally mild and pleasant. The temperature in Ulaanbaatar ranges from 27 degrees Celsius (-17° Fahrenheit) in January to 18 degrees Celsius (64° F) in July. There have been recorded extremes of -48 degrees Celsius (-54° F) and 39 degrees Celsius (102° F). (Don’t let these averages fool you; temperatures in the summers have reached the high 90s and low 100s and have fallen low enough for snow in June.) Annual precipitation averages 25.4 centimeters (10 inches) in Ulaanbaatar.
The average altitude of Mongolia is 1,580 meters (5,214 feet) above sea level. Ulaanbaatar’s altitude is 1,351 meters (4,458 feet), which is about the same altitude as Denver. Some people experience shortness of breath, low energy levels, and fatigue during air pressure changes in the spring.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Mongolia, or to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it.
A note of caution: As you surf these sites, be aware that you will find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to give opinions and advice based on their own experiences. The opinions expressed are not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government. You may find opinions of people who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. As you read these comments, we hope you will keep in mind that the Peace Corps is not for everyone, and no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About Mongolia
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Ulaanbaatar to information about converting currency from the dollar to the tugrik. Just click on Mongolia and go from there.
Visit this site to learn all you need to know about any country in the world.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Mongolia and learn more about its social and political history.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments of countries around the world.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information about countries around the world. Each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political background.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about countries worldwide.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This Yahoo site hosts a bulletin board where prospective Volunteers and returned Volunteers can come together.
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local Volunteer activities. Or go straight to the Friends of Mongolia site: http://www.friendsofmongolia.org
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts from countries around the world.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Mongolia
An online magazine started by two Mongolian journalists
A website that focuses on the capital city
The Mongol Messenger is one of two English language newspapers in Mongolia.
The UB Post is the other English language paper.
International Development Sites About Mongolia
Information about the work of the United Nations in Mongolia
A site with links to a variety of resources
- Goldstein, Melvyn C., and Cynthia M. Beall. The Changing World of Mongolia’s Nomads. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
- Kohn, Michael. Lonely Planet Mongolia. Footscray, Victoria; London: Lonely Planet Publications, 2005.
- Sanders, Alan J.H., and J. Bat-Ireediu. Lonely Planet Mongolian Phrasebook. Footscray, Victoria; London: Lonely Planet Publications, 1995.
- Sarangerel, Odigan. Riding Windhorses: A Journey Into the Heart of Mongolian Shamanism. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books, 2000.
- Severin, Tim. In Search of Genghis Khan: An Exhilarating Journey on Horseback across the Steppes of Mongolia. NY: Cooper Square Press, 2003.
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, N.Y.: Picador, 2003.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, N.Y.: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, Calif.: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Few developing countries in the world offer the level of service considered normal in the United States. Mail to Mongolia generally takes two to four weeks to arrive, and some mail may never arrive. Occasionally, letters may arrive with clipped edges because someone has tried to see if any money was inside; also, some boxes may be opened by customs officials to ensure nothing illegal is being shipped. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to include the word “Airmail” on their envelopes.
Check with your local post office for information on weight and size limitations for packages. Packages sent by surface mail normally take two to three months. Volunteers have found that letters and packages have a better chance of arriving if correspondents do not use a variety of interesting stamps; write the address (with the exception of “Mongolia”) in the Cyrillic alphabet; use sturdy, well-taped boxes for packages (to discourage tampering); write “via China” on mail; and use padding for breakable items (including cassette and CD cases).
Your address while you are in training is listed below in English and in the Cyrillic alphabet. Peace Corps staff regularly bring trainees’ mail to the training site.
“Your Name,” PCT
Post Office Box 1036
Central Post Office
Mongolia (via China)
Once you learn the location of your site, you will need to send your new address to friends and family. Mail postmarked during your first four months in Mongolia (including pre-service training) and sent to the Peace Corps office in Ulaanbaatar will be forwarded to you along with the weekly Peace Corps mailing. Packages sent to the office and postmarked during your first four months in Mongolia will either be forwarded to you at your request (in which case the charge is deducted from your living allowance) or held at the office for you to pick up. Any mail sent to the Peace Corps office that is postmarked after your first four months in Mongolia will be returned to sender.
Be aware that you may incur customs charges on your personal mail, especially packages. How packages are labeled in the United States can influence these charges. For example, if someone sends you a package containing both printed matter and “luxury” items such as music cassettes, the customs charges calculated by the post office in Mongolia will generally be less if the printed matter is emphasized and the luxury items are not.
Long-distance calling to the U.S. from landlines is available from every soum (small city or town) throughout Mongolia, although the system is not foolproof. International direct-dial service exists in Mongolia, but only select phone numbers have this option. One way to make a long-distance call is to go to the communications office and book the call (i.e., arrange for the call to be made at a certain time and then pay at the time of call). These calls are for a pre-determined length of time, and may be cut off when time is up. The second option is to use prepaid phone cards that can be purchased at telecom branches and specified service agents. You can then make a call from any pay phone by following the instructions on the phone cards. Difficulty in making a connection and interference are common, so patience is the key when telephoning to and from Mongolia. Several hotels in Ulaanbaatar (e.g., Bayangol, Flower Hotel, and Chinggis Khan) offer direct service to the United States using a calling card or by calling collect via AT&T. However, collect calls can be very expensive! Contact an international carrier before you leave the U.S. to find out if you qualify for a savings plan for such calls.
Pre-paid international calling cards are now available from certain kiosks in Ulaanbaatar and can be used when calling the U.S. from landlines in the capital. The cost for the call is very affordable if you buy the right card. Peace Corps/ Mongolia can offer you advice on which cards are the best to purchase while in Ulaanbaatar.
Your host family during pre-service training may have a phone; if so, family and friends can call you directly there. (Note that the time in Mongolia is 13 hours later than Eastern Standard Time.) Some Volunteers call home using an Internet phone service; the cost is generally whatever the charge is for the Internet connection.
Cellphone service is very common in Mongolia. Upon swearing-in as a Volunteer, you will receive a Peace Corps-issued cell phone. This phone is the property of Peace Corps/ Mongolia and should be returned upon completion of service. While trainees are not prohibited from purchasing a personal cellphone prior to swearing-in, Peace Corps/Mongolia will not reimburse the cost of a personally purchased phone.
Cellphones purchased in the U.S. will not work in Mongolia.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Although computers can be bought locally, they generally do not come with virus protection software or system software backup disks. If you bring your own computer, remember that the weather in Mongolia can be hard on LCD screens and electronic equipment may be damaged by power surges. You should also consider insuring your computer. Some host organizations provide limited access to computers, but they often contain contaminated files and may not have the necessary backup disks or software to fix a problem.
Internet connections are rare but increasing in smaller towns and communities. Most provincial centers now have access to the Internet, usually at the local post office or telecom center. In Ulaanbaatar, Internet cafes are plentiful, and the rates there—800 to 1,500 tugriks (67 cents to $1.25) per hour—are cheaper than elsewhere. Though connections can be unstable and frustratingly slow, and power outages occur, it is still nice to communicate so quickly with family and friends.
Housing and Site Location
During pre-service training you will live with a host family. Housing at your future assigned site is inspected and approved by Peace Corps staff before your arrival at the site, and the cost of housing is usually paid for or shared by the host organization. During your two years of service, Volunteers live in small family compounds or in separate apartments, depending on what is available at their site. Most sites are located either in a provincial town center (aimag in Mongolian) anywhere from 50 to almost 2,000 kilometers (31 to 1,240 miles) by road from the capital, or in provincial villages (soums) that are up to four hours by car from an aimag. A few Volunteers are assigned to Ulaanbaatar.
Peace Corps’ minimum housing standards stipulate that housing must provide Volunteers with some private space, personal security, adequate heat and water, and, in most cases, a reliable source of electricity. It is Volunteers’ responsibility to work with staff to ensure that their housing conforms to these standards. Programming, safety and security, and medical staff visit Volunteers at their sites early in their service to reconfirm that housing is safe and secure.
If you are assigned to a larger city, you may live in a one-room or two-room apartment by yourself. If you are assigned to a rural area, you might be the only non-Mongolian in town, and you may live in your own apartment in a building with other Mongolian families, in your own ger (the traditional tent used by nomads), or in a small wooden house in a compound with a Mongolian family.
Apartments typically consist of either one room with a separate kitchen or a bedroom and living room with a separate kitchen. Each apartment has a toilet and, usually, a bathtub or shower. The quality of the plumbing and the reliability of the water supply may not be up to American standards (all Volunteers are given water distillers that work with or without electricity). Hot water may not be continuously available, and bathing may have to be accomplished by heating water on the stove or going to a community bathhouse.
Heat is supplied by a central municipal system and is impossible to control, although some apartments have a supplementary wood stove. In the winter, apartment temperatures (in Fahrenheit) range from the high 70s to around 50 degrees. Apartments are furnished to Peace Corps’ standards with basic furniture and appliances, which are often used and not necessarily aesthetically pleasing.
A ger is a round tent of about 20 feet in diameter, made of a wooden lattice covered with thick felt. The inside consists of one room with furniture around the circumference and a wood stove in the center. Headroom varies from about 4.5 feet at the edge to 10 feet in the middle. Most gers have electricity for lighting and appliances, but water is delivered by truck or fetched from the local water source. Cooking is done using a wood, coal, or dung stove (which also provides heat) or, if you are lucky, on an electric hotplate. Communities with gers have bathhouses with hot- and cold-shower facilities. Areas where wood is more common may have more wood cabins than gers. These are typically small structures of about 300 square feet, with two rooms and the same heating, electricity, and plumbing facilities as gers.
Increasingly, Volunteers in Mongolia live in either gers or wooden houses, sharing a compound with a Mongolian family. Enhanced cultural interaction, improved language skills, and greater Volunteer safety have all resulted from this living arrangement.
Living Allowance and Money Management
You will receive a monthly living allowance, paid in tugriks, to cover your day-to-day expenses at a standard of living similar to that of your Mongolian co-workers. While this monthly allowance (currently 123,000 tugriks, or about $105 [U.S.] for Volunteers serving in the countryside; and 172,400 tugriks, or about $147 [U.S.] for Volunteers serving in Ulaanbaatar) is sufficient, keep in mind that several items are excluded as necessary expenses in the calculation of the living allowance. These include alcoholic beverages, tobacco, clothing (other than replacement clothing), non-official travel, church offerings, gifts, personal phone calls, and Internet and e-mail access. The current exchange rate is 1,170 Mongolian tugriks to the dollar. U.S. dollars can be exchanged at various places in Ulaanbaatar, including hotels, the Trade and Development Bank, post offices, and legal money exchange facilities. Depending upon the size of your community, you may be able to change money there as well.
You are likely to spend roughly 60 percent of your living allowance on food, and you probably will not be able to maintain the lifestyle, including diet, to which you are accustomed in the United States. For one thing, it is difficult to find the wide variety of foods available in the United States. It is also important that you live at the same economic level as the people in your community.
After you are sworn-in as a Volunteer, accounts in both tugriks and dollars will be set up for you at the Trade and Development Bank of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar. Once at site, you will establish a tugrik bank account at a local bank. Your living allowance will be deposited in either account at the beginning of every month. After being sworn-in at the end of training, the $24-per-month vacation allowance will be deposited monthly in your dollar account in Ulaanbaatar.
There are two options for getting cash transferred from the United States. First, the Trade and Development Bank has a reciprocal relationship with HSBC (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited), so money can be transferred from HSBC to a local account in a few days, at a fee ranging from $7 to $15. You can get cash advances on a credit card (call your credit card company for rates). While credit cards are of limited use in Mongolia, they are accepted by major hotels and shops and may come in handy when traveling outside the country. Traveler’s checks can be purchased at the Trade and Development Bank in Ulaanbaatar and cashed there for a 2 percent fee. Although few retail outfits in Mongolia will accept them, they are useful for travel in other countries in the region. Personal checks are not accepted in Mongolia.
Food and Diet
Once a nation of nomadic herdsman, Mongolia is known as the Land of Five Animals — sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and camels. Traditionally, herdsmen got everything they needed to survive from these animals. Today’s diet still relies heavily on meat and dairy products, including a hardened curd called aaruul. Fermented mare’s milk is the traditional ceremonial drink. Dairy products are best in the fall, after the animals have fattened up on the green grasses of summer pastures.
The main meats are mutton and beef, but Mongolians also eat goat, horse, marmot, and camel. Some Mongolians buy a sheep carcass to put out on their balcony for the winter (a natural cold storage method). Shops in provincial centers sell beef, hamburger, smoked ham hocks, sausages, hot dogs, and chicken. (Mongolian chickens have been described as “very athletic” and are good for stewing.) Fish is sometimes sold at markets or door-to-door. Canned meat and seafood are also available. In soums (rural villages), only mutton, yak, horse, and beef (and sometimes camel) are available, so occasional trips to the provincial center are necessary for other items.
Milk, butter, eggs, yogurt, sour cream, and cheese are generally available in provincial centers and Ulaanbaatar, but eggs and sour cream are typically more difficult to find in soums. Milk and cream may not be pasteurized, so they must be boiled before consumption. Gouda, edam, and other imported cheeses are available in most cities, and tofu is sometimes available. You may be surprised by the variety of imported products that can be found at markets in provincial centers and Ulaanbaatar.
A limited variety of fresh fruits and vegetables appears in the markets regularly, but these foods are not a major part of the local diet. Potatoes, cabbages, turnips, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, tangerines, bananas, and apples are available most of the year in provincial town centers, Ulaanbaatar and in some bigger soums that are close to provincial centers and Ulaanbaatar. Vegetables such as cauliflower, radishes, and beets may be available only during the summer and early fall. As vegetables may be hard to find in soums, Volunteers placed there need to make occasional trips to the provincial center for marketing.
There is a growing variety of locally made bread and other bakery products from which to choose in Ulaanbaatar and provincial centers. Pasta is also available. In rural areas, bread and pasta are sometimes unavailable and pastries are nonexistent.
Mongolians drink a lot of “milk tea,” made from milk, tea, salt, and sometimes butter or fat. They favor hot beverages year-round in the belief that drinking cold liquids leads to stomach illnesses. Chinese and Russian tea and Undaa, a Mongolian citrus-flavored soft drink, are widely available, and fruit teas can be found in most of the markets in Ulaanbaatar. Western beer and soft drinks are also available in some markets.
The traditional diet can be bland, monotonous, and high in fat and cholesterol, and it may be difficult to limit your fat intake while eating with your neighbors. If you are a vegetarian, you may find it difficult to maintain your diet because of both limited food availability and cultural considerations. The Peace Corps living allowance, however, will enable you to buy some imported fresh and canned fruits and vegetables on visits to provincial centers, so a modest vegetarian diet is certainly possible, albeit difficult. Turning down food can offend Mongolians, who believe meat is necessary for survival in harsh climates, so a vegetarian will have to become good at explaining his or her “strange” diet to Mongolians.
Domestic travel includes planes, trains and automobiles. For foreigners, flying is expensive as there are two rates applied to all tickets: local and foreign. Currently, Aero Mongolia is the only approved domestic airline offering service in-country. Trips from Ulaanbaatar to a provicinal center range between $200 and $300 (round trip).
The Trans-Mongolian Railway operates on a 24-hour basis and connects northern Mongolia with the south. Trains are clean and comfortable, and they offer a choice between a hard seat (second-class) and a sleeper cabin. They are not equipped with restaurant cars. The line linking Moscow and Beijing via Ulaanbaatar, which was completed in 1955, provides a shorter route between Russia and China than the older line through Manchuria. As trains operate on time and are reliable, they are the most convenient way to travel in-country.
Travel among cities by bus, van, or Russian-made jeep is almost completely on unpaved roads. The price of rides, which depends on the price of the fuel supplied by Russia, has fluctuated greatly in recent years. Volunteers are prohibited from driving motorized vehicles in Mongolia or from riding on or operating motorcycles.
Geography and Climate
Probably the first thing you were told about Mongolia was that it is very cold. This is true. But rather than try to anticipate the various weather patterns of the country, it is better to prepare for the worst-case scenario, which is -40 degrees Celsius (-40º C) with a wind chill factor of -55 degrees Celsius. While this may sound unbearable, Volunteers are given many strategies for “beating” the cold from the Peace Corps training staff and their Mongolian neighbors.
Spring is sunny and extremely windy, and dust storms are common. The temperature ranges from 10 to 20 degrees Celsius (50º to 68º F), but the wind makes it seem colder. Summer is sunny and breezy, with an average temperature in the low 20s (70s F), though it can get as hot as 30 degrees (86º F) on a regular basis. Autumn is short, with temperatures similar to those in spring. The rainy season takes place in August and/or September. The sun shines almost every day in Mongolia, even in winter, and the glare from the snow can be intense, so sunglasses are a necessity.
Although Mongolia’s traditionally nomadic herdsmen are now comfortable on both motorcycles and horses and many live in apartments rather than in gers, Mongolia has not lost its rich cultural heritage. The Mongolian people’s hospitality endures, and most social life at Volunteer sites centers on visiting friends’ homes rather than going out to bars and clubs.
Mongolians enjoy a wide variety of sports. Soccer, volleyball, basketball, table tennis, and the national sport of wrestling all take place during the summer. Hiking is also popular during the warmer months. Cross-country skiing (and downhill skiing using a rope tow), sledding, and ice-skating are popular pastimes in the winter.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
It is very important that you dress professionally in work settings, where the appearance of the staff reflects on the office as a whole. You are also expected to dress professionally during training, which means no shorts or T-shirts, though clean jeans without rips are acceptable. You will need a more formal outfit for being sworn-in as a Volunteer. All clothes should be clean at all times.
The main goal is to fit into Mongolian culture, in which professionals, especially teachers, dress well. Typical clothing for men includes slacks, a collared shirt with a sweater or jacket, a tie, and dress shoes. Women tend to wear dresses or dressy slacks or skirts with blouse-and-sweater combinations and nice boots or high-heeled shoes. Some men and women wear dels (traditional clothing), but more so in the outlying soums than in the cities.
Although more casual clothing like khakis and polo shirts may be acceptable as office wear in Mongolia, such clothing is much harder to keep clean and presentable than synthetic fabrics because you will be hand-washing it. Synthetics are more stain resistant and do not lose their shape as easily. Dark colors are also best.
Most Mongolians have only a few outfits for work and will not judge you negatively for wearing only a few yourself. You can wear the same outfits again and again and no one will care or notice.
- Professionals in Mongolia wear their hair in fairly conservative styles. Although you might see young men on the streets of Ulaanbaatar, Darkha, or Erdenet with shoulder-length hair, long hair on men is rare in the professional environment. Male Volunteers should come to training with their hair conservatively cut and styled and not exceeding shoulder length. After you have completed pre-service training, been at your post for three months and have established your credibility, you might find that it is acceptable to wear a less conservative style.
- Body piercings are not common in professional settings.
Peace Corps/Mongolia requires Volunteers to remove facial piercings (with the exception of earrings in women) through pre-service training and during the first three months of service. This allows Volunteers to establish a professional rapport with colleagues and counterparts.
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized.
As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, and the Safety & Security Guidebook of Peace Corps/Mongolia, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Mongolia Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Mongolia. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction in Mongolia is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, some collaborating agencies do not always provide the support they promised. In addition, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.
You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will have. You will often find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your co-workers with little guidance from supervisors. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress most often comes after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. Mongolians are warm, friendly, and hospitable, and the Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Mongolia feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.
PEACE CORPS TRAINING
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Pre-service training (PST) is a critical time for future Volunteers. It is a time to gather the tools you will use during your service; to work through culture shock and get an idea of the reality of working in a country other than one’s own; and to test your assumptions and expectations about Mongolia and its people, your general role in development, and your particular assignment and living conditions.
The pre-service training hub site is based in a provincial town center, not in Ulaanbaatar, and lasts 11 weeks. You will stay at the provincial center with your training group for a few days before moving in with a host family located within one to two hours of the provincial center. The training group will be dispersed among a number of host communities. Married couples will be placed in separate host communities during pre-service training. This community-based approach places Volunteers in more realistic situations and begins to develop community integration skills early on.
The typical training day—running from approximately 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.—consists of four hours of language class, followed by integrated activities and sessions on cross-cultural issues, technical skills related to your assignment, and personal health and safety. Each trainee is responsible for his or her preparation for becoming a Volunteer and is expected to take full advantage of what is offered. The Peace Corps staff strives to maintain an open and supportive learning environment and will provide objective feedback to help trainees develop behaviors that will lead to smoother cultural integration and more effective service.
An assessment process will help monitor your progress toward accomplishing the objectives of each training component. You will conduct ongoing self-assessment, and the training staff will make periodic assessments of your progress. The training staff will be available to help you in any areas of concern. You must successfully complete the training objectives before you can be sworn in as a Volunteer.
Technical training will prepare you to work in Mongolia by building on the skills you already have and by helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff, Mongolian experts, and current Volunteers conduct the training program. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have to the community in which you will serve as a Volunteer.
Technical training will include sessions on the environment, economics, and politics in Mongolia and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Mongolian agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them. You will be supported and evaluated throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance, they help you integrate into your community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings.
Therefore, language training is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer. Mongolian language instructors teach formal language classes five days a week in small groups of five to six people.
Language training utilizes a community-based approach. This approach focuses on developing the language skills needed to function successfully in daily living situations. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills further on your own. Prior to swearing in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Mongolian host family. This homestay experience is designed to ease your transition to life at your site. Families have gone through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of the pre-service training program and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Mongolia. Mongolian host families take an active role in your training, making it more practical and reality based. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
Cross-cultural and community development are covered to help improve your skills of perception, communication, and facilitation.
The concept of of cross-cultural training selected for Mongolia are: culture, cross culture and survival skills. You will learn about Mongolian culture and how Peace Corps Volunteers cross, or function, within that Mongolian cultural framework as Americans. You will also learn the survival skills necessary to live in the Mongolian countryside.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You will be expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. Trainees are required to attend all medical sessions. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in Mongolia. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also covered.
During the safety training sessions you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces risk in your home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional Training During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides trainees and Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. During your service, there are usually three training events. The titles and objectives for those trainings follow.
- In-service training (IST): Provides an opportunity for Volunteers to upgrade their technical and language skills while sharing their experiences and reaffirming their commitment after having served for three to six months.
- Project Design and Management (PDM) Workshop: Provides first-year Volunteers with the opportunity to work with a representative from their host community to develop skills in participatory community development and the design and management of successful small-scale development projects.
- Close-of-service conference (COS): Prepares
Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service and reviews their respective projects and personal experiences.
The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted to country-specific needs and conditions. The key to the training system is that training events are integrated and interrelated, from the pre-departure orientation through the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by the training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN MONGOLIA
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Mongolia maintains a clinic with two full-time medical officers who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Medical services such as testing and basic treatment are limited in Mongolia. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an American-standard medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Health Issues in Mongolia
Health problems that commonly occur in the United States, such as colds, diarrhea, headaches, skin infections, STDs, emotional disorders, and alcohol abuse, may be more frequent or compounded by living in Mongolia. Certain environmental factors in Mongolia may raise the risk or exacerbate the severity of illnesses and injuries. During pre-service training, the Peace Corps medical officer will provide you with guidelines on how to remain healthy in Mongolia.
Local conditions that may affect your health include air pollution caused by burning coal, wood, and dung in ger fires and by fossil fuel-burning power plants (especially in larger urban areas like Ulaanbattar, Darkhan, and Erdenet); the relatively high altitude at which most Volunteers live (about 4,500 feet); refuse left on the ground that attracts flies and other pests; the extreme cold and low humidity in the winter, which help to spread respiratory illnesses; and diarrhea resulting from bacteria-contaminated water and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Behaviors and habits of Mongolians, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, and having sex with multiple partners, may also put Volunteers at risk.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. During pre-service training in Mongolia, you will receive a medical handbook. At the beginning of training, you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter.
During pre-service training, you will have access to basic first-aid supplies through the medical officer. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for new shipments to arrive.
You will have physicals at midservice and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Mongolia will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Mongolia, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept a certain amount of responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Mongolia is to take preventive measures for the following:
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These diseases include food poisoning and intestinal infections. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Mongolia during pre-service training. Dental care is limited, so you will be expected to maintain optimal dental health with regular brushing and flossing.
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let your medical officer know immediately of significant illness and injuries. Most vaccines will be given during pre-service training, but it will be your responsibility to make arrangements to leave your site and travel to the medical office for additional immunizations. Additionally, because your site could be as many as 24 hours from the medical office, you must contact the medical officer promptly if an illness is not responding to the treatment recommended in your health handbook.
Rabies is present in nearly all Peace Corps countries, so you must immediately report any possible exposure to a rabid animal to the medical officer, who will decide the appropriate course of action. You will be vaccinated againt rabies during pre-service training, but that provides only partial protection. Rabies exposure can occur through animal bites, scratches from animals’ teeth, and contact with animal saliva. Rabies, if contracted and untreated, is 100 percent fatal.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from your medical officer about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is a health condition that is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions requiring medical attention, but may also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps medical and programmatic standards for continued service can be met. The majority of Volunteers who become pregnant are medically separated.
A variety of feminine hygiene products are available for purchase in Ulaanbaatar, if not at your site. If you require a specific feminine hygiene product, please bring a six-month supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a medical kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts and Gatorade
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Tinactin (antifungal cream)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since the time you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, you should contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation (staging). If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for their cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your predeparture orientation or shortly after you arrive in Mongolia.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this, we will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. We discourage you from using contact lenses during your service to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless their use has been recommended by an ophthalmologist for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age and/or pre-existing conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.
The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information.
The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control.
Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.— with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: Assaults usually occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
- Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
- Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
- Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
- Carry valuables in different pockets/places
- Carry a "dummy" wallet as a decoy
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
- Live with a local family or on a family compound
- Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
- Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
- Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
- Make local friends
- Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security; Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed. After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provides support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/ trainees in Mongolia as compared to all other Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA) region programs as a whole, from 2001–2005. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps' classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What if you become a victim of a violent crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at [email protected]
Security Issues in Mongolia
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you must be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Mongolia. You can reduce your risk of becoming a target for crime by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions and large markets, especially in large towns, are the favorite work sites for pickpockets. Some safety concerns in Mongolia follow.
Motor vehicle accidents are a significant risk in Mongolia as most Volunteers travel by jeep or van over long distances at least occasionally. Volunteers are encouraged to become acquainted with the dependable drivers at their sites and to avoid riding in overcrowded vehicles or during the depths of winter.
The homes of Volunteers have been robbed in the past, so you need to take the same precautions you would take in the United States. You will be given guidance on making your home safe during training. Pickpocketing is common in Ulaanbaatar and other urban areas, so you are encouraged to avoid carrying a large amount of cash and to keep any cash you do carry out of sight. More than 10 percent of the most recent training class were pickpocketed in Ulaanbaatar in their first week of service.
While many Mongolians do not have drinking problems, the rate of alcohol abuse in Mongolia is higher than it is in the United States. Volunteers have reported being approached or harassed by drunken men asking for money, vodka, and so forth. It is best to avoid walking alone or visiting bars alone after dark. Drinking alcohol can impair judgment, so Volunteers must use alcohol responsibly.
Volunteers in Mongolia have reported being called racially derogatory names, having stones thrown at them by teenagers, and being the recipient of overt sexual comments, primarily in Ulaanbaatar and other larger cities, where they are anonymous. Strategies for dealing and coping with harassment will be discussed during pre-service training. Volunteers have also been targets of sexual assault, which is often associated with alcohol consumption and cross-cultural differences in gender relations. In such cases, the assailant is sometimes an acquaintance of the Volunteer. Volunteers must report all assaults to the Peace Corps medical officer and threats of assaults to the safety and security coordinator so that staff can respond with appropriate support.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Mongolia, do what you would do if you moved to a large city in the United States: Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Mongolia may require that you accept some restrictions to your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention in large cities and at their sites, but receive far more negative attention in highly populated centers, where they are anonymous, than in smaller towns, where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to unwanted attention. Keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch, the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. You should always walk with a companion at night.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Safety Support in Mongolia
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for addressing safety and security incidents. Mongolia’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Mongolia office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be provided in Volunteer newsletters and in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Mongolia. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout your two-year service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection criteria are based, in part, on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; different housing options and living arrangements; and other support needs.
You will also learn about the country’s detailed emergency action plan in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Mongolia will gather at predetermined consolidation points until the situation resolves itself or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, in order for the Peace Corps to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps safety and security coordinator. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
DIVERSITY AND CROSS-CULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Mongolia, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Mongolia.
Outside of Mongolia’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What is viewed as “typical” cultural behavior or norms may be a narrow and selective interpretation, such as the perception in some countries that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Mongolia are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Mongolia, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge, ultimately, will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Mongolia
The Peace Corps staff in Mongolia recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of cultures, religions, ethnic groups, and ages and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
A single woman living alone is against the cultural norm in Mongolia, and you may be asked often about why you are not married or why you are serving alone when your family is living in the United States. You may receive more unwanted and inappropriate attention from Mongolian men than what you are used to in the United States. Therefore, you may need to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public. You may have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the respect of host country colleagues in the workplace.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Volunteers of color in Mongolia often express frustration and annoyance at being asked where they are from. When they answer, for example, “African American,” “Asian American,” or “Mexican American,” some Mongolians react with surprise, suspicion, or disbelief. Chinese Americans may be regarded with suspicion because of Mongolians’ historically based mistrust of China. Americans of Korean or Japanese descent may be mistaken for Chinese. You may feel isolated within your Volunteer group if there are no other Volunteers of the same ethnicity.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Respect comes with age in Mongolia. Younger Volunteers may have to work harder than their older colleagues at being accepted as professionals. On the other hand, older Volunteers may feel isolated within the Peace Corps community, as the majority of Volunteers are in their 20s. They may work or live with individuals who have little understanding of or respect for the lives and experiences of senior citizens and therefore cannot provide needed personal support. Senior Volunteers may find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support. While some seniors find this a very enjoyable experience, others choose not to fill this role. Older trainees sometimes encounter a lack of attention to their needs for a particular learning environment, including timing and method of presentation. You may need to be assertive in developing an effective, individual approach to language learning.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers =
Sexual mores in Mongolia are conservative, and Volunteers are expected to respect them. Many Mongolians believe that gay and lesbian relationships are wrong or that such relationships do not exist in their country. Some gay and lesbian Volunteers who have served in Mongolia report that they were not able to be open about their sexual orientation. Those who are open may be hassled in public places or in the workplace. You may serve for two years without meeting other gay, lesbian, or bisexual Volunteers and may sense a lack of support and understanding among your Volunteer group. Men may encounter machismo and be expected to join in talk of sexual conquests and dirty jokes.
In the past, gay and lesbian Volunteers have formed their own support group. You might find some helpful information at www.geocities.com/~lgbrpcv/, a website affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Propaganda or teaching about any religion other than Buddhism, Islam, and shamanism by foreign residents is prohibited in Mongolia outside the monasteries and churches of the respective religions. Volunteers who openly proselytize for a particular religion are in direct violation of Peace Corps policy. More confusing and difficult to deal with, however, are the seemingly innocent things many Americans do, such as discussing major religious holidays like Easter and Christmas, which could be misconstrued by people who are sensitive about missionary activities. Volunteers who are not clear as to what constitutes religious proselytizing should consult with the country director.
You are, of course, free to exercise or express your personal religious beliefs in a way that does not impair your effectiveness as a Volunteer. Peace Corps/Mongolia interprets this to mean that you should not engage in any religious activity while at work.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Mongolia, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Mongolia, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudices against individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. And there is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.
That being said, as part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, of performing a full tour of Volunteer service in Mongolia without unreasonable risk to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Mongolia staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to Mongolia?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The authorized baggage allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 102 pounds total with a maximum weight allowance of 70 pounds for any one bag. Please check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Website for a detailed list of permitted and prohibited items at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/ permitted-prohibited-items.shtm.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters, automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.
What is the electric current in Mongolia?
It is 220-240 volts, 50 cycles. Outlets take European-style round pin plugs and, as a general rule, are not grounded. You should consider bringing a voltage converter as well as a battery charger/adapter and several rechargeable batteries for flashlights and other battery-operated equipment. Candles are a necessity and are available locally.
How much money should I bring? =
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which will cover most living expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. Volunteers are responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase personal property insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Mongolia do not need to get an international driver’s license. Operation of motorized vehicles by Volunteers in Mongolia is strictly prohibited.
What should I bring as gifts for Mongolian friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house. pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes, souvenirs from your area, hard candies that will not melt or spoil, or photos to give away. Mongolians will enjoy seeing pictures of your home and family.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two annual leave (vacation days) per month of service, excluding training. Annual leave may not be taken during training or during the first three months or last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. In addition to vacation days, Volunteers also accrue in-country leave days, which allow them time away from site to visit friends and to get to know Mongolia. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and after the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps cannot provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance. Weather conditions throughout the year make travel to and within Mongolia difficult.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training, and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are assigned to individual sites toward the end of pre-service training. This gives the Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their counterpart agencies. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, or living conditions. However, many factors influence the site selection process and the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you might ideally like to be. Site assignments are based on the following factors, in order of priority: (1) the community’s request and needs, (2) the Volunteer’s skills and experience, and (3) the Volunteer’s interests and preferences.
Most Volunteers will live in aimag centers (provincial centers of 10,000 to 20,000 people) or soums (provincial villages of 1,000 to 10,000), and will generally be one to three hours from the nearest fellow Volunteer. Some sites are as far as a 10- to 30-hour drive away from the capital.
Some Volunteers choose not to drink and occasionally may have to put up with disappoval from Mongolians as a result. Some choose to drink only beer or wine, and others take just a sip or put a little on the tips of their fingers and do a ceremonial offering (you will learn more about this in training). Mongolians are usually respectful of these efforts and do not expect you to drink more. It is ultimately up to you to decide how to handle alcohol responsibly.
Are the heating systems as poor as some have said?
Yes, some are. Many Volunteers report being able to see their breath when teaching at schools. Housing may not have good heating, either. Some solutions are to wear layers, to become cozy with your Peace Corps-issued space heater, and to become a competent fire builder. Also how well you insulate your home or apartment makes a considerable difference. Many nationals are usually happy to assist you in insulating your home or apartment to get ready for the harsh winter.
Where will I eat during pre-service training?
During training you will live with a host family, who will provide your breakfast, lunch, and dinner on weekdays and weekends. This can be difficult for some Volunteers because they do not have full control over what they eat. Some trainees have even offered to cook for their host family as a strategy to eat a mutton-free meal. Once you get to your site, you will have more control over your diet.
My friends and family keep telling me to pack toilet paper—is this necessary?
No. While most of the toilet paper in Mongolia is not quilted or soft, you do not need to pack any—all the toilet paper you need can be bought locally. You can even find baby wipes.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For nonemergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580, extension 2416 or 2413.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Mongolia and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, remember that you have a 102-pound weight restriction on baggage.
You can find almost anything you need in Ulaanbaatar and many basics can be purchased in aimag centers (provincial capitals). Depending upon your site, you may have limited time to shop in Ulaanbaatar until your first in-service training, which is usually held in December. So think carefully about those essential winter items you will need during your first few months at your site.
Before you move to your site, the Peace Corps will provide you with a space heater, water filter or distiller, fire extinguisher, smoke detector, shortwave radio, good-quality extension cord, many teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) books, sleeping bag (some Volunteers find the sleeping bag bulky and heavy and suggest that trainees bring their own for travel purposes), medical kit (described in an earlier section of this book), and a subscription to Newsweek’s international edition.
Your living allowance should not be considered a source of funding for major clothing purchases, although replacement clothing is factored into the living allowance. The Peace Corps does not provide reimbursement for winter clothing purchased in the United States. However Peace Corps/ Mongolia does provide a settling-in/winterization allowance that covers the purchase of some winter clothing and supplies in-country.
The hard water and strong detergent in Mongolia, not to mention hand-washing, will be harsh on your clothing, so make sure that whatever you bring can stand up to this treatment. Most Volunteers wear their clothes for several days before washing them, so dark colors are a good idea. While dry cleaning is available in Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan, and Erdenet, you may not have regular access to these cities, and the quality of the service is not consistent.
A wide variety of clothes is available here (many of them made in China), but quality can be lacking. If you have a hard time finding your size in the United States, you won’t find it here, and genuine “high-tech” fibers are not readily available. Very warm, Mongolian-made winter clothes can be purchased in-country. Walking will be your main mode of transportation around town, and the terrain here is rather rugged, so you need footwear that can take a lot of abuse.
Note: Many Volunteers suggest packing very light. Basic clothing and toiletries can be bought here. Save room in your suitcase for music, pictures from home, and things that make a big difference when being away from home for two years. Specialty items like quality long underwear and gloves make good sense to bring from home, but heavy jackets can be bought here for under $30. Also pack a separate bag of winter things or things you won’t need during the 11 weeks of summer training. This bag will be stored at the Peace Corps office and you won’t have access to it during summer training.
- One pair (tops and bottoms) of mid-weight long underwear (it is essential that you purchase these before coming to Mongolia)
- One pair (tops and bottoms) of heavy-weight long underwear (it is essential that you purchase these before coming to Mongolia)
- Winter coat or parka (available in Mongolia)
- Fall and spring coat or parka (readily available in Mongolia)
- Gloves or mittens (readily available in Mongolia)
- Scarf (readily available in Mongolia)
- Stocking cap (readily available in Mongolia)
- A few (3–4) pairs of woolen socks (readily available in Mongolia)
- A few (3–4) pairs of cotton socks (readily available in Mongolia)
- Sun hats (readily available in Mongolia)
- Two to three “professional” shirts to work in (readily available in Mongolia)
- Two to three pairs of nice pants for work (readily available in Mongolia)
- One to two pullover sweaters (readily available in Mongolia)
- Two pairs of jeans (readily available in Mongolia)
- Five to six of your favorite T–shirts
- Sweatpants and sweatshirt (readily available in Mongolia)
- Two pairs of shorts (essential for summer and playing sports)
- One formal piece of clothing, such as a suit for males and a dress for women (readily available in Mongolia)
Note: It is very difficult for tall men and women to find clothing that fits them here. Peace Corps recommends purchasing these items while in the U.S. if you are over 6’ tall.
- Bras and underwear (larger sizes are difficult to find and the quality may be lacking)
- Tank tops (readily available in Mongolia)
- Bathing suit
- Underwear (the quality of local underwear may be lacking)
- Swim trunks
- Winter boots (available here)
- Hiking boots (not necessary, but the hiking is great here)
- Sneakers (especially if you like basketball or volleyball since there are plenty of opportunities to play these here)
- Sandals (outdoor “flip-flop” sandals are not available in Mongolia)
- Dress shoes
Note: Men’s shoes larger than size 10 and women’s shoes larger than size 8 are difficult to find in Mongolia.
- Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife
- Sturdy water bottle(s) (e.g., Nalgene)
- Plastic storage bags
- Your favorite cookbook (a Volunteer-compiled cookbook will be given to you at the end of pre-service training) Note: the following items have been recommended, but can be purchased in the capital: garlic press, corkscrew, pie tin, French press (electric coffeemakers are available in the capital), vegetable peeler, can opener, spices of all kinds, parmesan cheese, vanilla extract, and gourmet coffee and tea. These are not necessities and will not be needed during training. You don’t need to waste packing space on these since they can be sent to you in a care package once you arrive at your site or purchased in the capital.
Personal Hygiene & Toiletry Items
Hand and foot warmers (i.e., the charcoal kind that are activated when exposed to air). These are best sent in a care package.
The following items have been recommended, but can be purchased in the capital: Razor, blades (these are hard to find, but cheap ones can be found in aimags and expensive gillette sensor-type blades in the capital), and shaving cream, a towel, contact lens solutions, hair-cutting device, antiperspirant or deodorant, hair fixatives, dental floss and fluoride mouthwash.
Note: Many products are available in Mongolia (e.g., Nivea hand cream, Pantene shampoo, Colgate toothpaste, nail polish, and ALL kinds of cosmetics), but if you are, for instance, a Clinique or Body Shop junkie, bring your own or have them sent.
- A small photo album of family and friends (a must-bring item)
- 220-volt converter (essential if you bring American appliances)
- Rechargeable batteries
- American board and card games
- Solar shower
- Duct tape (highly recommended)
- Camping gear (if you like to camp)*
- Fishing gear (if you like to fish)*
- Backpack (useful for traveling in-country)
- Reading materials (much cheaper if sent using a postal M-bag; also, Peace Corps has an extensive lending library)
- MP3 or iPod player
- Flash disk or thumb drive *Available in the capital Work Items for English Education Volunteers Chances are good that your school will not be able to provide you with many resources. Below are a few items that cannot be bought in-country but would be useful in the classroom.
- Colored construction paper
- Catalogs (the pictures are useful when teaching)
- Children’s books, a picture dictionary, songs on tape, and a book about American holidays
- Erasers for chalkboards
- Index cards
Work Items for Health and Community and Youth Development Volunteers
What you need will depend on your experience in your field and the specific job you have. It is best to assess your situation when you get here and then have items sent from home.
The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone and the list does not include everything you should make arrangements for.
- Notify family that they can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; after-hours duty officer, 202.638.2574).
- Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular passport.)
- Complete any needed dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
- Arrange to bring a three-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your healthcare during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have preexisting conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage. If there is a lapse in supplemental health coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated for insurance. This is especially true when insurance companies know you have predictable expenses and are in an upper age bracket.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
- Purchase personal property insurance to extend from the time you leave your home for service overseas until the time you complete your service and return to the United States.
- Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender or loan service.
- Execute a power of attorney for the management of your property and business.
- Arrange for deductions from your readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.