The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Three — Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Gina Sterk
By Gina Sterk
During my first six weeks in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, I have found myself asking, on a regular basis, what I’m doing here. If you were to ask my parents, or my supervisor, they’d tell you that I’m here on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship and will be teaching at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology. That’s true of course, but it somehow is not, in my mind, a satisfactory answer. After all, if that was the complete answer, you would think that I had training as a teacher (I don’t) or could speak Mongolian (I can’t) or at the very least, had some prior knowledge about Mongolian history or culture (I don’t).
So besides the teaching job, what exactly compelled me to move here? I’m sure I’ll be trying to answer that question for the entire nine months I’ll be in Mongolia. During the last month and a half, however, I have noticed one possible answer repeatedly cropping up in my mind: I am here to make myself uncomfortable on purpose.
Part of me thinks this is a ridiculous reason for doing anything. After all, isn’t life all about avoiding discomfort? Yet another part of me recognizes that to learn and grow, humans usually need to be challenged, and being challenged is often somewhat uncomfortable.
If being uncomfortable is my objective, then, it feels as though I have been achieving it on a daily basis. I often can’t communicate what I want to; I get a lot of weird looks, being that I’m a foreigner, as I walk the halls of my university or the streets of my neighborhood; I embarrass myself (and get snickered at) on a regular basis; I sometimes wake up to no electricity or hot water; I am usually lost; etc.
However, my objective is not just to be uncomfortable, but to learn from it. What can I learn about myself from all of the opportunities I have here to leave my comfort zone? What can I learn from my experience of being a foreigner about the experiences of people in my own country who are considered different or who are ostracized? What can I learn about my own culture now that I can view it from an outside perspective?
While I still don’t know what answers I may discover to these many questions, I do know that as unappealing as being uncomfortable can be, it is also a state so conducive to growth that instead of running from it, we should move towards it, even if that move takes us across the world.
For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see http://www2.css.edu/app/depts/HIS/historyjournal/index.cfm?cat=10
The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Reports.
Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
Having re-tooled and re-designed the collaborative program, we are drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This school year The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.
Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, 2013-2014 School Year
(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 7, Fall, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.