The night before I left for Mongolia will always be a vivid memory for me. I remember going boating with my parents and my dad remarking on how calm I was. I remember my parents making the enchiladas I requested for dinner — knowing as little as we did about Mongolia, we did somehow know that enchiladas were about to become hard to come by for me.
I remember returning home to pack and abruptly losing my calmness as I found myself overreacting to the smallest things. What if this suitcase weighs more than 50 pounds? What will happen if I can’t lift this into the overhead compartment? What if Mongolian customs reject me? Petty questions that masked bigger, realer questions, like What if I don’t make friends? What if I’m homesick? What if I’m not happy in Mongolia?
Well, I have now been in Mongolia for nearly five months, and my time as a Fulbright scholar is nearly half over. I write this having just returned from my school’s New Year’s party, where my coworkers of all ages ate and drank and danced the night away. While I can barely speak Mongolian, and am still getting the hang of things here, I can confidently say that all of my fears were unnecessary — in short, I’m having a great time and have made great friends.
Of course it has crossed my mind that if I hadn’t decided to come to Mongolia, I would have been celebrating Christmas and New Year’s with my family during the past few weeks, eating my favorite Christmas cookies, listening to my siblings bicker, and trying to find a parking spot at the Miller Hill Mall.
But even while being away from my family during this most wonderful time of the year is difficult, I’m learning something from being in Mongolia.
Christmas has been all the more meaningful for me as I have sought out ways to celebrate it in a country in which Christmas isn’t recognized. Just as it is special to gather with my family at this time each year, it is special to gather in new places with new people in the same spirit as my family always has back home.
I’ll never forget the Christmas Eve I spent walking through a snowy, colorful Sukhbaatar Square on my way to a Sri Lankan buffet with a group of incredible friends I didn’t know five months ago. And I’ll never forget the New Year’s party I attended at the Thai Express in Ulanbaatar with glittery women, merrily dancing men, and a Santa Claus dressed all in white (in the Russian fashion).
While I miss my family, and enchiladas, I’ve found nothing to be lost, but much to be gained, by celebrating this Christmas with the wonderful community I have found here in Mongolia.
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 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We gratefully acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also warmly welcome Duluth East High School and Dodge Middle School to the North Star Project.
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) 2014 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 8, Spring, 2014. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.