Tag Archives: Mongolia

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Thirty-Four, It’s a Wonderful Life … in Mongolia, by Gina Sterk

CIMG6770

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.

1469982_10152073149871405_477878253_n

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:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2014/embracing-oa-universities-adopt-open-access-policies-for-faculty-journal-publications

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.

7 Comments

Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Thirty-One — Mongolian Thanksgiving, by Gina Sterk

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Thirty-One — Mongolian Thanksgiving, by Gina Sterk
1457752_10201361663068420_1475115594_n

This was my first year celebrating Thanksgiving outside of the United States.  Having spent all of my previous Thanksgivings celebrating with my family in the Midwest, this celebration was a little different, but I’m sure will be a little more memorable for this reason.  Fourteen hours ahead of my family back home (due to the considerable time difference), I gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving in Mongolia with an assortment of American and Mongolian friends.  Our table of food — covered with everything from apple pie to latkes to spicy fried rice to Mongolian buuz (steamed dumplings filled with meat) — reflected the diverse backgrounds of the attendees of our gathering.  At the same time, the diversity of people and food present reflected the diversity of American culture perhaps more accurately than my previous Thanksgiving celebrations in the US have been able to.  And while some of the elements of Thanksgiving that I’m used to were missing this year — I wasn’t with my family, didn’t get the day off of work, and didn’t have turkey — the purpose of Thanksgiving was successfully achieved: I spent the evening reminded of my gratitude for the people I was gathered with and the meal we were sharing together.  And perhaps I was just a little more mindful on this particular Thanksgiving of how very American Thanksgiving is, yet just how universal it is to give thanks.

———-
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:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2014/embracing-oa-universities-adopt-open-access-policies-for-faculty-journal-publications

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.

4 Comments

Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Twenty-One — Erdenet, Mongolia by Gina Sterk

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Twenty-One — Erdenet, Mongolia by Gina Sterk

A few weekends ago I took a trip to Erdenet, Mongolia’s second-largest city.  While there, we did some hiking around and came across a number of ovoos, which is what you see pictured below.  While I don’t know a lot about ovoos, I do know that they are a part of shamanism, the belief system that has traditionally been most prevalent in Mongolia.

gina 3

An ovoo is a pile of rocks, or cairn, which marks a religious site.  In Mongolia, you often come across them at high places, like mountaintops.  When you come across an ovoo, it is customary to circle it clockwise three times, then pick up a rock and add it to the pile, so the ovoos are continually growing.  Ovoos are also often drapped with hadag – blue, silk scarves used for ceremonial greetings, especially during Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian Lunar New Year (but which you also see everywhere in Mongolia throughout the year — for sale in markets, in temples, tied to bridges, etc.)

While I don’t know much about shamanism in Mongolia or the deeper meaning behind the ovoo, for me, ovoos symbolize what I find most alluring about Mongolia: the ancientness, vastness, and uniqueness of this land.  A land in which you never know when you might come across a beautiful, mysterious rock pile which has marked a sacred space for an unknowable number of years, decades, or maybe centuries.
———-
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 our collaborative program. 

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:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

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.

13 Comments

Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Sixteen — Picnic in the Mongolian Countryside, by Gina Sterk

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Sixteen — Picnic in the Mongolian Countryside, by Gina Sterk

Picnic in the Mongolian Countryside

A few weekends ago I joined the staff of all language departments of my university for their annual countryside picnic.

gina 2

I was told to be at the school at 9 am, although the first hour or so of the day was spent sitting on a bus waiting for everyone who got the memo, which I missed, that there is no reason to come on time.  More and more teachers (on “Mongolian time”) trickled onto the bus throughout the hour, all of which were in great moods and untroubled by their lateness as I would have been.

At some point it was mysteriously determined that we had waited long enough, and the bus finally rolled out of the parking lot.  As soon as it did so, the bus’s karaoke system was taken advantage of; a microphone was passed around and music was blared.

gina 22
Not long after karaoke was started, the vodka was too.  Two male teachers walked up and down the aisle of the bus full of teachers — bottle in one hand and communal cup in the other — passing out shots.

After about an hour we reached our destination, which was a ger resort not far outside of Ulaanbaatar.  (A ger is a Mongolian traditional dwelling — what we would call a yurt.)  The resort was essentially a ger hotel; it consisted of numbered gers which could be rented and a large central building which served food and alcohol.

As soon as we got to our gers (which were fancier than normal gers — they had attached bathrooms and electric heat), it was snack time. Once every teacher had brought out his or her contribution, our small table was heaped with treats.  The most popular item seemed to be sausage, which was eaten on bread with a slice of cucumber on top.

gina 222

Our snacking was quickly interrupted, however, by lunch.  The dining hall served us salad, followed by mutton soup with fried bread, followed by more mutton, with rice and a side of fried mashed potato.  It was incredibly delicious, but incredibly filling.

Once our lunch wrapped up, it was time for the day’s opening ceremony (I’ve noticed it seems to be popular to start events with opening ceremonies in Mongolia — the school year started with one and so did a teaching conference I recently attended).  The ceremony took place in a grassy area near the gers, which was surrounded by beautiful steppe and a small forest.  The ceremony involved giving gifts to teachers and administrators who were leaving or retiring and giving gifts to new staff members.
Every gift of course included vodka, each bottle of which was immediately passed around the audience with a cup.

After the ceremony ended, it was time to dance.  A large speaker was brought out and everyone was on their feet.  Two songs that seemed to be big hits were “Cheri Cheri Lady” (Modern Talking, 1985) and “Brother Louie” (Modern Talking, 1973).  I seem to hear these songs everywhere I go in Mongolia which fascinates me, because they are old (in my opinion), and I had never heard them before coming here.  Maybe it’s my age, or maybe Mongolian’s have different taste in music.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of more dancing, more snacking, playing games, lying in the grass, and the non-stop distribution of vodka.

Another lovely Mongolian thing that occurred throughout the day was arm and hand holding; my friend and co-teacher Oyuna, who had been made responsible for the foreigner (me) for the day, held my hand or linked arms with me wherever we went.  Fortunately it wasn’t because I was viewed as the incompetent foreign person (although I usually am), but was a kind, common Mongolian expression of friendship which I appreciated receiving.

After several hours of relaxation, we reconvened for more food.  At this point I was still stuffed from lunch (which I didn’t know was possible), but I wasn’t going to turn down horhog.  Horhog is a traditional, uniquely Mongolian food which is very popular at outdoor events.  It is a sort of stew made with vegetables (carrots, potatoes, and cabbage,) and of course mutton, cooked with stones in it.

When the horhog was ready, we all sat in the grass on the hillside, with the sun setting beautifully in the background.  When it was brought out (two giant pots carried by four men), the first thing that was removed from the pots and passed around the crowd were the hot stones.  I was handed one to pass quickly between my fingertips until it was no longer hot and was told that doing so would keep me healthy through the very cold Mongolian winter.

Once our stones cooled and our future health was secured, we feasted on the mutton and vegetables, of course with a side of milky tea (hot milk with black tea and some salt in it) and several shots of vodka.

After dinner it was time for more dancing, this time on the basketball court, with another group of guests at the resort.  As I was spun around to Modern Talking songs until I learned all the words, I had one of those wonderful moments of vivid awareness that I am really in Mongolia…finally…this place I waited for months to hear if I would be going to, this place I spent even more months preparing for and wondering about, this place I never could have imagined I would travel to.

As the sun set, the boom box’s battery died, and we slowly made our way back onto the bus, I was satisfied and grateful for the truly Mongolian day I had gotten to be a part of.  Of course the day wasn’t actually over at this point; little did I know, 4 straight hours of karaoke were to follow.  Though unbelievably tired by the time I returned to my apartment, it was a great day of Mongolian food, music, tradition, and friends.

———-

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:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

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.

20 Comments

Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Eight — Teaching in Mongolia, by Gina Sterk

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Eight — Teaching in Mongolia, by Gina Sterk

During my first three weeks as a teacher in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, I’ve done more reminiscing on my high school and middle school years than I ever have in my life.  This is because I’m realizing that no matter how mature I thought I was as a student, I never could have understood the daily joys and frustrations of my former teachers as I am beginning to understand them now.

CIMG6079

Like how infuriating it is to see a spitball fly across the room out of the corner of your eye. (Yes, one of my university students did that.)  Or how touching it is the first time you successfully coax a very quiet student to raise her hand and give the correct answer (I was that student once…).  Or how disappointing it is when you enter the classroom feeling completely prepared but then forget one simple thing (like a piece of chalk) which throws your whole lesson off.  Or how encouraging it is to have one student stop and say, “that was a good lesson” or “thank you, teacher” on their way out the door (which has also happened, fortunately).

At times like these, I think back to my high school and middle school classmates — the ones that always blurted out the answers first, the ones who never said a word, the ones who made it their mission to cause as much trouble as possible, the ones who used everything from their socks to their pencil cases to express their individuality…and I see these classmates in the students I teach now, all the way across the world and a number of years later.  In a way it softens my heart (even though it can also frustrate me) to see just how similar my students’ world is to the world in which I too have been a student.

I also think back to the teachers I had — Mr. Johnson, who tried to be everyone’s friend, Ms. Barrett, who sometimes snapped, Mr. Stevenson, who took everything too seriously, Mrs. Lee, who no one ever took seriously…and I feel like I’ve somehow turned into a strange mixture of all of them in a matter of just a few weeks.  I see each of them in a more forgiving and sympathetic light as I fumble around in the career they have courageously dedicated their lives to.

Another insight I’ve gained is that teaching can be a lot like acting.  I’ve heard this said before, but it didn’t make sense until I actually started teaching.  These days I do often feel like an actor, trying to develop stage presence with each group of my students.  Taking the stage at the front of the classroom can feel as intimating as the opening night of Hamlet, and as I glance forgetfully at my not-always-helpful lesson plans, I often feel like I’m fumbling through my lines at an audition for a cheesy commercial that I barely have a chance at.

Besides learning a bit about acting and a bit about the experiences of my former teachers, however, what I’ve learned the most of during my first three weeks as a teacher is improvisation.  During my very first class, I discovered that none of my students had the textbook which I had based the entire lesson upon and which I’d been told they would have.  Then during the very first class of another course I teach, the power went out, which was problematic because that entire lesson was on the power point which I could no longer project onto my students’ whiteboard.  Then of course the students always surprise me, such as when they blurted out on Day One: “Teacher, how old are you?” Are you married?”  Then there’s the fact that I can only speak a few words of the language my students all mastered as children, and their ability to speak English is, well, all over the board.

In my opinion, however, each one of these challenges and surprises only does me good.  Each complication is an opportunity for me to learn to be more flexible, yet to also maintain a necessary amount of structure and control.  As I become more flexible, I think it should become easier for me to be successful not only in the classroom, but in this country — both very unpredictable places.

And outside of the classroom, these situations are a great introduction to the “real world” that I entered when I graduated from college.  After all, Mongolia isn’t the only unpredictable place in the world; life everywhere, for everyone, is full of surprises.  And the more that surprises me, the better, because each one improves my ability to respond the only way we often can in the “real world”: by improvising.

———-
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:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

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.

8 Comments

Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang