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Thursday, May 5, 2016

A decision to live with

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Well, this is it.

This will be the last in the series of Man from Mongolia. After a year of too many buuz and too much vodka, I have decided to end my Peace Corps experience. My coming to this decision has been one of the hardest tasks in my life. I fell in love with Mongolia and had made some great friends in the process, but the time was right for me to turn the page on this experience.

My decision came down to my health. Over the past few months I've been dealing with an exhausted body. As you might recall I was stricken with pneumonia that kept me down for almost a month. After a series of antibiotics I was back to my old self for a grand total of five days and then came down with a sinus infection that clouded my head for another month. For the first time in my life my health became a concern. By the end of that two-month period I was about 20 pounds short of my normal body weight and the toll the sickness had taken on my mind state was blaringly obvious.

At this point the idea that I had always said was off limits in this adventure was nagging at me. I had no energy to do anything and in my living situation I didn't see any way I could get healthy again, so going home became an option.

I like to think of myself as the type of person who finishes anything he starts. That's the mind set I had going over to Mongolia. I was going to get through these two years no matter what; then I got sick. Before I had left I read the book "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson. It's about a man who builds schools in Pakistan. In the book Mortenson talks about how he put so much energy and time into his projects that it took a major toll on his health and family life.

I remember thinking to myself that although it was commendable to sacrifice himself for his cause, it was also a little foolish to destroy himself when he could do so much more if he was working at his full potential. Now, I'm not saying I was doing anything near as important or risky as he was, but in my state, I felt like I wasn't affecting the change I could if I had been healthy. So, in the end, I decided that my health was going to outweigh my commitment, which right or wrong was a hard decision to come to.

So fast-forward and I'm home now. I can't take back the decision I made, but I realized that I can build on the experience I had. I learned a lot in Mongolia, about a different culture, the world in general, and most importantly, myself. I went to Mongolia a timid, terribly traveled kid from Iowa and came out the other side with a new confidence and knowledge that I will use to continue the adventure of life that I started a year ago.

Now, since this will be my last article, I should probably explain some things about my experience. When it comes to Mongolia it wasn't always great for me, which is to be expected, but still hard.

To start off, I really did fall in love with Mongolia, but that doesn't mean I didn't have my issues with the place. When I hit that wall all Peace Corps volunteers are supposed to hit, there wasn't anything about Mongolia that I could say I liked. Vodka plays too large of a role in the society, nobody really seems to care about education, and the men don't really seem to want to take any initiative in their country's growth. These things bugged me for the longest time, but then I got over that wall and reality kicked me square in the teeth. I realized that all countries have drinking problems.

When it comes to teachers and students not caring about education, it's not that they don't care, it's just that they are working from a different rule book than we do in America (in other words a cultural difference). As for the men, it hit me that it's not that they don't want to do anything, it's that they don't know what to do and that's where better education can play a major role.

I dealt with other issues too, but after I sorted through all of those I found out that most of my views had to do with the lens I was viewing my experience through. Once I cleaned that lens things changed for the better. I grew a new and stronger appreciation for the country and the people. That honeymoon phase I talked about in an earlier article had to do with false expectations on my part.

I came to Mongolia an idealist thinking that I was going to change the world and that the Mongolian people were ready to change their world just as much as I was, but I left a realist, realizing that change is scary and that the highest virtue of a change-agent is patience.

I will really miss Mongolia, and I'm going to miss writing these articles too. Peace Corps has three goals that all volunteers work towards. We have our main projects, mine being English. Another goal is bringing American culture to our country of service, and the third is bringing the culture of our country of service back to America.

This third goal was my goal for Man from Mongolia. I wanted to entertain you while also educating you on Mongolia and its people. So for this goal I hope I was successful. I hope that everyone reading these articles (kids and adults alike) will take advantage of opportunities like Peace Corps or AmeriCorps or even just the idea of donating time around your town. Give up an hour of TV or computer time. If you feel like you don't have time because of your kids, take them along with you.

Of course, you're probably not going to be paid, and you won't get anything material from the experience. The thing that we forget about these public service jobs though is that even though you don't get any money, you gain so much more than money. You may miss American Idol for the night, but the smile you see on that child's face when you donate even just an hour of your time to read to him will be something that not even Simon Cowell crushing someone's hopes and dreams can beat.

Peace Corps was the hardest but most rewarding experience of my life. I couldn't imagine not having gone down this path. I feel like I am in a much better position to weather life's storms than I was just 13 months ago.

In fact, I enjoyed the experience and writing these articles so much that I feel like doing something like it again very soon. How does Man from Japan sound? A house and running water...count me in.

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