My Rough Patch Before Graduation and Staging

Since I accepted my invitation at the end of July, I have been mentally preparing myself to leave for over two years to Mongolia. Last week, with only two weeks to go before flying to San Francisco for Staging, my mental preparation came to its toughest roadblock. On May 11th, all of the M28s (my Peace Corps cohort) received an email stating that

more candidates than expected cleared [medically and legally]. Therefore, [Peace Corps Mongolia] is looking for 4 Health Invitees and 1 Education Invitee to volunteer for placement in a different country of service… If by Monday May 15th, [PC Mongolia] has not heard from enough candidates, [PC Mongolia] will begin to proactively identify candidates for alternative placement”.

Sounds eerily similar to airlines overbooking flights… As expected, the Facebook group immediately lit up with people worrying about the email and asking if anyone had volunteered. While I did not participate in this conversation, I sent a screenshot of the email to my mom right away and consequently received an extremely worried call from her. We decided not to contemplate the decision-making process and rather, just await the verdict with the hopeful assumption that I would make the cut.

As we nervously waited the four days until Monday when we’d hear news, my mind wandered, exploring the possibilities of what I could do if I was chosen to stay in the US before being reassigned. For the first time in 10 months, I was thinking of my future as not including Mongolia, and honestly, I felt lost. Besides the monetary losses (my mom had ironically cut the tags off all my warm winter clothes the morning the email arrived), I wouldn’t have any plans; I hadn’t applied to grad school since I’d already accepted my invitation and hadn’t foreseen any obstacles between medical and legal clearance, and I hadn’t applied to any job opportunities besides Peace Corps. What would I do? End up working at Giant Eagle or Kroger’s as a cashier? I hoped not. I did have a lot of friends who kept telling me to visit them over the summer, but I knew my mom wouldn’t be down with that… can’t just laze my life away. And so, my 10 months of mental preparation began to slowly crumble. All my family members, friends, and family friends were extremely supportive. There were hopeful musings, stressed musings, and realistic musings. One family friend said that from his and his wife’s many years of government work, he knows the government makes decisions the simplest way: last hired, first fired. Now, I’m not sure if that’s the route Peace Corps Mongolia took, but it sure eased my worries.

On Monday, the 15th, we were emailed saying that they hadn’t reached a decision yet, but hopefully they would have more concrete information by Tuesday (the 16th) or Wednesday (the 17th). On Tuesday, my mom and I were shopping for the final clothes we thought I’d need for Mongolia (remember, we stayed hopeful) when I received a Facebook notification that someone had posted in the Peace Corps group. The post stated that the member had received a phone call from the head of Peace Corps Mongolia informing her that she would not be going to Mongolia and she hopefully would be reassigned quickly. This meant that for the next hour, I was obsessively checking my phone to make sure I had service in case I received a call. Within an hour of the post, the M28s received an email stating that the M28 class was final, everyone who was identified for alternative placement had been contacted. I’d made it! After 10 months of certainty and only 6 days of uncertainty, I was once again certain I would be going to Mongolia.

With this revamped excitement, my mom and I continued preparing and packing for Mongolia (unsure if you’ve noticed, but my mom has played a huge role in preparation for the Peace Corps… thanks mommy). I should’ve taken pictures of the packing process but I entirely forgot. Just imagine an entire queen-sized bed filled with clothes and supplies, surrounded by electronics on the floor. Now imagine all of that stuffed into 1 medium duffel bag and 1 large suitcase. It was almost an impossible process: multiple times repacking the suitcase, transferring the summer supplies from the suitcase to the duffel bag, transferring the winter supplies from the duffel bag to the suitcase, realizing it was better originally, transferring everything back, and realizing there were 3 pounds that we could not get rid of. In the end, we used magic to fit everything… Nah, we took out my blow-up sleeping pad (my poor back). All this was made possible by both my parents and “space” bags; my dad rolled the clothes in the “space” bags to make them airtight, my mom packed, and I handed stuff back and forth. It was a wonderfully efficient assembly line. I’m still impressed that I’ll actually be able to take most of what I planned on and wanted to Mongolia. Most of all, I’m excited I’m going!

During these stressful 6 days, my mom also managed to throw a small goodbye get-together for family friends (see, she’s amazing). The food was delicious (my mom is the best cook ever), the atmosphere was full of excitement, and the weather was beautiful. Throughout the event, I received a lot of questions about my upcoming Peace Corps service. Since accepting my invitation 10 months ago, I have come to expect the same typical list of questions:

  1. Wow, why Mongolia?
  2. What exactly is the Peace Corps?
  3. Did you want to go to Mongolia?
  4. What exactly will you be doing?
  5. Did you apply to other countries?
  6. What language do they speak in Mongolia?
  7. Mmm honestly, I don’t even know where Mongolia is…
  8. Genghis Khan….

These questions have served to reinforce not only how little people know about the Peace Corps, but also about Mongolia in general. In case you still don’t know what the Peace Corps is, check out the “What is the Peace Corps?” section of my “About Me” page. If you’re wondering about Questions 1, 3, 6, and 7, check out the “Why Mongolia?” section of “About Me”. But honestly, all the questions are answered in my first blog post, “My Path to the Peace Corps”. Back to business, these questions have already shown me the value of the Peace Corps. The mission of the Peace Corps is to

promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:

  1. to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
  2. to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
  3. to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans”.

When people ask me where Mongolia is, I know that I am already helping fulfill the third part of the Peace Corps’ mission statement. The people with whom I interact in the US are already learning about people in Mongolia just by talking to me. Many of them have informed me afterwards that they researched Mongolia after our discussion and have expanded their knowledge besides perhaps having heard of Mongolia’s most famous leader, Genghis Khan. Knowing that by merely joining the Peace Corps I have already helped Americans learn about a different culture, is a great feeling. The better part will be learning about Mongolia, the Mongolian people, and Mongolia’s culture and then relaying what I learned to Americans to help deconstruct misconceptions about Mongolia and the region in general. My first goal: Mongolian BBQ is not traditional Mongolian food. I can’t wait to finally be there. But first I have to graduate… In two days, I will have a BS in Biomedical Engineering from Bucknell University! And student loans to worry about…

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