Monday, June 1, 2015

Traveling, Staging, Traveling, and Arriving. And traveling.

We are in Mongolia! It is beautiful here! We have been working towards this for over a year, so I am extremely excited that we have arrived.

However, it wasn’t a short journey. After a great send-off celebration from my family on May 25th, my aunt and uncle dropped us off at a hotel that evening close to the Birmingham airport. Early the next morning, we got a shuttle to the airport and, after biting our nails and breathing a sigh of relief when our luggage officially met the weight requirements, we boarded the first flight on our journey. We had a few hours layover in Dallas, where we happened to run into another Peace Corps Volunteer on her way to Mongolia! She would be the first we met of about 75 of us headed towards Mongolia.

We arrived in San Francisco in the late afternoon and muscled our luggage through the airport to find the hotel shuttle. Upon checking in at the DoubleTree in Burlingame (the hotel gave us each a cookie!), we had just enough time to freshen up in our room before heading down for registration. Registration was short and included signing some things, accepting a Peace Corps T-shirt, and briefly hearing from the staging coordinators.

Staging took place over the next two days in the hotel, on May 27th and 28th. The Peace Corps staff introduced us to a plethora of great topics to start considering, like cultural differences, gender roles and responsibilities in other cultures, personal goals and expectations during service, the Peace Corps’ core expectation and goals for us, safety and security, our anxieties and aspirations, and more than I can remember. We also had lots of opportunities to get to know our fellow M26ers (shorthand for the 26th group of PCVs [Peace Corps Volunteers] to serve in Mongolia). Caleb and I were glad to find out that we are one of three married couples in the group! It is awesome to hang around a group of people who are so dedicated and kind. Peace Corps provided us funds for food and incidentals during staging, so we were all happy.

We woke at 3:30 the morning of May 29th to prepare for departure. After all the luggage was loaded, the group was on its way to the San Francisco airport by around 5am. Traveling with a group that size significantly elongates processes like checking in for a flight, checking bags, and going through security. We made it through with no incidences (that I know of) and had plenty of time before we boarded. Our flight from San Francisco to Seoul, Korea took about 11 hours, during which the sun was up the entire time. I slept some of it and watched a couple of the in-flight movies. The flight went by surprisingly quickly.

Upon arrival in Korea (still daylight), the M26 group moved around like cattle until someone figured out where we needed to go. We had to go through security again, which is where the Seoul airport and I became blood brothers. Upon removing my watch before going through the scanner, I managed to cut myself at the base of my thumb. It began bleeding profusely. I noticed it when I picked up my Peace Corps passport from one of the bins, which is now EXTRA secure (or not?) because my DNA is stained on the front outside flap. A Korean security worker noticed this and politely lead me over to the medical desk just a few feet away. Then, five security workers began adamantly cleaning of the blood, sterilizing it, wiping it, and bandaging it. Although I couldn’t understand anything they were saying, their sincere kindness and concern was quite comforting, despite the fact that it was only a small scratch.

We had a 7 hour layover in Korea. The airport had free showers, which most of our group took advantage of, including Caleb and I. At one point, Caleb was making a purchase, and he dropped something out of his pocket. Almost instantly, three different Koreans tapped him on the shoulder and pointed out his fallen item. Needless to say, we found the Seoul airport incredibly nice and the people seemed very kind. Perhaps someday we can spend more time in Korea.

For our final flight to Mongolia, we flew Korean airlines. If you ever have a choice to, choose Korean Air. The crew was amazing and the plane itself was the highest quality I have ever flown in. For those of you interested, Caleb DID poop during this 4 hour flight, and not during the 12 hours flight. No, not in his pants. Yes, in the plane bathroom. By the time we arrived at the Chinggis Khaan airport in Ulaanbaator, Mongolia, 30ish hours after we awoke in San Francisco, it was finally dark outside. We were greeted by many enthusiastic Peace Corps Staff, both of Mongolian and American origins. They directed us through the process of customs and picking up luggage.

By this time, the group were all moving slowly and were just ready to sleep in a horizontal position. However, we still had about an hour on a bus before arriving at our hotel. The buses and luggage trucks were ready for us, and we cleared out of the airport relatively quickly. One bumpy bus ride an hour later, we arrived at our hotel. Everyone helped unload everyone’s luggage, and we queued to check in to our rooms. Caleb and I were pleasantly surprised to find out that we were rooming together. Initially, we were under the impression that once in Mongolia, we would not be sharing a room. However, it seems that we are roommates for whenever the group gets together. Hooray!

One more thing before we slept. This is Mongolia. We are on the outskirts of Ulaanbaator, not in it. Therefore, no elevators. Being on the second floor, we thought, “Only one flight. Not so bad.” But, no. They do it European style here. What Americans call the first floor is actually the ground floor. We had to lug our 250 pounds of luggage up two flights of stairs before we could surrender to sleep. We finally got to bed at 3am Mongolian time on May 30th.

Despite the long, tiring trip, we are so happy to be here. The traveling isn’t completely over and won’t really be until the end of PST (pre-service training) in August. But we are very glad to finally arrive in our country of service after over a year of applying, interviewing, waiting, and preparing. It’s great to be in the land of eternal blue sky!



  1. Glad you had a safe trip. What an adventure just getting there. Love the photos and thanks for the updates of the journey.

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