Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Last Few Weeks

The last few weeks have been Sally and I’s spring break, but they were not quite breaks for us, because it was also time for the national scholastic Olympiad competitions. The Olympiad is a time for the best students in Mongolia to participate in yet another competition where they are tested in select subjects and ranked nationally. English Olympics involve students from grades nine to twelve. It is also common practice for the teachers to take an exam to test their abilities with everyone else in their province. It’s exam week!!!

There are a lot of flaws with this competition. Teachers spend a month or so prior to the competition working intensely with their chosen students, which is great for those kids, but not so great for the other 95% of the students that are not participating. The English tests are usually pretty difficult, and sometimes have grammatical errors. A teacher’s performance on the teacher’s competition can sometimes affect salaries and even jobs. Schools take great pride in good performance in these competitions, and when their teachers don’t quite match up, directors can sometimes be harsh and unforgiving.

PCVs in Mongolia often get roped into judging the exams because we have a reputation of being nonbiased. So for the second year, we worked on correcting the errors in the exams and then providing quality judging. I think most PCVs in Mongolia dislike the Olympiad and what it means to our coworkers, but there continues to be hope that we might be able to make it better by working from within. Unfortunately since the competitions are supported by the government, there is not much we can do.

After the Olympiad, we had an English speaking competition for teachers. English teachers from all over the province prepared PowerPoint presentations on topics and gave short speeches before their peers. Those who spoke well progressed to the second round where they spoke for 5 minutes on a random topic. The final round included mock debates. This competition is more laid back and something that the PCVs in Khentii use to promote public speaking. Teachers participate to represent their schools, but there is no punishment for poor performance.

Top Picture is judging the speech competition. Bottom is us with some of the participants of the competition.

In other news, I have taken up running. I usually run on the track behind Sally’s school. In March when I started running, the temperature was hovering just over zero degrees Fahrenheit, but now it is usually in the fifties. Running on the track is nice, but like most of our city there is still an issue with ground pollution. On a section of track that is bordered by a residential area, the dirt is littered in broken vodka bottles. I’ve never been much of a runner, so the progress from couch to 5 K has been challenging, but I’m proud to say that my last practice was 4 kilometers of running. The advantage of never being a runner before is that each additional lap is another small success as I beat my previous life time record.

Spring has arrived in Mongolia. The grass is starting to turn green and I am excited about leaves appearing on trees. Today, we had the biggest sandstorm I’ve ever seen in Mongolia. An enormous wall of sand rushed across the city creating a world of swirling dust devils and thick air. It also rained/sprinkled after the storm. The rain marks the first no-snow precipitation we’ve seen since September. Sally and I miss the Alabama spring storms and keep hoping for a nice downpour this spring.

All is calm again

During the break, we had the opportunity to spend some time with our fellow PCV friends who traveled in to help judge various events. Watching terrible movies has been something of a group pastime, and for reasons none of us will ever fully understand we managed to watch all of the Fast and Furious movies. At some-point, the line between making fun of a terrible movie and becoming a fan blurs leaving one with a confused understanding of the series. Do I like it? Do I hate it? What is happening? I think there is a hidden gem of wisdom in coming to like something that you dislike. It brings forth the reality that exposure and familiarity generally breeds empathy and compassion in all walks of life. So as we finished Fast 7, I think I can say, it was good.


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