Peace Corps volunteer, alumna phones in on life in Mongolia

It is not every day that Geneseo receives a phone call from Mongolia.

Students from anthropology and Asian-studies classes gathered in Newton Hall on Tuesday evening to participate in an international phone call from Geneseo alumna Hanna Kim. Kim, who graduated in 2006, is currently in Mongolia as a Peace Corps volunteer, where she teaches English at a medical college. Kim first went overseas in June of 2006 and is nearing completion of her 27-month stay.

Director of Asian-American Studies and Programming Randy Kaplan won the 40-minute phone call as part of a competition through Peace Corps. Forty-two schools in the world were selected to receive a phone call from a former student who was currently working in the Peace Corps.

Kim answered students' questions, which ranged from topics like local cuisine to political and environmental concerns. Kim described her experience as challenging, but worthwhile.

"With the language barrier, I've become a professional mime," Kim joked when asked about what it was like to teach her classes. However, she added that her language abilities have improved over time.

Kim described several differences between life in Mongolia and the United States.

"There's more focus on respect for elders, more daily chores for children like herding cattle or milking the cows," she explained.

She also noted that many Mongolians that she teaches are not aware of international current events, and that part of her job requires her to interest her students in the outside world.

Mongolian food is another difference that Kim has experienced. One notable meal she shared with a host family during her first summer overseas was a form of boiled sheep innards. Kim has also eaten food such as fermented mare's milk and camel meat.

"You just have to get used to it," reasoned Kim. "It's a learning experience."

Kim is currently living in a gher, a traditional Mongolian felt tent that is enclosed by a fence with other tents and houses.

"It works like a normal home would," said Kim. "There is no door to lock, but it's relatively safe." Gher districts are generally located within Mongolian towns. Many have electricity but do not have running water.

Overall, Kim's experience as a Peace Corps volunteer has left a positive impact. She plans on returning to Mongolia for a third year in the future.

"This whole experience has been an emotional roller coaster," said Kim. "I've become more compassionate as a person. I would like to help people for the rest of my life because of this experience. I didn't think I could do it, but you grow and learn so much about yourself. If you want to do something like this, go for it."

According to Kaplan, Kim will visit Geneseo at some point during the next semester to speak as part of the Asian-studies program.

Participants of the phone call were grateful for the glimpse into the life of a Peace Corps volunteer.

"When you can really talk to someone who has been there and seen true diversity…when you can accept someone in the face of really profound differences, that's what Hanna taught us tonight," said Kaplan.