Nicole багшaa

More than a year before moving to Mongolia, I decided this would be the post where I go back to work – you know, the type of work where people actually pay me.

Sure, I had been working all along since I left my career, became a mom, and joined the roller coaster ride of the Foreign Service – people just didn’t pay me. What did I do? Well, pretty much anything from organising people and communities at previous posts (remember that nifty little manual?) to spending time and energy helping excellent non-profit organisations move towards realising their potential (like AAFSW and Tales from a Small Planet) to writing academic publications with previous colleagues. I even started researching how “trailing spouses” (don’t we all just love that term) go about job searching and explored their challenges and frustrations in an effort to raise awareness and advocate more efficiently for our needs.

Trust me, my days were busy between feeding the family, working for the sheer pride of doing so, and learning a few new tricks along the way (like new languages and making my hands move in funny ways while juggling yarn and needles, otherwise known as the beginning joys of knitting), and taking in local sights.

But still, I was beginning to feel that it was slowly time to go back to the “formal” employment sector; I mean I had spent enough time in school  to make me “employable.” So a year out from moving to UB, I started looking into what type of work I would like to do and researching opportunities. It turns out, this is not so easy when you’re living on the other side of the world.

Nevertheless, I dutifully set time aside each week to update my professional website, browse job opportunities, and write dozens of emails, many of which went to live in a black hole, never to be seen (or replied to) again.

And then one day, John came home from language training telling me that a new American University was opening in UB. How fantastic is that, I thought! And so, I wrote another email but this time, I actually received a response. A number of emails and some Skype meetings later (scheduled in the late evening/mornings to accommodate that sneaky time difference), it looked like I needed to start learning about the Soviet/Mongolian educational system, its changes ahead, and what the American University of Mongolia was hoping to achieve. I was so excited! I was going to be involved in helping to build up a new university – in Mongolia – and I was going to be back in the classroom.

So a week after arriving in UB with just enough time to unpack suitcases and figuring out how to get the kids to their school and finding the way to “my” new school, I was back at work. Aside from some administration tasks, I am co-facilitating a pre-calculus math class (and no I am not a mathematician so this has been a learning curve; I am grateful to my two co-teachers who are experts in math and engineering) and every morning, I am back in the classroom with “my” Mongolian college kids.

The Mongolian word for teacher is “багш” (pronounced bagsch) and students address teachers here by “Nicole teacher” – “багшaa” is a term of endearment that students may use (extra credit?) so for all intensive purposes, I am their teacher although technically, my role and function is slightly different. But nevertheless, being a “teacher” turns out to be a great profession to have for little kids as they can relate to what their mother does every day.

Luca and Juliana came to visit me at AUM when their school was closed and John had a holiday . A funny thing about working on the local economy; you don’t get to take the American holidays off so your spouse now has a whole day home alone…on that note, remind me to let the husband know he is in charge of grocery shopping on Thanksgiving this week since you know, I am working that day….fair division of labor, right?

Since visiting me at work, the kids have started telling everyone that their Mom is a teacher for big kids (they met some of my students and were surprised how “old” they were). This has led to some funny conversations in our house where the kids have been interested in learning why I became a teacher (“Mom, just when did you know you wanted to become a teacher?”) and what I do when the students are not in class with me. They were shocked, and I mean shocked, when I reported one day early on in the semester that very few of my students had actually completed their homework. But Mom, they said, you’re their teacher; they have to do what you tell them. Ah, if life were that simple and if that same rule applied to them, you know, if they actually did what I told them the first time because I am their Mom….I digress…

In the classroom it’s been a wonderful learning experience; not just for the students as they dove into intensive English language training and learning Math in English and from a Western perspective (which is quite different from what they had been used to) but also for me as I learned about their cultural norms (moving from “homework? what homework? we don’t do that” to “when is the next homework assignment due?”). So yes, it’s been a learning curve for everyone for sure but it’s been a great experience and adventure. I often still pinch myself for being able to participate in shaping such a unique program and for AUM to offer a US education for Mongolians in Mongolia.

And there I thought I was done with academic work…. Life is funny that way.

So now excuse me while I try to go back to my assigned homework of logarithmic inequalities and determining the vertices of a hyperbola (I guess it’s good thing I always liked math, right?) …. until next time, don’t forget to do your homework dear readers!



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