My heavy heart

It’s that time where my heart is heavy and we are wiping tears from our kids’ (and our) faces as we prepare to leave our home of the last 3 years.

3 years….literally one third of Luca’s life and almost one half of Juliana’s. I still can’t wrap my head around that.

But wow, how these kids have grown in these years! Just compare the first and last picture taken on our front steps 3 years apart…. who are these little kids in the first picture?

People say farewells get easier the longer you live the expat life. They are wrong.


The reality is that the farewells get harder, the tears roll quicker, and the last bits of memories become instilled much more quickly so you can hold onto those precious last moments of going to school for the last time, thanking a teacher, crossing the road without getting hit (sheer miracle), ordering a dish at a restaurant to be told baghui (no more) again, or buying yet another beautiful Mongolian artefact.

It’s time to move on … or so we’re told.

And yes, there are many things to look forward to as we make our way back to the U.S. but our hearts are heavy. Mongolia has been a special place for us and will surely stay in our hearts.

What will we miss the most?

Oh, so many things.

Our house: hands-down, this has been our best housing assignment to date…. my kitchen was just fabulous – big center island, lots of counterspace, a breakfast nook, a small patio for a BBQ, and lots of sunlight throughout the entire house. Seeing the sun shining outside made the -30F temperatures a bit more bearable.

The school: when your kids are happy, like going to school every day, learn a lot, and have fabulous teachers, our lives abroad become so much easier. For that, I am so thankful.

My back to work life: Oh this has been a fun 3 years in which I have grown in so many ways!

When we arrived, I worked at the American University of Mongolia (AUM) and in typical fashion of how things work here, I started as a consultant, then teacher, then Admissions Director, and lastly Acting Dean all in the span of a year until it all fell apart (you can read more about it here). I then dove into working at a fabulous study abroad program and absolutely loved teaching and learning from US college students spending a semester literally off the beaten path.

I started writing again and sometimes even called myself a writer because it sounds so fancy. And then, I became a yoga teacher to add more fun of the mix. Because, why not?

Shopping! Oh my, this has truly been a shopping post for me. I lost count of the number of camels, rugs, paintings, pieces of furniture and miniature gers that have invaded our house.

The countryside:  There’s simply nothing like the beautiful serene countryside in Mongolia (although you sadly need to keep an eye out for broken glass and garbage). We have loved our outings to explore this huge country although traveling is often challenging (and expensive) and can test your stomach contents (fun fact: Luca never got carsick before moving here….now, we travel with plastic bags and dramamine). But, you simply can’t beat horseback riding in the steppe or watching eagles and other birds of prey in the wild or digging in the Gobi desert. Also yaks …. they are kind of fun to watch.

Our friends: Oh, our friends. We all know that friends can make or break an overseas assignment and yes, it takes time to find your right “pack” of friends but can I just say that the friendships we have made here with people from literally all over the world have been nothing short of amazing and fun? Friends, you know who you are – thank you for the laughs and memories as we commiserated another day of -30F and other “Mongolian” challenges.

And to those (few) who have been unkind, thank you for teaching me more about people. I, too, have learned a lot from you.

And while we certainly won’t miss the horrendous air pollution in winter (the AQI reached over 2,000 this winter…. the EPA rates anything above 500 as hazardous), this is something not to be taken lightly when considering a move to UB. I hope positive change will happen as this is a serious public health concern and has huge implications for residents.

But we will miss this place dearly. The Ulaanbaatar we arrived in 3 years ago has changed significantly: back then, street signs were nonexistent and bike paths as well as big grocery stores were completely unheard of. We had shortages during our first winter which led to frantic messages among friends (if you see butter or vegetables other than potatoes and onions, buy some for me please!) The city we leave behind now not only has big grocery stores but also shopping malls and even an IMAX movie theater! And yes, food supply does reach its limits but I haven’t run out of butter in the past two years. It’s amazing how quickly things can change in such a short period of time.

With that, it’s been decided. Mongolia, look out. We will be coming back (hopefully soon). Could someone pass me a tissue please?


Photo by Ambling Light Photography

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