Name: Krista Mastel
Country of Service: Mongolia, 2011-2014
Assignment: English Education, Health
Recruitment Territory: Northwest Minnesota, North Dakota
Why did you apply to the Peace Corps?
I joined the Peace Corps largely because I wanted to share my skills while traveling. With my background in anthropology I had an appreciation for diverse cultures but had yet to gain first-hand experience living and working abroad. Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to share my skills overseas while also allowing me to gain the cross-culture experience I was looking for.
What was your greatest moment from service?
One of the greatest moments during my service occurred while working with a group of children in the remote, northern-most part of Mongolia, near the Russian border. We facilitated a hand-washing session early in our time there, and while often the impacts of volunteer initiatives are not seen during an individual’s service, we were lucky enough to witness an acute behavior change in the children we were working with. The kids were washing their hands for the duration of our time there, and asking engaging questions that assured us they would continue to do so long after we left.
What is your favorite souvenir from your country?
My favorite souvenir from Mongolia is a traditional snuff bottle, given to me by my adult students. One of the students, Zoloo, is my best friend, and she knew how much I had been wanting one after visiting her home for the Lunar New Year holiday, in which snuff is traditionally shared. She pooled with her fellow classmates, and they surprised me with it as a going away present. I had tears in my eyes when they presented it to me; it was so unexpected, so thoughtful and so meaningful.
Name one thing that surprised you about Peace Corps or your host country.
One of the most striking things about Mongolia is the stark contrast between modernity and tradition. The capital, Ulaanbaatar, feels like any developed capital city with all the amenities that entail: Wi-Fi abounds; the latest Hollywood releases are shown in a multi-screen theater; there’s an endless diversity of food; and traffic jams rival any metro area here in the U.S. But travel mere minutes outside the capital and you are transported to the fiercely guarded, fiercely cherished traditional life ways. Mongolians are proud of their heritage, stretching back to the days of Genghis Khan and will welcome you with an unexpected and wonderful amount of hospitality. Herding “the big five” animals (goat, sheep, camel, horse, cow), eating and drinking traditional foods, wearing traditional dress, and living in gers are part of the rich culture Mongolians will unabashedly share with you.
What was one of your projects?
One of my most important projects actually took place within my Peace Corps community, rather than my Mongolian community. I, along with two other volunteers, founded the LGBT Task Force for our country. We saw a need for not only supporting LGBT and ally volunteers, but to raise awareness among staff on how to support LGBT volunteers so they may have a successful, safe and healthy service. We also worked with the LGBT Centre, a Mongolian NGO, to develop training and resources that could be incorporated into volunteers’ work on diversity in their local communities.
How did you bring the U.S. to your country?
The great thing about being an English Education volunteer is all the opportunities to fulfill Peace Corps’ Second Goal. My students loved to celebrate American holidays such as Thanksgiving or share in the traditions associated with American versions of Halloween, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year. Singing songs, playing games and eating food was a great way to share cultures.
How did you bring your country to the U.S.?
Peace Corps’ Third Goal is a fun way to share your host country’s culture with your family, friends, or even classes and organizations. I brought back traditional clothing for my nephew and sacred scarves as gifts for close family and friends, but the really fun part is cooking the foods of you host country. I had a “cooking party” with friends where I put them to work making traditional Mongolian foods. I taught them food vocabulary, which holidays are associated with the foods, and why those foods were important in Mongolia.
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