January 27, 2009

English Teaching Machine

Beginner English Classes are going much better this time around than back in October when I first started teaching. My PowerPoints are getting better, more colorful, fun and understandable. My lessons are getting more easier to manage for the students and they are getting timed down to exactly one hour. I am doing a better job of leaving my students with assignments that will help them with the next lesson and I am also recording audio for each of the lessons in English and Mongolian so that the students can practice listening and speaking on their own after each class. My overall plan is to have 50 doctors, nurses and health care professionals within the hospital who can speak at an Intermediate Low level by the end of my two years here. The current pace is roughly 15 – 20 students in each of my classes, with about a 15 – 20 student rollover into the next advanced class. With each semester of classes lasting about 2 to 3 months, this would give me about 45 students at the level I want them in 3 total semesters. Last semester (October to December) I offered 3 Beginner English classes twice a week which dwindled from 20 students each to around 5 students in each class by the end. With this in mind, and after talking with several of my coworkers, I decided this semester I would offer fewer classes (one beginner, one intermediate) for a longer amount of time (three times a week). I think this will keep the numbers relatively high and also give me more time to review the lessons each week. Attendance so far has stayed above 12 students every class, so that is good. Based on the busy schedules that each of these professionals have, I am especially impressed by their involvement. I am excited about class and feel like, even though I have a lot to learn, I may be a fine-tuned English teaching machine in the next year and a half.

January 26, 2009

Love Is Always Wireless

Introducing The Chase Vaughan Wireless Connection
"Love is always wireless." - Founder of ChaseVaughan.org

Press Release
January 26th, 2009
Eastern Frozen Steppe, Mongolia

At 6am, Eastern Standard Time, the least densely populated province in the least densely populated country in the world had it's first known wireless connection activated. It was a quiet event, attended by only one participant. "It was an incredible moment," reflected Peace Corps Volunteer Travis Hellstrom when asked for a statement, "It opened up all kinds of new possibilities for me, with AirTunes, my iPod Touch, and just laying around anywhere I wanted to, with internet right at my fingertips!"

The Apple Airport Express, which made this event possible, was given as a generous donation from Chase Vaughan, a close friend and supporter of the Volunteer. "Chase sent the package exactly 6 weeks ago," said Travis, "It took some time, but it was worth every luggage-crushing puddle jump, Mongolian mail truck and camel ride that was required to it get here. All of us, all the Peace Corps Volunteers here, will enjoy this for months and years to come." Currently there are 4 PCVs serving in Sukhbaatar province and they are all eager to surf the web together, talk with their friends and family back home via Skype, research upcoming Scouting merit badges to teach the kiddies, download resources for teaching English, watch the latest episodes of LOST, control music while sitting in the kitchen, and surf the internet in the bathroom.

"The first thing I did was start up AirTunes, which lets you play music wirelessly from your computer, and went through my entire album of Chase's songs. He's not only a philanthropist but quite the musician." When asked what he would do next, he said it was a toss-up. "Either watch LOST, or update my Facebook status while sitting in the bathroom..."

January 19, 2009


My father always uses the word "challenging" instead of saying things like frustrating, negative, unfortunate, or multiple other ways of describing difficult situations. I have done this myself for as long as I can remember, following his example, and I think it has made a huge difference in my life. I read this quote by Carlos Castaneda today and it reminded me of my father:

"The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse. The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same."

January 17, 2009

One Laptop per Child

One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is coming to Sukhbaatar, and in a big way. We are not only having over 700 computers distributed to our province (and over 500 to my city’s school which is one of the largest single distributions in the country), but we are also hosting a teacher training for the three surrounding provinces. I just found out about this news yesterday and the training is set for next week. Over 10,000 XO Laptop computers are being handed out to children throughout the country, with some of them having been handed out over the summer, and even a few have made themselves into the hands of lucky Peace Corps Volunteers who can learn from them and then be in a position to help teachers and students when they receive them in their local schools. After attending several trainings and information sessions on OLPC during summer and in-service training, our Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL) Luke decided that I should take a laptop back to Sukhbaatar aimag so that all four of us Volunteers could learn about it. We have since named it Matt Damon and started playing around with it to figure out all of it’s bells and whistles. It is definitely made for children, with a simple interactive design and graphics layout and a pretty small keyboard for pretty small hands, but it is also a very powerful device with tools like a video camera, speakers, microphone, color display, wireless connectivity, incredible battery life, USB connections, SD card reader, swivel-screen, waterproof keyboard and Linux driven operating system. I have just started to understand some of its capabilities and am very excited to learn more.

Alex and I will be meeting with the School Director of Sukhbaatar School #1 this morning to talk about the distribution of the laptops (to all 2nd through 5th graders in the school) as well as the upcoming teacher training next week. We are offering our assistance and hoping that we can coming an encouraging part of the program. I am sure the teachers and students are excited and we hope to keep the excitement going for them. The program is a wonderful way to help students learn to love learning and also make a connection to the outside would that would otherwise be very difficult for them. I am excited to write more soon, but until then know that I, Alex and Matt Damon are doing all that we can help.

January 12, 2009

It's Saturday Night!

Here are some videos Alex and I made this weekend after singing to Lady in Red and Crazy for You a few too many times. Her falling over in the chair is my favorite part.

January 8, 2009

Fit To Be Tied

Just another Friday morning...after having my pants resized. No biggy.

January 7, 2009

Paper, Plastic or Mongolia?

One of the cool and random things about being in Mongolia is reading the things that are in English or are from America. I will have to start keeping track so I can make an awesome list of things, but one that I found today hit me close to home. For over a year in high school I worked down the road at my local CVS and, low and behold, years later I am holding a CVS bag on the other side of the world. I could write about being followed by my past no matter where I go, or about the craziness that is American capitalism and its influence on the world, or about how much I laughed when trying to explain to my coworkers that I used to work where this bag came from, but instead I am going to show you a picture show. It starts off simple, expands to me being weird, then going cross-eyed, making my infamous Ethan face ("where's the baggy claire?") and then taking the money shot...whatever that means. Enjoy it and remember, I may not be in America but fortunately (or unfortunately) America is everywhere. I'm gonna go drink some Coke...