August 30, 2011

The End of My Time in Peace Corps

After 3 years and 3 months of service, this week signals the end of my time in the Peace Corps. Today Tunga and I finished the lengthy visa process of registering me as a resident in Mongolia and tomorrow night we will be celebrating with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Leader Kyle and the rest of our Peace Corps staff during our Farewell Dinner.

To say that Peace Corps has changed my life forever would be an understatement. Since applying to Peace Corps I completed a silent retreat that I never thought I'd finish, created dozens of awesome projects with my amazing Mongolian counterparts and fellow Volunteers, I lost over 60 pounds, wrote a book, designed a ton of websites, made my own merit badges, created an iPhone app, organized the first TEDx event in Mongolia and was married to my amazing wife. Peace Corps has exceeded my expectations in every way and allowed me to enjoy things I never imagined.

How do you share such an amazing experience with others? When someone says, "Wow, Peace Corps huh? So, what did you do?" how do I begin to answer?

Well, apparently I wrote a lot about it. Looking back, I've written over 300 articles on my blog and fit a bunch of those experiences into my first book. And I have more to write. Over the next 8 months, during my Peace Corps retirement & wannabe literary sabbatical, I plan to launch Advance Humanity and work on my two new book projects: Life is Volunteer and Modern Enlightenment.

I couldn't be more proud of being a Peace Corps Volunteer over the past three years and I am very excited about what lies ahead. Thank you for being here with me and joining me on my next adventure!

To join me, please join all of us at Advance Humanity on Facebook!

August 25, 2011

Quick Wrap-Up of TEDxUlaanbaatar

This past weekend I was able to enjoy TEDxUlaanbaatar with hundreds of other people from Mongolia and around the world. I am completely humbled by the wonderful things I heard at the event, in the personal e-mails I've received, and the conversations that have been taking place on Facebook. What started out as a simple idea between two friends quickly grew into a talented team of people and an amazing event with hundreds of people who gathering together around ideas worth spreading. 

A year ago I wrote down as one of my dreams that I wanted to speak at the global TED conference. I thought it would take years to accomplish and it probably will, but I've been surprised by how many ways there are to achieve our dreams. Creating and speaking at TEDxUlaanbaatar has been a great start and, more importantly, has encouraged others to dream. Christa, the wife of one of our awesome organizing team members Joe, mentioned that in our audience on Saturday one of the young Mongolian men next to her said that he now dreams about speaking at TEDxUlaanbaatar in the future. By creating this event together the volunteers, speakers, organizers, and attendants encouraged each other to dream about what is possible.

In October we will be leading a TEDx Organizer's Workshop which already has dozens of people signed up to hear about how we can create more TEDx events around Mongolia. Over the next few weeks I'll be writing more about how to start your own TEDx event, including organizing and executing conferences both big and small. I'm certainly no expert and I could've never done this without an incredibly talented team, but I certainly learned a lot of things over last few months that I think are worth sharing.

I hope, no matter if your dream is something like creating a TEDx event or not, that you know it's possible to create anything that you imagine. You aren't alone and the magic is that people come from all around to help you create something valuable for others. TEDxUlaanbaatar is just the beginning of many great things in Mongolia thanks to some really incredible people that I'm honored to have met. Thank you all again so much for making this possible and for sharing in this idea together with me. I think we're going to create some amazing things. As one of our youngest audience members, a teenager named Bolortuya, told us, "To believe in the heroic makes heroes. Let's all become heroes."

To see pictures of our event, please check out TEDxUlaanbaatar on Facebook and Flickr. Soon, after some professional editing and translation, you can watch the videos on our YouTube channel too!

By the way, have you joined our growing community on Facebook?

August 18, 2011

Join Us Live for TEDxUlaanbaatar

TEDxUlaanbaatar will be streaming live!

While we are limited to 100 seats at the live event, there is unlimited seating for our friends who want to watch TEDxUlaanbaatar live on August 20th! Thanks to the incredible technology available to us you can watch TEDxUlaanbaatar live all day on Saturday, August 20, starting at 9am and running until 6pm in Mongolia. In America, Eastern Standard Time, this means the event starts on Friday, August 19th at 9pm and runs until 6am Saturday morning. 

All you have to do is visit and the live stream of the event will be available in both Mongolian and English. Invite your friends to join you in watching this all-day event and be sure to join us on Facebook and Twitter to join the live conversation on as we live-tweet and live-blog the event. We would love to hear from you!

Also if you aren’t available to watch the event live, you can always watch the event later. All TEDxUlaanbaatar talks will be available after the event with subtitles in both languages! We look forward to seeing you soon!

Have you joined our growing Advance Humanity community on Facebook?

August 14, 2011

Our Letter from The Dalai Lama

It's hard for me to express how much I respect the Dalai Lama. For more than ten years, since I was in high school, I have read dozens of his books, collected hundreds of his quotes, and even had the opportunity to share them with tens of thousands of people. He is an inspiration to millions, including my friends and family here in Mongolia, and he has been a big part of my life.

Yesterday was the first time I received a personal correspondence from him, with his playful signature on the bottom and his inspiring words across the page. Months ago, on behalf of the Mongolian people and our TEDxUlaanbaatar conference, I wrote to The Office of His Holiness requesting his presence at our event. Since he was traveling in Europe during the time of our event, his office said they would do everything they could to provide us with a personal statement in his place. The Dalai Lama is a very busy man, so I understood completely. During our event his letter, which I've included here, will be read by one of Mongolian's most respected religious leaders from the National Gandan Monastery.

It has been an honor to reach out to His Holiness on behalf of so many people who love him, and to be able to share his words at our upcoming event. Almost every home I have been in while living here in Mongolia for three years has had a picture of the Dalai Lama in a place of prominence. For decades under communism the Mongolian people were unable to have pictures of the Dalai Lama or Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan), two heroes who mean the world to millions of people. Although it's hard for me to express how much the Dalai Lama means to me, I've found that I'm among friends here in Mongolia. Even if we can't always express it, I know we feel the same way.

To watch the statement from His Holiness read live at TEDxUlaanbaatar, please join us live on August 20th (which is August 19th at 9pm EST). It should be amazing!

August 11, 2011

TEDxUlaanbaatar on the Way

TEDxUlaanbaatar is right around the corner and it's that thing I've been working on every Saturday for about six months. TED is such an inspiring conference and it had me the first time I saw a TEDTalk. I can't say exactly what will happen at our event next Saturday, but I hope a ton of people have a lot of fun. It's the first conference I've ever helped organize, and the first TEDx conference in Mongolia. It's the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of talented people (including the team at New Media Marketing Agency) and I feel very lucky to know them all.

Advance Humanity is all about creating amazing projects together and sharing valualbe resources, which is why I wrote How to Start Your Own TEDx Event. Maybe in a few weeks I'll write about how to finish one. Until then, please check out and watch the event live next week! Wish us luck!

Have you joined our growing community on Facebook?

August 9, 2011

That Thing You've Been Working On

You try not be nervous, you try to think that everything's going to turn out just fine. But you've put a lot of time into this, and the moment is getting close. In just a few days that thing that was just an idea, that thing that you didn't really know how to make happen, it's happening. People came out of nowhere to help you do things you didn't know how to do. A lot of people. Hundreds of people. Countless people that you can't begin to thank enough. But then again, they didn't come together for you, they came together for an idea. They believe in the same thing you believe in and that's more powerful than anything.

When you believe in something with a group of people, it brings you together to become greater than the sum of your parts. What you create might not be perfect, but it doesn't have to be.

Wherever you are, whatever you believe in and whatever you are creating together with others I wish you the best. I hope, when that moment comes, you can be proud of what you've done. I have a feeling that everything's going to turn out just fine.

Have you joined our growing community on Facebook?

August 3, 2011

The Three Year Pizza

The other night Tunga and I were able to order a pizza and have it delivered to our home, pick up a bottle of water from the store, and play basketball with a dozen of the kids from the neighborhood at the park. A normal night it would seem, but actually it's the culmination of years and years of hard work by hundreds of people. There was no pizza delivery a few months ago (and no one in the city knew how to make pizza two years ago), the store we got water from wasn't around a year ago, and the neighborhood park was just an idea and architectural drawings when Alex and I began our service three years ago. "I bet Sukhbaatar has changed a lot since you first got here…" said my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Kate, who now serves in the hospital where I volunteered for two years, "What's it feel like to be back?"

Humbling. Wonderful. Inspiring. Hard to explain. Things change so quickly and I feel very lucky to have been here long enough to see just a few of those changes that I've been able to be a part of.

The Pizza
My first year in Sukhbaatar, starting in 2008, Alex, LP and I helped teach merit badge classes with the local Mongolian Scouts. We taught our Cooking Merit Badge at the local university with cafeteria chefs and taught them what they asked us: how to make pizza, hamburgers and hamburger buns. Everyone loved it, especially the chefs apparently, as one of them now makes pizzas at a new restaurant called Miss Pizza. They are amazing really, much healthier than what we taught them how to make, and since they take about 40 minutes to make they will deliver the pizza to your house for free. Incredible.

The Bottle of Water
My second year in Sukhbaatar, after being together with Tunga for a year, I had a long conversation with Tunga's father about communism, Mongolia's 20-year-old market economy and democracy, and the future of our province. Together with donors from around the world, we began what would become the Sukhbaatar Social Business Community Fund. It's only a few months old now, but the store has been built and it's amazing to watch the ripple effect it is having in the community. As the community fund replenishes itself with money from the store, we are very excited to think about where its impact will go.

The Neighborhood Park
Throughout our second year, Alex worked with the Provincial Children's Center for months creating the designs and researching the procurement, development, and construction of what would become the largest outdoor community park in our province. It had been a dream of many people for years, so when we approached the Children's Center with the idea they jumped on it immediately. With the support of Mike and JRC Sports for Peace, the leaders of the Children's Center approached thousands of people in our city over several months, getting thousands of dollars in donations from individuals and organizations. Alex wasn't able to see the construction finished, but it's wonderful. Amazing really. From my apartment window, from 6am until midnight every day I see dozens and dozens of people using the equipment, playing on the basketball court and sitting with their families and friends.

I think it's rare for Peace Corps Volunteers, or maybe volunteers of any kind, to be able to see the lasting changes their efforts make on a community. Two years seems like a long time until you live somewhere, just start getting the hang of something, and then your time is up. Two years, really? I stayed for a third, and now for a fourth, and I still can't believe how fast time has gone.

My point of course isn't the pizza, the water bottle or the park. Those things are great, and tasty, but the impact we all have on people and the communities we live in usually go far deeper than what we can see. The kids we smile with in the streets, the people we give a helping hand, and the people's lives we try to help make a little easier, those actions, no matter how small, are important ripples in a very big pond. My point is that those things matter, they go far deeper than you realize, and we all do things like that every day.

As I finish my Peace Corps service, I've started the Life is Volunteer project to keep these stories going. I want to hear from you, from people who are doing what they can to change themselves and change the world. I've already heard dozens of amazing stories from people all over and I'm very excited to share them with you. I've love to hear yours too. Please comment on this post or join us on Facebook or Google Plus to share your story. What kinds of things keep you excited to change yourself and change the world?