Thanks for everyone's help. It is much needed. And thank you Sean for posting the
super-long e-mail on packing. At the end of this post, I've included the super-long
packing list an M-15 sent me. She has similar advice, with a few different
As for my teaching experience -- I wouldn't say I have a lot. TEFL experience is only
about 6 months. I volunteered to help teach in my town's adult education program. It
was 3 days a week, working with students from ages 18 to 50. Most of them were
Spanish speakers. But there were others from Sudan, China, France, Russia and
two from Mongolia. Outside of class I tutored some students individually. But, like I
said, it was only a 6-month time span. Currently, I'm a copy editor at my town's
newspaper. So I do have experience explaining to reporters what dangling modifiers
are and why this comma is necessary and that one is not -- for whatever that is
What experience do you have? Are you bringing any teaching materials?
My current mission is to find a backpack. I recently went to try some out, and found
that I need an extra-small pack. I'd prefer to buy one from an outlet or somewhere on
the internet to save some money. Did anyone have any luck finding a pack online?
Any suggestions on size of a pack? And what type of pack?
Thanks again for your help. See you all soon.
Another long list:
As you might guess, every PCV's experience is different. The most important
determinant of what you should bring is whether you will be posted in a
city/aimag or in the countryside. For instance, a laptop would be impractical
if you are really "out there" because you may have electricity only during
certain hours or months. Due to the current MIAT (local air carrier) issues,
though, my understanding is that PC won't be putting M16s in too far flung of
So, there's no way to predict your exact location or living environment, but it
helps to know what kind of volunteer you will be. If you're a sector
(non-TEFL) volunteer, e.g. Business, Health, etc., then you will most likely be
in an aimag center. (TEFLers are in both soums and aimags, depending on what
they prefer.) Also, even though there are no guarantees about where you are
placed geographically, it's been my experience that PC tries to match you with
at least your living preference. I.e. if you tell them you don't want to be in
a ger in the middle of nowhere, it's unlikely you'll get stuck out there.
Before I give you my packing advice, I want to emphasize that my experience may
not be representative of what yours will be. In some ways, I feel like I'm
cheating the third-world gods because on a scale of one to ten, with one being
spartan and 10 being almost like home, my living situation is like an 8.5. I
live in Erdenet, unofficially the second largest city, where I have 24/7 hot
running water, electricity, cable tv, etc. On the other hand, my boyfriend
lives in one of the smallest soums (towns) with no amenities save electricity
from 6 to 11 pm during the winter. He wanted to be in the middle of nowhere,
and I wanted to be near civilization. Most PCVs fall somewhere along the
spectrum and are not at either extreme. To balance out my advice, I'll include
some other sources/contacts at the end of this epic email in case you're
interested in other perspectives.
Wow, that was a long "preface", huh? So to your specific questions:
Laptop- for me, this is indispensable. I use it everyday. i store digital
photos, write emails/blog/journal entries/(eventually)grad school applications,
play music and sometimes movies. (you can get cheap DVDs in UB. I wouldn't
bother buying any in the US if you don't own them already, unless there are
arty films that you're not likely to find here). I don't know anyone who
regrets bringing their laptop. Even some of my ger friends have them, but they
have to be esp careful because of the cold. Also, it's super dusty (especially
in the Gobi) during the spring so be sure to bring a neoprene case that
insulates and keeps out the dirt.
Assuming that you bring your laptop, I'd recommend also bringing the following
(though surprisingly you can buy this stuff in UB also!!!):
USB flash disk- larger capacity than floppy disks, less prone to viruses, more
commonly used in Internet cafes (which you will have periodic access to). I
write emails in advance and upload them later.
Digital camera- preferable, in my opinion, to a 35mm. but if you're a serious
photographer, you may disagree. It's easier to email photos home, and you can
get them developed in UB. plus, Mongolians LOVE to have their photos taken
and you can choose which photos to develop. Also, when you leave Mongolia in
two years you'll have a nice neat archive.
MP3 player- don't know how much of an audiophile you are, but many of us have
IPODs or the like here. We find it saves on space, but other PCVs prefer to
bring their CD collections. I'd skip on the speakers, since you can buy them
or a stereo once you get here.
Clothing & Shoes
It's true that you can buy/have made stuff here, but it's good to have some
"high-tech" thermals so that you can still bend your limbs when you're wearing
three layers. I'd recommend at least one silk set, one mid-weight, and maybe a
heavy-weight if you tend to be cold. Also, I think wool blends are better than
purely synthetic bc the latter can get kind of stinky, esp if it's inconvenient
to wash/dry them often.
I agree with most of what's suggested in the welcome kit, though I do wish
that I'd brought some white/light colored clothes because it's not as hard to
keep white as someone had made it sound. The best piece of advice I got was
bring what you love and what makes you happy. Or at least set it aside so your
parents can easily ship it to you once you find out your exact living situation.
Shoes: my rule was only shoes that served as least two functions. i'm really
glad I brought comfortable walking boots (dansko), all-season hiking boots
(asolo), and my tevas (multiple function as shower, river, light hiking, house
sandals). Seriously warm winter boots can be custom-made here and will be a
great souvenir to take home.
Silk sleep bag- not a sleeping bag, which is standard PC issue. it's like a
sheet that stuffs into a small bag the size of your fist. saves you from
having to rent sheets on trains, a small comfort if you find yourself sleeping
in semi-icky places
Nalgenes, pocket tools (i.e. leatherman or swiss army), and tiny LCD
flashlights are all great things to have.
At the suggestion of an M12, I brought my down pillow and one super fluffy
towel. Or, you can buy decent quality at Nomin's, the state department store.
I wrapped my winter coat around my pillow and carried it on the flight- didn't
count as a carry-on bc it's just my coat (never mind that it was summer in LA-
General packing/shipping advice
If you plan to do any traveling at all, whether within or outside of Mongolia,
one of your bags should be a framepack.
As for gifts, I mentioned that Mongolian love photos. The disposable cameras
I brought made great gifts. They also seem to really like knick-knacks and the
novelty of American candy.
If you're tight on space/weight allowance, send yourself winter clothes via
surface mail a week before your departure. Airmail is expensive, and the
economy timing is just right for winter stuff. You don't really need much
during the first three (summer) months bc you'll be living with a host family.
I got vacuum seal bags from a travel store. You can fit so much more in your
luggage when the air is sucked out of your clothes, etc.
Don't bother to bring non-essential/OTC medical stuff. The medical kit you
get once you're here is like a mini-pharmacy, replete with all the
aspirin, bandages, dental floss, lotion, etc.
Look into M-bags if you haven't already. cheaper, slower rate for books and
printed material. PC lounge has lots of books for exchange, but if there's
something you've been wanting to read, ship it.
Have your friends and family send you the rest. For instance, I'm kind of a
tea-snob, so thankfully it's easy to have premium, loose leaf tea sent from
home. Here, it's mostly tea bags of flavored black tea. By now, you've
probably heard of the ubiquitous milk-tea here. Oh, and if you are a dark
chocolate lover, you should know that the chocolate is just okay here. Even
the Russian stuff isn't super. But once you get here we'll show you the one
brand (actually, Kraft) that is good. :)