Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern Comes to Mongolia

Andrew Zimmern filmed an episode of his show Bizarre Foods right here in Mongolia! It airs Thursday, May 27 at 8:00pm on the Travel Channel, which means if you're reading this right as I post it you still have time to watch it!

Admittedly, I haven't watched all of it yet, but from what I've seen so far I think it provides some interesting information and shows you what life is like for some people here. Just remember that Andrew Zimmern tries to find the most bizarre foods that he can; in other words, I don't eat sheep's head on a regular basis.

Friday, May 21, 2010

11 Days Until America! (And how you might be able to help me with a project idea...)

by Kara

Mark and I will be departing from Mongolia on May 31 and arriving in America on June 1 for our one-month vacation! We're both really excited! Other than simply going to seeing our friends and family we have a lot to celebrate in June: my best friend Shivali is getting married and I'm a bridesmaid, Mark's brother is getting married and Mark will be the Best Man, my brother is graduating high school, my dad is turning 50, and it will be our 3rd wedding anniversary!

Coming back to the US also gives me the opportunity to bring back 35 helmets for my helmet project. This helmets were generously donated by an individual and are waiting at my parents' house. It's going to be interesting trying to get them all back here, but between the two of us, we think we can manage it.

I also have another idea of something I'd like to bring back...
After returning to Mongolia this summer I'll be spending most of July and August at my work's summer camp. I'm a little overwhelmed at the prospect of working and speaking Mongolian almost 24/7 but I think that overall, it's going to be a really fun experience. I don't usually get to spend very much time working directly with children here, and this will offer me plenty of time to do that. I'm going to help teach English, life skills lessons, games, sports, etc.

Here's my idea:
I'd like to bring back some digital cameras to use at camp. While some people have cameras here, they are still pretty rare. I've become the official photographer for my work and have taken at least 1,500 photos for them! They want me to take pictures of everything! And kids almost always love having their picture taken and if I let them use my camera, they have a blast. I'd like to bring back some cameras to use in activities at camp this summer. It'd be a real treat for the kids and I think they'd have a lot of fun. Plus, we could use the cameras after camp, during the next school year in a photography club. There are very few extra-curricular opportunities for kids to participate in and this would give them a new, fun thing to participate in. It's especially good for kids who aren't good at sports, since sports is one of the few things kids can do here in their free time.

I was thinking that maybe some of you have gotten a new camera in the past few years and have an old one lying around that you might be willing to donate. I'm not looking for new cameras and they don't have to be fancy - just something that works, has a screen you can view the photos on, and maybe stays charged for more than 5 minutes at a time.

If you'd like to donate an old camera, let me know! We'll be in the US until June 28. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sustainable Tourism

by Mark

Just in case anyone was interested in what I've been working on for the past 4 months...this is what I've been up to.  Starting in January of this year I began writing a 3 part training on Sustainable Tourism in Mongolia, specifically in our region of Arkhangai.  I mixed in many aspects of business basics in general, but had a tourism industry theme throughout.  I started by putting a powerpoint together so that I could have a general idea of what I wanted to cover, and I used the slides and the slide contents to form an outline for the training manual I had in mind.  The entire powerpoint ended up being something like 55 slides (over 3 parts), and the entire training manual ended up being 69 pages long.  It took three months to write and I was fairly proud of the work, even though I was fully aware it was just a rough draft.

At the end of April, we decided it was time for me to pass along the knowledge I had gathered.  My translator and I worked on translating the entire powerpoint into Mongolian (this took about 2 weeks), and then we set a time to have a 3 day training for the 3 separate parts of the course.

The training ended up being 4 days because it went much longer than any of us anticipated.  The entire thing took just over 12 hours over 4 days, and by the end I think we were all ready to be done.   But our rest would be short lived, because even though this training was led by me for the purpose of training two staff members - they would be thrown into the fire just 2 weeks later.  We were going to replicate the training in two nearby soums over the next two weekends.  So while the two newest trainers were preparing, my translator and I worked on translating the entire 69 pages of the manual into Mongolian.  It was a rough draft, but it was good enough for the trainers to use as a reference.

The two new trainers, Mogii and Khorlo, had 15 participants at their first training - exactly the number we were hoping for.  We split the room into two groups and had them working together on everything from SWOT analysis to ideas for business expansion and networking!  Overall it was a success...though there were a few bumps along the road.  

One of the ways we chose to measure the success of the trainers was for each participant to take both a pre- and post-test.  I intentionally made it difficult so that there would continue to be area for improvement over time.  I expected about a 33% score on the pre-test, and was hoping for scores to go up on the post-test, not really being sure what sort of numbers to expect.  

The first soum we visited, Tsenker, scored about a 32% on average for the pre-test and after 4 hours of training those scores jumped to 53%!  We were excited, but we knew that a few more things needed to change to make the material a little more accessible to the attendees.

The second soum we visited, Tariat, was known to be a little more knowledgeable of the tourism industry to begin with, so we expected higher pre-test results.  We saw that in their 44% average pre-test score.  And after 4 hours of training there, we saw post-test results averaging about 56%.  

I know you might be thinking that scores in the 50% range aren't spectacular, but we were thrilled!  Overall this meant that with just over 2 weeks of actual experience, our two new local trainers were seeing increases in the level of knowledge of the participants.  I personally wasn't worried about everyone scoring really well on their tests, I was more concerned that people were learning and remembering something new from the training.  Seeing a 21% and 12% bump in scores over the past 2 weeks made me proud of my trainers!

The other bit of exciting news, and the other part of what I've been working on for the past few months, was the introduction of the Arkhangai Tourism Website Project.  I'm going to have to dedicate an entire blog post to that topic as it's a monster of a project, but we got to launch it in the two soums we visited...and early results have been positive!  More on that soon...

Overall, our two newest trainers gained an incredible amount of knowledge and experience over the past 4 weeks.  I put them through 4 days of intensive training, and threw them right into the training spotlight - with a small hope that they would succeed immediately.  I believe they did...and we will all take this experience with us as we continue to teach the tourism businesses of Arkhangai about creating sustainability in their companies!  

Friday, May 14, 2010

New Photos

by Kara

I just posted some photos from the past few months on facebook that you can check out here: 

(You don't have to have a facebook account to view the photos.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spring is here!

by Kara

You've all been forced to read through seemingly endless ranting by yours truly about Mongolia's winter (the worst winter in 30 years, did I mention that?) and finally, finally, relief has come. Spring has arrived! I know I'm taunting fate by saying this; it'll inevitably snow tomorrow. BUT, even if it does snow, my shockingly pale skin has been exposed to warm sunlight, and I have a few freckles to show for it. And with the increasing temperatures my spirit has been on the rise as well. It's amazing what a 60+ degree day can do for one's mental health after enduring negative temperatures for seven months. On top of that, I relished the smell of rain yesterday. It was quite pleasant.

Here's some pics from the little hike Mark and I went on last weekend. Enjoy!

The view just outside of our apartment building. That is Bulgan Mountain.

This is me getting heat stroke in the 62 degree sun. That's our town, Tsetserleg, in the background.

It's hard to tell how high we hiked. Just believe us when we say it was an achievement after having spent every weekend inside since October.