Monday, March 28, 2011

The English Olympics

After all the fun and debauchery of Tsagaan Sar was finished, my school switched into mega-business mode.

The Olympics were approaching.

Each year, Mongolia hosts Olympic academic competitions in a variety of subjects, English included. Winners of these competitions win endless amounts of honor for their schools and are therefore put under immense pressure to do well. Teachers study with their students hours every day to prepare for the academic rigor of the test.

To quote my director, "Sarah. You will help us win."

Oh boy. Not only were the students being pressured to do well, but my legitimacy as a teacher was on the line. As I've mentioned before, many of my students' English is... um.... sub par. But it is a result of terrible textbooks and two teachers who have never traveled to an English speaking country. They simply don't have the same opportunities as children in aimag centers or in UB do. The kids are by no means stupid or lazy, as their teachers might often tell them, they simply don't have the means to succeed. I warned my counterpart that I absolutely believed that my students would do better than they did last year. But, they would probably get beat by the aimag kids when it came down to it.

So, we studied. Endlessly. Sometimes for up to 3 hours a day. But I LOVED it. These were the 10 best English students at the school and they wanted to win. When I would tell them to go home, no one would leave. They would say I could keep teaching if I wanted. They would also remind me if I forgot to assign some homework.


After studying one Saturday afternoon, Gunje asks me, "What time tomorrow, bagshaa?" Uhh. Tomorrow is Sunday. And the American in me says it's blasphemy to study on Sunday. But who am I to deny these students who want to learn? So I invited them over to play Uno and Spoons and drink tea and look through magazines. Speaking practice, right?

Fast forward to three days ago. My 10 students were nervous about the test, but I was confident that it wouldn't look as foreign to them as it had in years past. So, they took the test, complained about the hard questions later, and kept checking their watches, waiting for the scores to be posted.

The test is two days long. If you score high enough on the first test, you move on to the speaking and writing tests. Otherwise, you're outta the game. 4 of my students made it to the second part. 0 made it last year.

My counterpart told me there was no speaking and no writing because no students had made it past the grammar and vocab test before. I was very nervous for my students because they weren't prepared for this. I suppose I should have had a little faith.

A few hours later, I was with my friends in the square, when a mob of adolescent girls came screaming towards me. Eventually, I was able to understand that Gunje won 3rd place for 9th grade, Odko got 4th. Gundgie got 3rd for 8th grade. Buyna, 4th. I was gushing with pride.

I am just so happy.

Not to mention that the director now thinks I'm a genius and spent five minutes thanking me over the phone.

SUCH a good day.


  1. Congratulations to you and your students!

  2. What a great story. We can hear the pride in your voice from here :-)

  3. Wow! What a great story, and a great telling of a story. Thanks, Sarah, both for what you're doing there and for sharing it over here.