Last week the Peace Corps celebrated their 50th anniversary. Peace Corps volunteers serve in over 75 countries.
The Cluster conducted an interview with Bryan Harden, a recent Mercer graduate who is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mongolia.
Harden: The Peace Corps was established in 1961 to promote world peace and friendship. As a part of that mission, the Peace Corps has three goals. First, help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women. Second, help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served. Third, help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer on August 19, 2011. I arrived to Mongolia on June 6th, which is when I became a Peace Corps Trainee. My first two and a half months were spent in Selenge aimag, Shaamar soum, which is in Central Mongolia about 15 miles from the Russian border.
Cluster: Where are you exactly?
Harden: I am now at my permanent site in Khovd Aimag, which is in Western Mongolia. I live in the Aimag Center, Hovd City.
Cluster: How many other people are with you?
Harden: I am an M22, which means I am a volunteer in the 22nd group in Mongolia. Originally, there were approximately 65 people in the M22 group. There are eight Volunteers in Khovd Aimag, six of us living in the Aimag Center. Currently, there are approximately 136 volunteers serving in Mongolia.
Cluster: What made you want to join the Peace Corps?
Harden: Fortunately, I was selected to be a part of a Mercer on Mission trip to South Africa in the summer of 2010. That trip helped me to realize how fortunate I have been throughout my life and I wanted to share that fortune with people around the world. I applied to be a Peace Corps Volunteer a few weeks after coming back from South Africa.
Cluster: What are you aspirations after Mongolia?
Harden: After Mongolia, I would like to pursue a Masters Degree in International Affairs.
Cluster: What was the process like for joining the Peace Corps? How long did it take? What kind of skills are they looking for?
Harden: I applied in the summer of 2010, and I received an invitation in March of 2011. After I completed the online application, I received a phone call to have an interview in Atlanta. At the end of that interview, I was nominated for a program in Eastern Europe. At this point, my main focus was completing the medical examination. The medical forms and required tests was where most of my time was spent. The Peace Corps wants to make sure that each volunteer is fit for service.
The skills that are needed vary across many fields. Currently, education, health and HIV/AIDS, business development, environment, youth development and agriculture are the work areas on which the Peace Corps focuses.
Cluster: What is the biggest change you’ve had to make in Mongolia? What can you live without and what do you miss most?
Harden: The most significant change that I’ve had to make in Mongolia is living alone in a country and not relying on English to communicate with the majority of people. Besides communicating with English teachers, I use Mongolian in all of my communications. Whether it’s purchasing freshly slaughtered meat or trying to find a ride to a nearby soum (small town in the countryside). Volunteers in Mongolia are always speaking the native tongue of Mongolia.
Cluster: What are the people like?
Harden: The Mongolian people have offered me a home for two years. I am extremely close with my host family, who I lived with for almost 3 months. Before being sworn in, volunteers have to go through a training called pre-service training. That training includes intense language courses taught my Mongolians and cultural lessons taught by the Peace Corps Staff. I felt very much at home at my training site and expect to visit my host family often. In Hovd, I have been greeted with the same open doors. Whether it’s a wedding ceremony or a hair cutting ceremony, the invitations are always offered and I am treated with the utmost respect.