The consultant that hired Pepper and I for our jobs in Mongolia was in town for graduation. He told me twice in a few hours that I would be “crawling back” to Mongolia because of how miserable I’ll be in India. Here is the list of reasons I will not be miserable or crawling back. I’m going to be a bit of a jerk and lay out just why this move is excellent for us.
- That attitude. The attitude that I currently have the best possible position in the best place in the world. I was always happy to lose good employees. Not happy as in “good riddance” but happy as in “good for you.” As long as they were bettering themselves, I was happy for them. Better pay, better benefits, more responsibility, closer to family. Whatever it was that made things better for them. Caring about the people that work for you will make everyone happier.
- The air pollution. Mongolia is regularly ranked in the top five cities of the world for the worst air pollution. We’ve seen our son sick for weeks at a time in the past few years. We’re horrible parents for exposing his developing lungs to this place. But if you just visit Mongolia for a few days a couple of times a year you probably wouldn’t notice it. The summer is certainly wonderful.
- The weather. He’s fond of telling me how horrible it will to be there when it is 42 degrees Celsius (107 F). Again, spend a winter here when it is -40 (F and C meet at that temperature) and then talk to me about weather tolerance. I doubt he visits when it is that bitter cold. I spent 15 years in a place that rained over 10 feet a year. I know I’ll be hot there. I sweat. But I’ll survive and adapt.
- The pay. Let’s just say that I am miserable because of the weather. The paycheck could sure help convince me it is worth it. Next year, Pepper and I would make about $66,000 combined if we stayed here. That includes stipends for coaching, the tiny annual step increase, signing bonus, everything. Instead, we’ll make $94,329 next school year. The following year that will go to $97,561.
- Retirement. Currently our school believes that they pay enough that we should be able to put significant money away for savings. Our school in India will deduct 12% from our pay (effectively lowering our paychecks to a total of $83,010) to go into retirement. They then match that 12%. We’ll be putting over $22,000 into retirement each year and half of the amount will be from our employer. That account will earn 8.5% in interest. It’s Indian law.
- Our son’s education. He hasn’t been welcomed by many of his peers. Our school is composed of about 90% Mongolians. By middle school cliques are formed and the social caste system is established. With a fairly high retention rate of students (unlike many international schools with perhaps a quarter of the kids leaving annually) the opportunities to actually forge new friendships is limited. Plus, our new school will offer AP courses as well as the IB program. He’ll have language options, chorus and instruments available, a wide variety of arts options, and a more expansive sports program for middle and high school. (Meanwhile, our present school plans to cut one high school sport next year!)
- Our own education. In two years we have not received continuing education benefits. Pepper has no incentive to even pursue them – she’s at the absolute top of the pay scale. But in India, they allow us annual professional development money of a thousand dollars and pay step increases that make self-improvement valuable. They have policies that clearly value investing in employees. They even host training that can be applied towards a Master’s degree.
- The cost of living. As if the income difference wasn’t significant enough (nearly $20,000 better), the cost of living in Chennai is much lower. According to Numbero, our groceries will cost half of what we pay now. Dining out at restaurant will be 64% lower than we pay here! I have another post about the lower cost of labor that relates to this.
- It will be home. When we moved to UB, they allowed us a total of $400 for excess baggage. Then we were given a $500 advance on each of our first paychecks. For India, they are giving us up to $4,200 to relocate and giving us each $500 when we arrive – but not as an advance, it is on top of the pay we’ll receive the next month. They are supportive of bringing our cats. Here, we were prohibited from bringing them. So we’ll have our cats in addition to some furniture, our artwork, games, toys, tools, books, bikes and anything else we want to pack into our container.
- Insurance. We had considerable medical costs that were not covered at all by the insurance company. Our school was supportive in allowing leave for Pepper and I to deal with it. But advertising that we “…are also provided with a fully funded group medical and health insurance plan” is pretty deceptive. I’m cynical about insurance in general. But the insurance that I had for 12 years and never needed for any major medical expense would have covered this. In fact, we’re pretty sure we don’t have insurance at this moment.
None of this is to say that we’ve been unhappy about the great opportunity to live and work here. I am very grateful for the school taking a chance by hiring me. I will always owe a debt of gratitude to the school. This was an opportunity to get experience as a teacher. I’m thankful for the learning opportunity, the foot in the door, and the chance to improve the lives of hundreds of kids. We made a very careful decision in our acceptance of these jobs. We considered far more than just the criteria above.
A few days after he got me all riled up about “crawling back” we had an exit interview. We didn’t get into this list of reasons we’re leaving. We gave a few when we said we were not leaving. But we did detail many suggestions for improvement for the school. He took our input well. Then before we left he told us both that we would make great administrators and hinted that if we ever wanted jobs in that capacity to contact him. There may be a day somewhere down the line where we would consider that… but it will be a few years away.
In the US, I never considered having a person clean my home. I also owned my vehicle and drove myself where I needed to go.
When Pepper lived in China she had a woman that came to her house daily. The term used in Mandarin is ayi and her name was Naya. She did dishes and laundry. She cleaned the house. She would even shop occasionally or cook. I remember Pepper leaving a note with some money one day asking her to make Pepper’s salsa recipe. Pepper’s ayi would be at the bus stop to pick up Jordan after school and make him dumplings as a snack. When I visited, she even stayed late one night. She cooked and cleaned for a party Pepper had. During times I was there and Pepper had to work, I might wake up to the smell of fried dumplings being made for me. I believe Pepper paid less than $450 a month for Naya’s services. Naya and her husband benefited beyond the income. Sometimes he would come to help her and they showered at the place sometimes. With just Pepper and Jordan, there usually wasn’t much of a mess made of the house. It was easy for Naya to keep up witht the laundry and dishes. Pepper only had to keep things tidy on the weekend leaving her time for grading papers, relaxation, or spending time with Jordan (or on Skype with me!) instead of dealing with life’s mundane tasks.
When we moved to Mongolia, one of the first things we had to do was figure out how to get from our home to the school and back. The public bus was an option, however it still meant walking to the bus stop and then walking from the stop to our house – which was still over a kilometer away. It was inexpensive but often crowded. We rarely had seats, and had to worry about pickpockets – although we never were victimized. The school’s bus got no closer to our place and we would have had to pay for Jordan riding it. After a few months, we found our current driver. He’s incredibly reliable, very patient, and a nice guy. We pay him about $170 a month just to get us to school and back home. We also pay him for the occasional weekend trip out of town or to go within the city (maybe an additional $30) for probably a total of around $200 a month for getting around town. I sure couldn’t own a vehicle for less than that. Driving in Ulaanbaatar would be extremely stressful – paying $200 is quite welcome compared to the anxiety of driving here. Sometimes Enkhe isn’t available and we have to find another driver or taxi to get home. It isn’t too often and really isn’t that much of a hassle though.
We have a cleaner that comes to our apartment once a week. For just over $20, she cleans the house, vacuums, does dishes or laundry and usually tidies up something like the fridge or cupboards. It is a luxury that I would probably have found the money to have done if that’s all it would have cost me in Alaska. Essentially, for the last two years we have not had to clean the bathroom, vacuum, dust or mop.
For India, we already have people lined up to get us around and keep our house clean. They already work for the person that is at the house now. Unfortunately, the driver does not have a vehicle so we’ll be buying one. We’ll also have to pay him a bit more than we pay our current driver. However, he’ll always be our driver. We’ll never need to find a different ride. He’ll also serve as on-site security at the house. He lives in a small building behind the main house. He’ll also act as a gardener, fix-it man, and even go running out for errands or shopping. We’ll even have a guide to the city and translator on hand at all times.
The cleaning lady will cost us twice what we pay now. However, she’ll come six times a week for four hours. She’ll clean the house as we have done now but also will cook our dinners. For about $160 a month!
Today was my last class with a group of students. They are all really good kids but have had a couple of incidents where it is clear that some of them need to work on some interpersonal skills. So today I planned on doing a few fun trustbuilding exercises. But by the third one, some of them were goofing off and not following instructions. I stopped them and asked if they wanted to continue or do something else. “Something else” said one of the students. One of them that actually really needs that kind of exercise. It was my last day with them and most of their academic teachers were giving them free time already. Disappointed, I let them do their own thing.
The rest of the period, I sat watching them. Wondering if I should have set it up better. Thinking that maybe I was expecting too much. Contemplating why this group couldn’t manage to behave.
Then, a well-dressed man was leaving the school. He turned around from walking to the parking lot after seeing me, approached, and sat on the bench next to me. He introduced himself as a former graduate of the school – from the first graduating class.
He told me he had gone to college in DC and was studying International Relations. Without me asking, he talked about how he looked forward to getting back to his high school during summer breaks even though he hated the place when he was going there. He said he was thankful for his teachers. He talked about how hard it must be for teachers to work with Mongolian students. How they are independent. And fighters. But that his ability to work in groups, to trust and develop teamwork all came from his years at our school. Even though I have never taught him, he thanked me and shook my hand.
It was as if he had watched and heard everything that had happened 20 minutes earlier. Thank you young man. You gave me just the encouragement that I needed.
One of the things we did last weekend was find cool quartz crystals while hiking. I found this huge block with a resemblance to a crystal shape.
I grabbed a much smaller piece of smoky quartz too.
Jordan found this excellent piece with quartz crystals.
I will never forget the science classroom that I had in 7th and 8th grade. It was like a natural history museum. There were skulls and feathers and rocks and posters. There were models and mounted animal heads and seashells and animal skins. It naturally generated curiosity and brought the world of earth science, astronomy and biology to life.
I found a dog skull last year and it was in Pepper’s classroom for a few months. She said her students constantly picked it up and examined it. The art teacher requested it so I hope it will have a home that inspires students. She also took our collection of great seashells that we gathered last year on a beach in Thailand. Now I have a few horns that I collected while we were in the Gobi in Pepper’s class. And the huge quartz crystal that I carried down the mountain will have a home in the new elementary library thank you to Leanne.
This time of year, Mongolia’s steppes begin to turn green with amazing plants. Large areas of blue iris plants are left by the grazing animals. Wild rhubarb pops up everywhere. Wildflowers erupt to soak up the sun.
On Saturday morning we headed to Terelj for another ger camping trip. We saw an amazing variety of wildflowers considering we were at the park just last week. I have included photos of some of the flowers we saw last week. I’m working on identification of them.
For quite a few months we have been working on being approved to adopt a child. We just received notice that our home study has been completed and sent to our adoption agency. It is official, we’re (essentially) approved to adopt.
Our situation is complicated since we live overseas. Everything that is required for a home study seems to become more difficult. Here are some of the documents we needed to collect.
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce decrees
- Passports and other verification of citizenship
- Medical reports
- Employment verification
- Rental contract
- Financial statements
- Three years of Federal income tax returns
- Police clearance reports for Mongolia (had to have an official translation), Alaska, China, Washington, Arizona, and Florida
- Child abuse registry checks for: Alaska, Utah, New York, Washington, Florida, and Arizona
- Family photographs
- Three letters of reference
- Education certificates from courses we took about adoption
A number of these documents had to be notarized. In the US that would have been rather easy and inexpensive or even free. Here, we had to go to the US embassy which meant we had to leave work. Then they charged $50 per document for the notarization. We needed seven documents notarized. Ouch.
Having the social worker visit us in Mongolia was considerably more expensive than it would have been in the US as well. We had to pay for her to fly from Malaysia, pay for her hotel and meals as well as the home study fee.
Some of the documents required months of waiting (I’m looking at you, New York State).
We had to go to and pay for medical checks at one of the care centers here. Since we don’t have a history they could look at, we had to have a number of tests done.
Our financial statements are considerably atypical. Since we have our housing and utilities paid for, rental income, some travel and private education costs covered a normal financial assessment isn’t accurate.
I know a number of people that have adopted. My appreciation of their effort before they even had their new family member has grown significantly. All of our work is a big step. But it is the first of a few big steps that must be made.
I’ll update as we have future major progress in our journey to adopt a child. We do have one in mind. They are actually “locked” to us but we don’t want to get too excited about that just yet.
If you would like to help us with our adoption expenses you can click on the button below.
On our way out of Ulaanbaatar on Friday afternoon we saw a vintage car with a sign on the bumper “Peking to Paris.”
This is a 1938 Chevrolet Fangio Coupe driven by a French team.
Thanks to the internet for enlightening us… we witnessed a number of cars as they arrived in Ulaanbaatar on their drive from Beijing to Paris. This was the 5th Peking to Paris Rally. The rally is limited to cars that are pre-1975. I suddenly have a huge respect for drivers like this. They are collectors items but people are driving them along a historic route, making repairs and really getting to know their cars. While having a vintage car stored in a garage is nice – saying you drove one from China to France is absolutely incredible.
Jordan has a chance at winning a cash prize(up to $3,000) for his age group for the 2013 Expat Youth Scholarship. But he needs your vote! Go to the Facebook page and cast your vote for his video.
Jordan was in Cub Scouts when we were in Petersburg. He participated in the food drive, the Space Derby, the Pinewood Derby, cake making contests and a few other events.
I was active in scouts from Bobcat through my 23rd birthday when I was a scoutmaster. Since then I have only served on Eagle Scout review boards and working with scouts on service projects.
I believe strongly in the organization. It taught me much. I met many great people. Nearly all of my friends that are gay I met in scouting. Now that the organization will no longer ban youth from participating if they announce they are gay, I feel like it is the right time to become active in the organization again. I still have my issues with other positions BSA takes. But at least at this point the organization will not kick out youth because of something that isn’t a conscious choice.
Unfortunately, there are no scout troops here in Mongolia or in Chennai, India. So Jordan will be part of the Lone Scout program. Perhaps in India we will find a few other youth interested in getting a troop started.
I look forward to being as active as we can. Last night we looked at the schedule for the National Jamboree this summer. Sadly, we’ll probably be too busy to even stop by as a visitor. The 2015 World Jamboree is in Japan…