While cleaning a colleague’s light fixtures the other morning (they usually ask me to do things involving height, and love to guess that I must be about “2 meters tall!” That’s mash ondor, very tall, in Mongolia), I stumbled across an old CCCP manufacturing label etched into the ceramic socket holding the bulb. It got me thinking about legacy: the Russian legacy, which is mostly one of infrastructure, buildings, and of course the alphabet, but it also got me thinking about my legacy. Is it premature to already ask myself this question? I’ve only been at site for about a week now, but I’ve already been in Erdene. What is my legacy there? Do my few students after 3 weeks of classes remember anything about simple past tense, the second conditional, or sequence words. It forces me to ask myself what my actual legacy is here anyway.
I think it changes for each volunteer at each different site. Take for instance my fellow PCVs in sites where they are perhaps the 3rd or 4th volunteer in a row. These schools have students that have grown up around volunteers, being taught by at least one American every year. They understand Peace Corps’ mission, it’s administration, and the finer aspects of how it operates in practice. Some of these schools even have infrastructure (both physical and administrative) that is still in operation from their very first volunteer so many years ago. As a result, I’m having to remind myself that my successes here cannot be measured against such radically different settings. My legacy probably will not be a National Mongolian English Olympics gold medal for my school, or making the school a region-wide hub of English education and methodology. Maybe my legacy is completion of service with strong relationships with my colleagues, giving the school a native speaker in the classroom, and a counterpart that tests at a level of “Advanced Spoken English” instead of merely “Intermediate” by the time I leave. There’s certainly some reason I was sent to school like this instead of one of the aforementioned sites. I’m sure my lack of experience was a factor, but so too (I hope) is my willingness to face down frustration and slow progress. For now, I’m painting classrooms, cleaning floors, and generally doing my best to look helpful and happy. It seems to be working, because the teacher whose light fixtures I cleaned gave me a big smile and said “mash ich bayarlaa,” which means, “thank you very, very much.”