I'm usually not a huge fan of competitions in Mongolia since they usually come with a lot of cramming. Instead of studying English all year long, students wait and then study two weeks before an annual competition. Instead of practicing sports all year long, teams wait all year and then practice every day for one week before an annual competition. I've been watching it for a few years now and I've seen the competition mentality pervade every sphere from studying, to learning a new language, to playing with children. I don't believe in occasional, as I mentioned before, I believe in consistency.
So when we had our first-ever English competition in the hospital at the request of two of my closest colleagues, Altansuvd (Head of Nursing) and Munkhzul (Hospital Director), I told them I had an idea. I knew they wanted to give awards to the best English speakers in the hospital, but we already knew who those people were. Giving them awards wouldn't encourage anyone else. In fact, even if people studied for months they couldn't compete with Tunga, Altansuvd, Munkhzul and several other doctors and nurses. First, I told them they shouldn't be allowed to compete. Haha They were a little disappointed, but they smiled and admitted it was the right thing to do. Second, I told them we should have two groups for awards: awards for people who have been studying English for a while (advanced) and people who just started learning (basic). Third, I asked them to give me a couple of months before the competition to teach anyone would wanted to learn. They agreed and we started a three month class in January, telling everyone that at the end of the class there would be a competition where anyone who just starting learning English could win. Fast forward three months and I am grading papers and speaking tests, with the help of my fellow Volunteers Alex, Todd and Alex, grinning from ear to ear. I'm going to miss these doctors and nurses and I couldn't be prouder of them.
Here is the little speech I wrote while I watched them take the test today:
I'm so proud of each of you, you have improved so much in the past two years. English is not easy, especially when you are a busy nurse or doctor, and mother and friend. I know it is difficult for each of you, to work all day and all night and yet still you study, you learn, you practice and you improve. You improve yourselves, you improve your families, your hospital, your community and your country. I know you are learning for your family, yourself, and your future. I am honored to be here with you.
I have made certificates for each of you (I will give these out tomorrow when we give out the awards) because I want you to see how much you have improved. It takes months, years, to learn a new language. The language scale we measured you on for this is an international test - the same test I was measured on when I prepared for Peace Corps. I studied Mongolian every day, twenty four hours a day for three months and I improved three levels on that scale. Since I met you two years ago, some of you have improved one level, two levels, even three or four levels. You did that and you can't study English every day, twenty four hours a day. You can only study at most a few hours a week. And still, you do. I am so proud of each of you. I hope you are each very proud of yourselves.
It will be hard to leave these wonderful people, they are great friends and very inspirational people to be around. It's very moving for me to see dozens of great people conversing comfortably and energetically when two years ago they were afraid to even say "hi." English opens a thousand doors, especially in health care, and I'm glad to be handing out keys and certificates.