From Mount Michael to Mongolia: Alumni Focus: Robert Stubblefield, '93

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mongolia: Peace Corps Mongolia : The Peace Corps in Mongolia: From Mount Michael to Mongolia: Alumni Focus: Robert Stubblefield, '93

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, January 14, 2003 - 5:35 pm: Edit Post

From Mount Michael to Mongolia: Alumni Focus: Robert Stubblefield, '93

From Mount Michael to Mongolia: Alumni Focus: Robert Stubblefield, '93

From Mount Michael to Mongolia
Alumni Focus: Robert Stubblefield, '93

When I think of Mongolia I think of the land of the great Khans. Men like Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan, who in the 13th century presided over the first flowering of the Mongol Empire. When I think of Robert Stubblefield, I recall a quiet, serious, not an untypical Mount Michael student who worked hard and, as expected, went onto college. When Rob graduated from the Mount in 1993, he was the last person I would expect to end up working on the other side of the world in Mongolia. Shortly after Rob returned to the United States after serving a two year stint with the Peace Corp, he visited Mount Michael. After talking with him just a short time, I knew that he had and interesting story to tell.

At first I thought the article would make a good "travel log," but after talking with Rob, I know that for him Mongolia was more than just an interesting place to visit. His travel there and his work there, especially with the children, have had a considerable impact on his life and his world view: "When you watch a five year old kid work for hours in a field collecting manure so that his family can stay warm for the night, you get to understand what life is like for a couple of billion people on the planet."

After his graduation from Mount Michael, Rob attended Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, where he received a double major in history and global studies. (He attributes his history major to the influence Mount Michael's history teacher, Mrs. Pat Dowd.) His minor was in environmental studies which "was more work than both my majors combined." During his junior year at Pacific Lutheran, he spent a semester in London. This gave him a chance to fulfill his desire to travel. His parents traveled often while he was growing up, but because of school he could not go with them; his semester in England only fostered his desire to travel more.

Rob not only had an urge to travel, but he also had "a constant need to help people that are not as fortunate as I am." The Peace Corps was an obvious match. He had no money, so the Peace Corps would insure a free trip and give him that chance to help other people.
How did he "end up" in Mongolia and not the south of France or the sunny beaches of the Greek Islands. According to Rob, "Why Mongolia? Because that was my first and only offer as a liberal arts major." Thus in June, 1997, he began a two year stint with the Peace Corps half a world away from his hometown of Valley, Nebraska.

When I asked Rob what his most interesting experience was he said that he had enough to fill a book. The cultural differences alone where a shock to his system, both physically and mentally. Remember, Mongolia is a former Communist country, and their whole approach to life is so much different than the West. In his travels as well as his work he had to deal with Russians, Chinese, Mongolians, and various Peace Corps personnel.

Rob spent an initial 11 weeks "in country" leaning the fundamentals of the language and customs of Mongolia. He then lived with host families who helped him "adopt" his new country. Rob is a tall man (6 ft. plus), so he was never able to just "blend in" with the general population. In some cases he was the only American amidst the general Mongolian populace, and therefore, somewhat of a novelty and center of attention. As Rob sat down with me one evening to share his extensive photo album, it was obvious that he was welcomed as a member of the family.

After his initial training sessions, Rob had hoped that he would be able to work on a wildlife preserve and be involved with reintroducing various native animals to the park. For "political reasons," however, he was assigned to teach English in a very remote area of the country. He was not trained as an English teacher, yet he found himself in a classroom of small children waiting to be taught English. I asked him why children from such a very poor and remote part of the world would be interested in learning English. He said that the only way the country will be able to advance is though education: children learning English, coming to the United States to study, and then returning with what they learned here to help advance their very poor country.

He often worked under very primitive conditions. The school library was locked most of the time because there were so few books that it was feared they would be stolen thus it was virtually inaccessible. The cold was unbearable at times. He talked about one of his "rooms" where the refrigerator (set at 40 degrees) was the warmest place in the room. He would put his contact lenses in the refrigerator at night knowing that they would not freeze there. When I asked him why he continued under such adverse living conditions, he said he stayed because of the children. He said the kids were wonderful, excited and eager students.

Rob currently works in Omaha for Community Alliance, he works at job training and rehabilitation in mental health. When I asked what his future plans might be, he said that at the end of the year he might consider traveling to Chile in South America to learn Spanish. He said that he may even sign-up for another term in the Peace Corps. (He also added that one of his lifetime goals is to live sometime on each of the 6 habitable world continents.)

Did the Mount Michael experience help prepare Rob for the Peace Corps? "I appreciate Mount Michael more and more as he get older." The discipline and serous study habits he learned here were of inestimable benefit. "Current Mount Michael students should take time to really appreciate what they are getting here."

As a final reflection on his Peace Corps experience Rob offers, "No matter who you are, your skin color, religion, gender, age, family situation, or anything else, if you are born in the United States, you have more potential in this world than anyone else...Just for being born here!" - Fr. Richard Thell O.S.B.

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