Olga Bukach ’04
Vladivostok, Russia/Smyrna, DE
completelycrazy [dot] bukach [at] gmail [dot] com

I’m a teacher, and, therefore, I’m a bit weird.  I don’t like to be around people on my days off, have two months of vacation in summer (and never in winter, autumn or spring), have my first decent meal of the day around dinner time and make New Year resolutions in May.  Yes, for me the year starts in September and ends in May, just like the school year does, so May is the month of reflections, drawing conclusions, thinking back to any great times I happened to have during the year and so on.  This May, looking back, I can definitely say that there was one event that was absolutely wonderful, great and – to some extent – even magical.

In mid-September, 2011, I got a call from Denis Boyle, Vladivostok office director at American Councils  for International Education in the Russian Far East. He asked me, “What do you think about going to Mongolia for the weekend in October?”  I thought I misunderstood something, or maybe misheard him, since “Mongolia” was the last word I would expect to hear in any telephone conversation.  Amazed, I asked, “What do you mean?  Did I get it right?  Did you actually say “Mongolia”?!?”  There was a short silence and then the answer, “Yes, Mongolia.  There is an alumni conference planned for the first weekend in October there, and I thought you would be interested in doing this kind of thing.”  My first instinct was to agree, which I did.  Any other kind of thought, including the necessity to get some days off two jobs, were so small and insignificant, that I didn’t pay much attention to them.

So, about three weeks later, Alumni Coordinator Dolgor Purbueva ’10  and I flew into Ulaanbaatar, where, together with Radna Sodnomova ’09 from Ulan-Ude, we represented the alumni of the Eurasia Future Leaders’ Exchange (Eurasia FLEX) program.  The four-day trip turned out to be so fruitful and full of events and emotions, that I could have spent pages and pages describing all of them.  This East Asia and Pacific Regional Alumni Association Enrichment in Ulaanbaatar was organized so well,  we were given such a warm welcome, the program was so interesting and the people around us so friendly, that I will  not exaggerate if I say that during those three days each and every of us felt like a VIP!

Of course, there were a lot of hours spent in sessions – discussing various issues and sharing experiences, debating, creating, again sharing and discussing, preparing presentations, and much more.  Since the geography of the conference was vast (we met with State Alumni from Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos, South Korea, Vietnam, Timor-Leste, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, and Mongolia),  it was like a mini-exchange program for all of us.  It was a flashback from the times when we stayed in the US,  met with so many people from so many different countries, felt free from our every day routines and united by some big, common idea.

Apart from the fruitful discussions we had during all those warm and sunny days in Mongolia, there was also time for teamwork.  All participants were divided into three groups based on a previously conducted survey and had some time to come up with a project.  Should the team win, it would be awarded $2,000 from the US Embassy to Mongolia’s Public Affairs Section (PAS) to implement their project.  I have to admit, we had a great time discussing the project together as a  group, which focused on Youth Alumni Leadership and Engagement.  It’s also worth mentioning that this topic was so popular, we ended up with two teams dealing with it.  Dolgor and myself were in Group A, whereas Radna found herself in Group B, so we felt like rivals!  The first order of business was to decide the area of focus, and I would say that this was the most difficult part to cope with.  Our discussion was rather heated, but finally we agreed on Dolgor’s proposal to organize a video-competition for alumni associations.  Our idea was that each alumni association would be asked to create and film a short documentary, answering three questions in a format of either a movie, or a music video, or a cartoon, or in any other video format the AA would prefer.  The three questions to be answered were defined as follows:

  • What is the purpose of your alumni association?
  • How do AA members benefit from being in alumni association?
  • What can you as an alumni association do for your community?

We decided that the videos would then be posted either on YouTube or State Alumni website, where the winner would be chosen by a collective vote.  We named our project “Dare.  Do.  Succeed” and were 99% sure that we would be the winners.  Group  B focused on the need of each particular country its alumni came from, so it was not one project, but rather 9 or 10, united by a common goal and idea.  The prize went to Group B, and Radna celebrated the victory with her teammates!

Of course, State Alumni do something different in each country, depending on their age, personality, community needs and so on, but the thing that still unites all of us – regardless of our nationality and the kind of program we participated in – is the desire to do something for the community, to change something, to let people see the difference and create this difference themselves.  There is one important thing I realized at the end of the third day of the conference: no matter how small and insignificant whatever you as alumni do may seem to whomever, and sometimes even to you yourselves, in reality it does make a huge difference.  No matter how skeptical or jaded people around you may be, if you believe that what you’re doing is the right thing, keep on doing it, and in the end you will be amazed at the results and at the impact it does make on your community.  Never be afraid of what others will think of you.  Never doubt that you can make a difference.

A special thanks goes out to Uyanga Erdenebold, Allyson Algeo, Nazgul Toktosunova, Denis Boyle, Lisa Hailbronn and the MASA TEAM, who made this experience so unforgettable.