September first is a national holiday in Mongolia: It commemorates the first day of school for children across the nation. Everyone gets dressed up, comes to school with their parents, and meets their teachers in order to usher in the new academic year. If it falls on the weekend, everyone still meets. This year, it fell on a Sunday.
Most schools have a big opening ceremony in the morning. My school has a bit of singing, a bit of music, and this year, administration decided to forego dances in favor of a pair of contortionists. After the acts, a pair of brand-new first grade students comes up and rings a bell, signaling the start of their schooling adventures. It’s a nice compliment to what occurs at the end of their academic journey, to say the least.
Students come up and give flowers to their teachers and everyone lines up. They then enter their new classrooms, where the teachers will usually talk to them and introduce themselves while they wait for the national broadcast from the President. He welcomes students with a short lesson on civics and how they can be good citizens through completing their education. I couldn’t hear much, nor understand much, but the gist I got was this: Chinggis Khaan is important, the internet is transforming the social landscape of Mongolia and should be used responsibly, and that this year will be great.
During the stalling before the speech, I had to give a brief speech on Chinggis in English. It went over well, as I received a round of applause for my efforts. Not the kind of speech I was expecting to give, but the experience is so typical of Mongolia I couldn’t help but share it.