The Sunny Student from the Steppe

By K. Eric Pohost

Slipping into the classroom, the tiny specter of a student silently seated herself alone among the throngs of chatty fellow pupils.  Her sunburnt cheeks marked her as intimately familiar with the countryside.  It was surreal how only a couple days ago she was surrounded by sheep, goats, horses, cows, and the wide expanse of the Mongolian steppe.  She yearned for the commotion of her brother revving up a beat-up motorbike and of her parents’ reassuring voices as they discussed where next to relocate the ger.
She could hear them now faintly, “The summer was scorching with little rain.  We must find a spot where the land is greener and water supply is more abundant.”
Her brief lapse back to the countryside was disturbed by a heated discussion of whether or not K-Pop was pleasing to the ear. To now be besieged by cell phones ringing and chalk compositions being scribbled on the blackboard was both frightening and exhilarating. She was used to a solitary, peaceful existence. But she had heard so much about the joy materialism brings and was convinced it would be a part of her future. However, she was acutely aware of her own inadequacies: her poor English skills and lack of familiarity with urban culture—although she proudly revealed her infatuation with Taylor Swift whenever provided with an opportunity.  This self-awareness often silenced her and yet her desire to be a part of city life set ablaze a determination within her to strive for success in this setting.
“Toya!,” her name was badly garbled by her American instructor, but it was recognizable nonetheless and it was enough to jolt her and transform her appearance into a bright crimson.
The thoughts of self-doubt raced through her head, “Suppose she should err and the other students chuckle at her expense. Suppose her voice should fail her entirely and she could speak not a word.  Suppose she didn’t comprehend the question and answered something far from what was expected. Her peers might discover that she was nothing but an ignorant countryside girl.”
“What’s the past perfect continuous of the base verb walk?,” her instructor continued, his baritone voice reverberating throughout the classroom.
“Hey,” she realized, “I actually might know the answer.”
“But it couldn’t be that simple,” Tuya second guessed. “I must have misunderstood what the teacher was asking.”
“Has walk-ed,” she muttered, barely audible to her fellow classmates and foreign instructor. She spoke in such a way that perhaps her response could be misconstrued as correct.
“What was that Toya?” the delighted instructor replied, as he was under the unanticipated impression he had received the answer he had hoped for.
A distraught student realized it would take a second effort on her part and she repeated a bit more loudly, “Has walk-ed.”
“No, it’s had been walking,” replied the mildly disappointed educator, for he was aware of her inexperience with the fluency of a native speaker. And he jotted it on the board to ensure that Tuya and her classmates would understand the correct form.
But this minor failure did not faze Tuya and she was unwavering in her desire to prove she was worthy of this opportunity to adapt to urban life. As the lesson reached a conclusion, she put the finishing touches on the class assignment on the past perfect continuous and navigated her way to the imported instructor and proudly presented the results of her labor. To demonstrate her command of the foreign tongue, Tuya read each line aloud, repeating it in Mongolian because she couldn’t quite fathom that someone didn’t understand what to her seemed so natural. Although the time-constrained teacher added and subtracted words and simultaneously shuffled his papers into some sort of pile posing as organization, he was encouraging:
“Uh-huh, this is correct. And here you just have to put the article the in front of the subject.  Remember when you use a continuous tense it should include –ing at the end of the base verb.  Good work!”
This was substantial praise to spark her inherent optimism which manifested itself by lighting up Tuya’s face.
She enthusiastically thanked her instructor, “bayarlalaa, bagsha!”  Then she reached for her belongings and gleefully skipped out of the classroom.

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