Zachary Murray FIU ’09 Graduate, currently serving in Mongolia, wakes up in the middle of the night to restart the fire in his ger, a portable tent that Mongolian nomads still use. The tent provides little warmth from the frigid temperatures. Buckets of water and eggs freeze overnight. He can’t remember the last time he ate a green vegetable.
“I eat carrots every day,” Murray said, speaking to FIU Magazine from Mongolia.
The Miami-born and raised alumnus has learned to adjust to his new lifestyle in Uliastai, the rural city accessible by a 30-hour bus ride from the capital, Ulaanbaatar. With snow on the ground seven months out of the year, his daily attire consists of heavy layers of clothes and boots.
“Living in a developing country really pushes you,” Murray said. “When things don’t work out or go to plan, it teaches you a lot. It even teaches you how many days you can go without showering.”
The religious studies graduate got bit by the travel bug after a visit to Israel so he moved to Japan after graduation and became an English teacher in Kagoshima. He then moved to Kyoto, learned Japanese, and worked in guest houses in Tokyo before carefully planning his next step – joining Peace Corps.
He was assigned to teach English in Mongolia. That involved adding a third language, Mongolian. In between teaching, Murray works with local Mongolian teachers, instructing them on lesson planning and other formal skills.
Murray thrives on the variety and scope of work that comes with his main assignment. He’s worked with two other Peace Corps volunteers to establish a basketball leadership camp, and provides dental education and care for the local youth.
“I spearhead projects, go to businesses to ask for funding, and organize camps,” he said. Doing it all in another language adds to his skill set.
“The point was not for me to do the basketball leadership camp alone, but to train the Mongolians to do it so they can continue doing it yearly and make it sustainable,” he said.
As for what’s next for the world traveler, he’s contemplating a variety of options, including the Foreign Service, returning to Japan, or maybe heading to graduate school in the U.S.
Ultimately, Murray knows that Peace Corps has shaped him into a different person.
“I like my mind always being open and discovering new things,” he said. “You learn a lot about yourself while you’re doing Peace Corps – you not only give, but you receive a lot, too.”