Katieholder’s Blog

Love/Hate the U.S.

I had an extremely distressing/punching walls day yesterday (June 21st). It wasn’t anything in Mongolia that had me wanting to cry/scream/punch someone. It was a situation in America. My host sister, Jagaa, who is 18, came to America to work/travel on a J-1 visa. This visa (and her job) was obtained through a certain agency that will, as of now, remain unnamed.

She arrived in Atlantic City, NJ approximately 10 days ago to work at a factory there. She knew her job would be tough, but she definitely didn’t get what she expected. In the first week of work, she has worked 21 hours in a single day (and only received 30$ for that day); worked a regular 8 hour shift and only received 10$; and has had approximately 70$ taken out of her first wages for “fees”. Did I mention that her parents scrimped and saved for several years to get the 4 million tugruks for this “experience”?

We talked last week for several days through text messages about her situation, each day cultivating more guilt/panic in myself since I checked out the agency online and told her that it seemed like a legitimate and good choice. The last straw, however, was when she sent me the following text:

“I don’t know why I ever wanted to come to this place. I hate it here. Katie, you are my last hope. Can you do anything?”

As I read that text, I started to cry. I cried because of my guilt for giving the “ok” to the agency. I cried for my duu’s pain (duu = younger sibling). And I cried because of her lost faith in America. I wrote back to her that I would do EVERYTHING that I could to get her out of there. At this point I was crying and shaking in anger.

I immediately fired off an email to the agency person I knew through email (who I had been in contact with since last week because I’m an overprotective “egch” (older sister)). Needless to say, this was a “stern” email with underlying tones of upper body beatings if the situation wasn’t resolved IMMEDIATELY.

Apparently, I can write a great threatening email because my contact wrote back today requesting my parents’ address and the promise that he would get things moving immediately. He also wrote that he would be starting a sort of investigation of the employer because of the complaints (there had been more than one apparently). After reading his response, I wrote that I had only “talked” to Jagaa through text messages, and gave him that phone number and my parents’ address.

After writing my “stern” email to the agency, I wrote an email to my parents explaining what was going on and asking if they would be willing to take Jagaa in for the summer. I sent it. I waited 30 minutes and decided that this wasn’t something that could wait several hours. I needed to talk to them. Now. I called them at 5:30 p.m. (Mongolian time), 4:30 a.m. (Arkansas time).

I first talked to my Dad who was, understandably, groggy and kind of out of it. He handed off the phone to my Mom who listened to me as I cried and told her everything I’ve written here. My parents, who are probably the most wonderful people on the planet, immediately said “Sure, she can stay with us”.

I texted Jagaa the good news today and her response was “Thank you so much. I will never forget your help in my life. I need to work to pay your family back for food. Where do you think I can get a job?”

Ok, seriously, I doubt that my parents would notice a decrease in their food budget because of her, but she was insistent that she work “because I want to increase my English and not be a burden”.

 Did I mention that she was an awesome girl who is incredibly sweet and responsible?

I’m hoping that her site change can happen quickly (within the next week or so) so that I can spend some time with her in AR while I’m there for vacation. I’m hoping that she can have a great experience in AR so that her view of the U.S. isn’t tainted forever by memories of NJ.

One of the goals of Peace Corps is to teach host country nationals about America and I don’t want her to learn only negative lessons.

When she gets to AR, I know she will have a great host family (mine) and a built in network of people who care about her (my family and friends). She is very shy, but if you make a small effort, she will open up to you. She loves Fashion TV, card games and making new friends. She loves American culture and wants to be an English teacher in Mongolia some day.

To my parents: let her know that she is welcome to bathe every day, show her how to wash clothes in the washing machine and tell her that pets are allowed in the house. Teach her that cats and dogs are our friends and should be treated well. Let her watch the TV in my room in the basement (she loves MTV and everything American). Her parents are slightly Buddhist but mostly Agnostic. Talk about her religious views with her (but don’t be….you know).

You really don’t have to “invite” her to do things. Just take her to gatherings.  If you have a BBQ in her honor, all the better (hint, hint). Again, I hope/wish that I’m in the U.S. during her transition, but if I’m not, please be patient with her, just like her parents were with me.

As always, “enjoy you amenities”. Here’s a link:  http://www.humantrafficking.org/updates/875

‘The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.’


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * jesseosmun says:

    This is quite a story. I am hopeful she finds a good organization.. have you considered seeing if she might be able to do cleaning or other work at a nonprofit? They might treat her better.

    | Reply Posted 8 years ago
  2. * redefinition says:

    Your blog post is truly touching. I am sitting here in awe…. The thought that this young girl’s family saved for so long, only to send her to work in what sounds like some sort of sweatshop is horrible. Imagine the other young adults that have come to the US, only to be faced with this issue, and have no one to reach out to. It breaks my heart.

    Your family is truly special and will be blessed for taking her in. I pray that she learns English well and has a fabulous time with your family and friends!

    | Reply Posted 8 years ago
    • * katieholder says:

      Thank you for your kind words and prayers. Unfortunately, this type of situation isn’t unusual for university students who use an agency to help them get a J-1 visa.

      | Reply Posted 8 years ago
  3. * rob says:

    Mom and Dad told me this unbelievable story on Monday while we were out eating for Father’s day. Needless to say I was furious and began grinding my jaws like dad does when he’s angry. To take a line from the Wu tang clan “my glock goes pop pop pop” when and if it needs to. Don’t worry, you know she’s in good hands w/ mom and dad, me and Jenny will also hang out w/ her and show her around. What kind of a job can she get w/ a J-1 visa?

    | Reply Posted 8 years ago
  4. * Mari McAvenia says:

    Thank you for posting this. My son is in Mongolia at this time (UB) and I like to think that the people he comes in contact with, there, treat him with respect and decency.
    Jagaa should not have to live like a slave in this country (U.S.A.) Your sisterly care and kindness are deeply appreciated. It’s too true that some Americans do participate in global human trafficking for profit. It makes my blood boil, too!

    At the same time little sister Jagaa was forced to work around the clock for mere crumbs, many millions of highly skilled American workers couldn’t even get a low-paying job cleaning restrooms. Both you and Jagaa were exploited by some very bad people, it sounds like. There is no excuse for that. It’s horrible, bestial, human greed and nothing more. I despise that facet of American life, too, but I still remember that it wasn’t always so oppressive and cruel just to make a living here. I sincerely hope you two can get together in the US and make a fine, happy memory for Jagaa to take back home to Mongolia after this early, disappointing ordeal in her young life.
    Bless you all,

    | Reply Posted 8 years ago

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