It has now been four months since I came home from Mongolia so I have had time to sit down and reflect. It is fair to say that my stay there was one of the best times of my life and I cannot thank Projects Abroad enough for the opportunity. It really was that good…
I had already joined a Projects Abroad project (the Law and Human Rights Project in Cape Town, South Africa) and knowing how well prepared and looked after I was both before, during and after the trip, I already held Projects Abroad in high esteem, so I was curious to see what other trips they had on offer. I was considering a career in human rights and really wanted to visit Asia in 2017, so the opportunity to volunteer for human rights NGO in Ulaanbaatar was not to be missed! I very quickly chose the Human Rights Project in Mongolia and I am glad that I did so.
The preparation was smooth. The pre-departure tabs were detailed, and reading the volunteer stories from my project really helped me understand what was in store. The Projects Abroad team were really helpful with any questions I had and I felt well-prepared for my trip.
My first impressions
The first thing that struck me about Mongolia was the crazy weather! On the first day it was -2 degrees and I was super cold, but by the end of the week I was in shorts and getting sunburnt. The fast-changing weather was certainly part of the charm of being in Mongolia – just make sure to do your research so you are not caught unaware!
I was quickly struck by the beautiful scenery. Ulaanbaatar is surrounded by endless countryside and I really enjoyed hiking over the first two weekends. I also quickly adapted to the diet. Mongolians eat a very meat-heavy diet, completely different to the vegan diet I followed in the UK, but my host family were supportive in catering for my needs and I quickly found a few places where I could get eat out. You must try Luna Blanca, vegan or not - you will not regret it!
My host family
Unlike in Cape Town, I knew that there was going to be a language difference between my host family and myself but it did not negatively affect my experience in the slightest. The situation really motivated me to learn Mongolian and to adapt to the culture of the country, and it was really rewarding to help my host family learn some English. My family took care of me every step of the way, taking me on trips to see the countryside and inviting me to family gatherings, so I felt right at home in Mongolia, and I’m so grateful for all the family did for me. It was certainly sad to say goodbye after nearly three months!
My Human Rights Project
The one thing that attracted me most to the project was the placement itself; the chance to volunteer in a human rights NGO. The NGO does incredible work and it was a real honour to do my part in helping at the organisation. I researched human rights abuses faced by nomadic communities and drafted proposals for schemes that would defend the rights of the elderly. I also gave presentations to a nomadic community comparing human rights in the UK and Mongolia and what can be done to face these challenges.
I was well looked after at the NGO and felt valued. Travelling outside of Ulaanbaatar was incredibly rewarding; Mongolians are very welcoming and make you feel right at home! My experience at the NGO was instrumental in helping me decide what career path I wanted to take and at the time of writing, I have been accepted to study masters in human rights law.
The other volunteers
One of my favourite aspects of my project in Cape Town was the opportunity to socialise with volunteers from other projects, so I was looking forward to meeting the other volunteers and experiencing Mongolia with them. Together we did plenty of sight-seeing, such as visiting the Chinggis Khan statue and the Winter Palace, as well as helping in rewarding weekend projects like refurbishing a nursery for children with disabilities. We all got along quickly and became one big group, and it was sad when one of the volunteers headed home!
My one piece of advice to anyone going on a project in Mongolia would be to immerse yourself in the culture. There is such a unique and rich culture to enjoy, with history, scenery, language, food (most of which I could not eat) and music all forming a part of my experience there. Make sure to have a bucket-list and give yourself enough time to complete it!
I have to say a massive thank you to the Projects Abroad team for their organisation and support. Everything was well organised without feeling regimented, and I loved the friendly atmosphere between the staff and the volunteers. I really cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed the trip; the three months really flew by! As for Mongolia, I’m determined to come back one day…