Care in Mongolia by Indigo Nicholson
My name is Indigo Nicholson and I am 18 years old from Melbourne, Australia. I spent three months volunteering with Projects Abroad on their Care Project in Mongolia. I always wanted to volunteer overseas during my gap year after high school and through internet research, I found Projects Abroad. They have so many great destination options that I spent a while trying to decide where I wanted to go. I finally chose Mongolia because of its beautiful vast landscapes and our shared love of horses.
In the beginning, it was difficult to be away from my family, but I found it very easy to settle in. I was introduced to my host family and shown around the city and my placement by my Projects Abroad supervisor. Everyone I met was very kind and helpful and I had a great support network; if I was lost or had any questions my supervisor was always only a phone call away.
I completed cultural training with Projects Abroad staff and other volunteers, which makes it much easier to settle in as you learn about the country’s culture and about how to navigate communicating and interacting with the locals. My first impression of Mongolian people was that they were very shy and my first impression of Ulaanabaatar was that, for a capital city, it was built low with not many sky scrapers. I could see from one horizon to another and I was in awe of the magnificent dome of blue sky overhead as I watched my supervisor zig-zagging through traffic on the crazy Mongolian roads.
My Care placement
When I arrived at my placement I was very surprised to find the entire kindergarten consisted of one room. In that one room the children ate, used the potty, slept and played from 8:00am until 6:00pm. It was my job to help the local teacher with cleaning and cooking, as well as running craft activities with the children and helping them learn English.
My average work day would begin at 9:30am and I would help serve the children breakfast. After breakfast, I did different activities with the children, such as colouring in or drawing, helping the children learn to count, teaching them the words for colours in English and reading them children’s books. I would then help with cleaning up, lunch preparation and serving lunch to the kids and feeding the younger children. Around 2:00pm, I would set up the children’s beds for their afternoon nap. I would then help the teacher learn English and my normal day would end at 3:00pm, although on some days I would finish at 6:00pm if the teacher needed extra help.
My host family
My host family lived in a two-bedroom apartment which had a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. I was given one of the bedrooms while the parents and their daughter slept in the other and the grandmother slept in the living room. Despite what it may sound like, it wasn’t at all cramped, as I had my own space and I was welcome to join the family in the living room to watch television.
For most dinners, I ate with my host family at the kitchen table and the food varied from traditional food such as Tsuivan (a noodle dish) and Buuz (dumplings) to pasta and soup. All traditional Mongolian food is delicious, particularly if you like eating meat. I tried to eat as much fruit and vegetables as I could when they were available, as it’s important to eat enough fibre, otherwise you may experience constipation!
My free time
On the weekends I would meet up with other volunteers and we went sightseeing (e.g. to museums, the ballet, wrestling matches, temples and monasteries). I went on two trips away with a group of volunteers to the Gobi Desert and to the old capital, Karakorum. I also had the option to go out with the volunteers at night on the weekends; there are many affordable bars and nightclubs if you are interested in experiencing the nightlife.
My tips for future volunteers would be to always be curious and ask questions, because Mongolian people will always be willing to help you learn about their culture and language. If you are working with children, all you need to do is show them love. Mongolian people are quite shy so when you first meet them they may be very reserved, but don’t worry as they will open up once they get to know you. If anything goes wrong, stay calm; the Projects Abroad staff are always right there if you need help.
My overall experience
What I miss most is everything, but especially the people - both the volunteers who I met and the local people who I became so close to. I plan to go back to Mongolia as soon as I can because I fell in love with the country and its people.