Sally Nolan - General Journalism Projects in Mongolia
I spent three weeks of my gap year in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, in order to get more experience in journalism while exploring a different culture. I worked at NTV (New Television Mongolia), a television broadcasting network in Mongolia, and I stayed with my host parents and my two host brothers and host sister.
My first Impressions of Mongolia
My first impression of Mongolia was that it’s very cold! Arriving at the beginning of March meant I was arriving during the Mongolian winter. Although it was beautiful, the average temperature during this time is -10͒C, making it a bit of a shock to my system! Although this may be off-putting to some, I really enjoyed it. Seeing locals dressed up in warm clothing was very interesting, with many wearing the traditional Mongolian dress, deel.
This looks like a large silk overcoat, often bound by leather buckles or a silk belt. Although it does not look very warm, it is made of cotton, silk, wool, or brocade, making the clothing thick and light. Although it was traditionally worn centuries ago by the Mongols and other nomadic tribes, many still wear their deel on special occasions. I was lucky enough to wear one when visiting the Ger district (a less developed residential area in Ulaanbaatar), which I borrowed from my Projects Abroad supervisor.
Not only did I arrive in the middle of winter, I also arrived during one of the biggest festivals in Mongolia - the Lunar New Year, also known as Tsagaan Sar. Although I was slightly anxious arriving, having no idea what to expect, the turnout was spectacular. I was invited to visit the family and friends of my supervisor at Projects Abroad. I was made a part of their traditional celebrations and tried lots of authentic food and drink including milk tea, fermented mare's milk and dairy sweets. There was even a pyramid of traditional cookies in the center of the table designed to symbolize Mount Sumeru or Shambhala realm.
Although the food in Mongolia is a meat-based diet, everyone was very accommodating to me as a vegetarian - most notably my host family. But what struck me most, in my first impression of Mongolia, was how generous the people were. No matter what they were eating or drinking, they would always offer some to those around. It was very beautiful to see people share so naturally and generously and I soon adapted and enjoyed the change!
My Journalism placement
For my Journalism placement, I was based at NTV. I chose this placement as I am interested in a career in journalism, and although I have had experience in print and online journalism, I wanted to develop my skills in television and communication. My work mainly consisted of shadowing existing journalists in their day-to-day work. Although the language barrier was a slight issue, it was exciting to be a part of a television network that was broadcast all over Mongolia every day. One particularly fond memory was being able to watch a live television broadcast from one of the cases that I had been following for the week. Another highlight was attending interviews on the current economic situation in Ulaanbaatar.
I was also able to develop my networking skills. By attending a conference on gender equality in the workplace, I met many interesting female journalists, one of whom I continued to work with in developing a short purpose magazine focusing on Public Health in Mongolia.
The location of my placement was perfect. It was only a 20-minute walk from my host family's apartment, meaning I could get to and from work very easily.
My free time
Although I enjoyed my Journalism placement in Mongolia, it was the work I did outside of my placement that brings back the fondest memories. With the help of my supervisor at Projects Abroad, we set up a Journalism club with the other volunteers in Ulaanbaatar. This allowed us to focus on setting up the charity, The Child Smile Foundation. Working together, we managed to produce a video, set up social media platforms and a donation page, and create a leaflet for the charity. On my final day, we were able to present all of our work to a group of 30 others, including fellow volunteers and the public. The charity focuses on helping single mothers with disabled children in Ulaanbaatar and I am continuing to help from England.
However, it wasn't all just work! I still managed to explore the nomad culture by arranging a trip with other volunteers I met whilst away. We drove to the outskirts of the city in order to go on a horse trek through the snow. I also visited a variety of museums and, of course, the statue of Genghis Khan, which my host sister took me to on the first day.
My overall experience
I enjoyed my time in Mongolia immensely. Although it may not be the most obvious destination, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The contrast in culture is so dynamic that feeling out of your comfort zone is inevitable. However, Projects Abroad have such a supportive team and they make it very easy to find other volunteers and adapt to the cultural differences. So if you are not sure, my only advice would be to go for it and visit Mongolia.