Bayarlalaa & bayartai

I’m very sad, for today I’ll be leaving Ulaanbaatar.

At the UB Post, I wrote an article on my first impressions of Mongolia for my internship. For that article, I concentrated on my overall experience and addressed it from the a racial perspective. However, I didn’t address many other things that shaped my experience here, such as the people, the food, and outside trips/locations. There was a lot of good and admittedly there was some bad, but overall this has been such an empowering experience that has helped me grow and flourish in unimaginable ways. Thank you so much to everyone who helped make this happen again – you guys are amazing! Here are some highlights of my trip that I feel were key in making the experience what it was.

Highlight #1: Interviewing amazing organizations like the UNFPA

I had opportunities to interview organizations such as the Bankhar Dog Project, Hobby School, and of course, the UNDP and UNFPA (the UNDP article is actually still unfinished, but I’ll be publishing it soon hopefully!). I’ve written about topics that I never imagined I’d even come close to touching (like climate change and looting) and conducted interviews with people I thought I’d never breathe the same air as. In other countries, opportunities like these are few and far between. It’s an honor to be able to come to Mongolia to have access to professional development opportunities like these.

Highlight #2: Partying it up with Peace Corps

One of my dearest friends here, Sebastian (official shout-out at last!), is from Peace Corps, and I’m very grateful to him for introducing me to a network of fantastic individuals. Peace Corps volunteers, you are all so inspiring. They’re incredibly motivated, persevering folks who strive to make a difference. They also are so much fun! I went to a lot of dinners with them, of course, but I also had a lot of fun going to trivia night, karaoke, bars, and World Cup matches. We also took trips to museums and Terelj. Thank you to Sebastian and all of Peace Corps for walking me home, letting me in on your fun, and being lovely human beings. Congrats to those of you who have COS now, and good luck to those who are staying 🙂

Highlight #3: Helping expand the Wellesley network

As you may know, recently I was featured on the Daily Shot at Wellesley. I was also in charge of posting on their Instagram story, something that (a) I had no experience since I’m a Snapchat hoe and (b) I definitely abused, sorry Wellesley. However, I had fun posting pics about memes and making jokes while taking illegal videos inside museums… But while I was here, it was through initiatives like that, as well as my education article, that allowed me to reach out to other young women looking at Wellesley as a place to be for the next four years. I spoke to two young Mongolian women who were very keen on Wellesley as a place for them. One girl attended Hobby School, so we got in touch via the connections I made while writing the education article. The other girl saw my posts on the Insta and immediately messaged me. I am so happy to see their enthusiasm and desire to be part of our community! While Wellesley may not be perfect, I think that having their presence on campus would be a huge benefit, and I think that Wellesley in turn would help them become even more powerful, stronger women too for the benefit of their country. I’m happy also that I am somehow able to inspire other people to take the plunge. 🙂

Highlight #4: Mongolian men…

I keep making the joke to all of the Mongolians that I meet that I feel like Wonder Woman coming here. Not because I’m as awesome or as smart (I wish – hopefully am getting there), but because like Diana, I came from the Amazon-like, female-only shelter of Wellesley College and emerged into the chaotic, warlike world of men. I was also pretty naive because of my lack of experience with men. I certainly had some very questionable experiences with guys hitting on me and my friends. I also made some poor decisions in terms of focusing too much on a guy who mostly wanted just a physical relationship (was not my intention to even think about guys in the first place, I swear). But it was fun meeting good men and just getting to know them – for example, someone who was studying in China, someone who took me out on a night drive. And obviously my Peace Corps friends who were male. In other words, I really got to know the real diversity the “other species” (as Wellesley girls sometimes jokingly refer to guys as). Along with the fact that we’re not so different, but the number one thing to remember is to respect yourself – the two most important things for any kind of relationship are respect and self-respect. Being able to experience this and learn this is in itself incredibly empowering.

Highlight #5: Strong friendships created in such a short time

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And finally, last but not least, I must mention the friendships that I’ve had throughout my stay here. As I said above, Sebastian and Peace Corps have been instrumental in making my experience so amazing. Outside of Peace Corps, I’ve also met a ton of great people. At work, I regret not getting to know my coworkers a little better, but they are all incredibly talented and inspiring – one young woman is only 17 and works at the UN. Everyone was so kind and generous to me, and my boss was patient with my mistakes and always helpful in giving me feedback. He also had a ton of interesting things to say. Through my interviews I also met great people. The project manager at the Bankhar Dog Project is enthusiastic, warm, and very friendly, passionate about making a difference for the nomadic shepherd population. And I must mention that at the UNFPA, I got to be good friends with the communications director, who is super intelligent, generous, and is going to be the world’s greatest father to the world’s youngest feminist.

And of course, my Mongolian friends. Through trivia nights at Smokehouse (and Sebastian, he is quite the bro), I met some Mongolians with whom I grew to be close – an Irish-Mongolian, a business accountant, a travel agent, many more. One Mongolian studied in France. She’s so incredibly cool, down-to-earth, kind, super talented at languages, and very observant. I hope to meet her during the spring of 2019 when I go abroad to Aix-en-Provence! I also met a lot of Mongolians who go to school in the USA or UK – Rhodes, NYU, Westminster, Swarthmore, Wisconsin, Arizona, MIT, many others – and I admire them so much for daring to go spend the next four years of their lives in a completely different world at competitive schools. They’re ambitious world-changers on a different level, and I’m in awe. I also am grateful to them for introducing me to others, showing me around and helping me adjust to life here.

I hope to keep in touch with all of these great people. If I could, I would rave about them in painstaking detail all day. Someone once told me that relationships while you travel are transient – that they will fade away into your memory. While this is certainly a reality that I’m going to have to face, I can’t help thinking (perhaps naively or overly optimistically) that in a way, these kinds of bonds are not the kind that simply melt away with time. Even the small things, like walking together down the cracked marble sidewalk on Sukhbaatar Square, weigh strongly in my memory. And based on past travel experiences, the vivid image of the memory may sand away with time, but the memory of the feelings that I experienced will forever be imprinted.

Food and Sightseeing

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Obviously, people mostly travel for the food and for sightseeing. Unfortunately, because I was working, I did not get to experience either of these things as much as I would have liked. But I do have some quick recommendations in UB: As for food, my favorite Mongolian foods were khuushuur and tsuivan. My favorite restaurants were Rosewood and Oriental Express (American and Asian fusion, respectively). Funnily enough, KFC is superior in Mongolia to the USA, and I hear it’s the same case with Burger King. My favorite cafes were CODE, Cafe Camino, and Lavazza in Central Tower. And for fun, definitely try Onis Room – I just did this two days ago. It’s an Escape the Room puzzle game, great to do with friends, and much, much cheaper than in the USA!

For sightseeing, Sukhbaatar Square is obviously a must – this is the central part of the city. I’d also certainly recommend Zaisan and Gandan Monastery. And like I mentioned above, I only learned last week that the city is breathtaking at night viewed from the top of Zaisan (you may need a car).

Conclusion

Anyway, I should wrap this up – in just a bit, I’ll have to get on the road back to Chinggis Airport. Overall, this experience has been way more than I ever bargained for – I’ve grown leaps and bounds both professionally and personally. If you’re ever in Mongolia and need recommendations for things to do or places to visit, please feel free to reach out to me. I’d also recommend joining the Facebook group, Expats in Mongolia, where you can ask experts who’ve been living there for years for recommendations. If you know any Mongolians in your area as well, they’re also a great resource.

Again, I want to just thank everyone who made this possible for me. I’m going to miss it here. I’m already contemplating going back – perhaps in the near future, I’ll return. 🙂 In the mean time, I’ll be getting ready for the next chapter… New York/Canada for the next couple of weeks, and then 3 months in Japan for the fall semester!

Bayarlalaa, Mongolia ❤

Questions? Comments? Email me or post it below!

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