Auriol Reddaway - General Journalism Projects in Mongolia
I spent three weeks in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, volunteering for NTV, a Mongolian news station. I was 17 years old and it was my first solo international trip. In the weeks before I left I was alternating between being very nervous and very excited. I had a really tricky travel experience and initially missed my connecting flight, but Projects Abroad were unbelievably helpful and greeted me with smiles and a calm organised presence which made me feel secure and comfortable.
Why I chose Mongolia
I first decided I wanted to do a journalism project because I thought it was an unusual and exciting opportunity in a field I’m interested in. When looking through the destinations offered, Mongolia immediately stood out as somewhere completely different that I knew nothing about, and it was excitingly mysterious. Luckily I was proved right. It is a country so unlike anything I’d ever experienced before that at times it seemed unbelievable. Particularly odd aspects include the ‘mini Gobi’ in the middle of the steppe where the grassy plain suddenly descends into a small patch of desert complete with camels. This also includes the constant references to Genghis Khan, from the name of the airport to the biggest statue of a person on horseback in the world. The statue is indeed enormous and silver and in the middle of nowhere.
My host family
When first meeting my host family I was struck by their friendly openness and how keen they were to help me and make me feel at home. I had my own room, which gave me my own space but I spent most of my time in the main room with them discussing their country and culture. They had four children but three of them were in the countryside with their grandparents for the summer, leaving me with the parents and a girl around my own age. While it would have been nice to meet the other children it was great just to have the family that was left as it allowed me the chance to get to know them all better in the short time I had. I also got to hang out with the daughter who showed me how a typical teenager in Ulaanbaatar spends their time (unsurprisingly it was pretty similar to back home). My host family were also kind enough to buy me a ticket to the Naadam Festival Opening Ceremony so I was able to go and see the beginning of the famous games. They also cooked me some homemade ‘khuushuur’ which is like a steamed pastry and is a delicacy around Naadam. I was instantly hooked.
My Journalism project
I was working for NTV, a Mongolian news station and I expected to do a little bit of photocopying and perhaps talk to a couple of journalists. But I was so wrong. I was able to shadow a journalist while she was on location and was able to ask lots of burning questions about cultural differences, something that was facilitated by her fantastic English. I also transcribed videos and was interviewed live about topics ranging from my experiences of Naadam to Brexit to my thoughts on Mongolian horse riding. I was also asked to research and write some pieces, one was an in-depth comparison piece between British and Mongolian horse riding and another about my opinions on Brexit and British politics. I wasn’t able to spend as much time at NTV as I might have liked because there was a national holiday for Naadam but this allowed me to travel outside of the city and see more of Mongolia, which I loved.
Day trips and activities
Projects Abroad organised several activities during my stay, the key one being a care outreach at a local childcare centre. This was a great opportunity to give back to the community on my trip, and I got a chance to meet some local children who were utterly adorable. We performed a play for the children and made them lunch before doing some origami and book reading. I got to meet some other volunteers from all over the world and made a group of friends I am still in touch with today.
Projects Abroad also took the volunteers to a mini Naadam in the countryside. We got to watch horse racing, archery and wrestling, and got to try some traditional curd sweets which we all dutifully ate a few bites of. This was the best part of my trip as it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the games themselves were amazing. I also got the chance to embarrass myself while having a go at archery which is always fun.
I organised a few of my own trips into the countryside with other volunteers. This allowed me the chance to meet exciting new people who I would never have crossed paths with in other circumstances. During this time I got to see more of the amazing country that is Mongolia.
My top moments in Mongolia were hard to choose as I had a brilliant time, but if I had to pick they would be:
Dressing up as a Mongol Warrior – on a day trip with some other volunteers we went to see the giant statue of Genghis Khan in the countryside and had the opportunity to dress up as historical warriors. The staff was sceptical about letting girls dress up as warriors but even they agreed it was worth it when they saw us in our costumes.
The Naadam Opening Ceremony – this one is obvious because it was an absolutely spectacular display. There were some incomprehensible moments, like the dancing Mario and Angry Birds who, armed with balloons, joined some children to dance. However there were some awe-inspiring moments of true beauty and drama which I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to see.