Nothing could have prepared me for the experience I had as part of Project Mongolia, volunteering and teaching English at a summer camp for disadvantaged children. Dancing to Kung Fu Fighting blaring out of speakers on the side of a mountain whilst watching the sunset, herding eighty kids off a train in the middle of the tracks or eating the intestines of a goat are memories that I know will stay with me forever, but the real worth of this trip came in the form of the people that I met, and the friends that I made.
I headed off to Mongolia with two other girls from Edinburgh University who I had barely met and almost no idea of what we were expected to do whilst out there. I returned from Mongolia six weeks later with a decent understanding of the Mongolian language, a huge appetite for meat and four new best friends.
It’s a fair assessment to say that our situation was extreme, with basic facilities comprising of no cold drinking water, lamb soup for every meal, no toilets and sleeping in a freezing, damp Ger. Although pushed to the brink of madness by extreme fatigue, vitamin deficiency and confusion, the 18-hour working days trying to control 86 crazy kids who didn’t speak a word of English didn’t seem to faze us, since the friendship and company of the other volunteers made such challenging conditions pale into insignificance. Without such amazing people by my side, both my fellow volunteers from Edinburgh and the Mongolian translators that we worked with at the camp, I would undoubtedly have been on the next flight home. Instead I underwent an incredibly formative experience; having every aspect of my character and resilience tested, forced every day to improvise, adapt and overcome the strangest of challenges.
Project Mongolia revealed qualities in me that I was unaware I even had, and gave me the opportunity to experience a completely different culture, language and people. I can’t vouch for the entire world (yet), but I’ve travelled a fair bit and would definitely say that the Mongolian people are some of the kindest, funniest and most genuine people I’ve encountered. They went out of their way to provide the best hospitality and experience for us, and by the end of our six weeks there, it began to feel like our home away from home. Getting involved with Project Mongolia was the best decision I’ve made so far at university, and I’m so fortunate to have been able to travel to such a remote part of the world and meet such amazing people. I’m already booking my flights out there for next summer!