This summer I decided to spend 2 months volunteering at a summer camp in Mongolia. Camp Tsoglog, our home for the two months, was located in the Mongolian countryside, 3 hours away from the capital Ulaanbaatar. Camp Tsoglog is run by a Mongolian non-governmental organization (NGO) Children and Young People’s Protection and Development (CYPPD). The NGO runs two types of camp every year, underprivileged camps for underprivileged children, mostly beneficiaries of the NGO, and paid English camps. The NGO uses the money raised from the paid English camps to fund the underprivileged camps.
I decided to take this trip to Mongolia early in my very first semester at university student. I am looking forward to a career in teaching so when I stumbled upon Project Mongolia, I decided to take a leap and apply for their summer camp programme. Also, I was slightly uncertain about pursuing a teaching career at the time and thought that this experience would give me an answer as to whether or not a teaching career is for me.
Before leaving for the programme, I was mostly worried about the language barrier that would definitely be the root of many of our challenges at camp and also while travelling. It was quite daunting as I felt that the language barrier would definitely increase the feeling of homesickness while we were at camp. I was also worried about the lack of contact with family back home. As an international student, being away from home had become quite normal for me. However, despite the time difference, I still maintained almost daily contact with my family while at university. We were told that phone reception at camp was limited, so I was worried about not being able to contact my family for almost a month and I was concerned that it would aggravate any homesickness I would experience.
My worries about the language barrier were not unfounded. It was definitely difficult to find our way around Ulaanbaatar alone without a guide. At camp, a lot of issues we had got lost in translation even with a translator helping us out. But these challenges spurred us to pick up some easy Mongol words to help communication. We also became experts in hand gestures and body language after our two months there. When we arrived at camp, we found that there was good phone reception so we could keep in contact with family back home. Still, it was expensive and I limited phone calls home to once in two weeks. This lack of contact helped me be more independent and deal with challenges on my own without depending on emotional support from my family.
I believe I gained a lot from this valuable experience this summer. Besides the experience, I also had lots of fun with the kids and volunteers at camp and made a lot of good friends. It was definitely one of the best summers I’ve had.