MaryAnne Cabelin – Mongolia (2013) ‡

Land of the Blue Sky

“Everyday feels like I am living in a dream–it felt so unreal, everyday was a mystery waiting to be uncovered, and although I feel scared and a bit home sick, I feel like I am truly living,” taken from a passage in my daily diary that I had kept while traveling in Mongolia. Looking back at my adventure, I feel very humbled and thankful for the life that I have. Mongolia, which is also known as the Land of the Blue Sky, was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

During my sophomore year of college, I was looking into different organizations that would allow me to volunteer in other countries to get experience in my future career and stumbled upon Projects Abroad. I did my research on the organization and the countries I wanted to travel to, and Mongolia was the country that captured my attention. I did not know much about the country nor have known anyone who had been there, so I thought, “Why not find out for myself?” It looked like a place of peacefulness and freedom from the hustle and bustle of the city life. After traveling there for a full month, I found more than what I was expecting and gained memories that I know I’ll never forget; the amazing views, the language, the food, the hospitality of the people, the hands-on experience from working in the hospital, and the great handful of people that I met along the way.

My host family

I stayed in Mongolia for a month, specifically in Ulaanbaatar (which means “The Last Mongolian King”), the capital of the country. When I first got to Mongolia, I had no idea what to expect or how I would really feel being out of my comfort zone. I got out of the airport, and I remember feeling so scared because all of these guys started to come up to me and began talking to me in Mongolian. Little did I know, they were just taxi cab drivers looking to see if I needed a ride. On my first day, I was given an orientation, a walking tour of Ulaanbaatar, and was taken to meet my host family. My host family consisted of Teggy (mom), Sena (grandma), Nehmo (15-year-old daughter), and Ahga (4-year-old daughter). Only the daughter could speak English, and when I would talk to the others, we would mostly use body/sign language, which always made me laugh. My host family taught me how to cook traditional Mongolian food, they brought me to their countryside home, taught me about the history of their family and culture, and also really made me feel at home. We would also teach each other our languages and by the end of the month, I was able to count to 100, and learned more than 20-30 phrases. I stayed with my host family from Monday-Friday, but left to the countryside to different cities to live with other host families.

My daily schedule from Monday to Friday would be arriving to the State Trauma Central Hospital at 8AM and interning until 3-4PM. The hospital is very different from the US and was definitely an eye opener. They really do make the best of what they have and help all they can with the patients. I mostly worked with cardiac patients, who needed help with rehabilitation to walk again. They are very limited with their supplies, and I remember stepping outside of the hospital and my doctor supervisor telling me to grab twigs and pieces of bricks I could find, so that we could make an obstacle for one of the patients. It was really rewarding interning for the hospital and being able to make a difference. I was also able to attend the Physical Therapy World Health Organization Conference with the department that included doctors from Korea and Japan.

Along side with volunteering at the hospital, the group of Projects Abroad also did volunteering around the city. One of the activities we coordinated was “Let’s Make Their Dreams Come True,” which was a fundraiser for individuals with cerebral palsy that wanted to continue their talents in a professional school. One of the students could draw with their feet and another student had a book published with all his poems. We raised over one million tugrugs, which is about $900 US dollars and none of us could believe we had raised that much; it was such a great feeling.

To further elaborate on my adventures in Mongolia, the weather is definitely different from what I was use to. It was snowing the first day I got there, and you could see it on the mountaintops. The weather in Mongolia is very unpredicable; you could experience all four seasons in one day. My host mom always made sure I brought an umbrella everywhere I went. On one day for example, it was really hot but shifted to a cloudy, dark overcast. It then started to rain really hard and all of a sudden, it started to hail. I remember it hailing so hard that it broke my umbrella. Every day was definitely a surprise.

The experience I enjoyed the most was being able to meet people from all around the world. Since Projects Abroad was a worldwide organization, I met people from Japan, Singapore, France, Denmark, Germany, Austrailia, other parts of the US, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. I loved getting to know about all the different cultures and being exposed to it all.

Apart from interning and doing community service around Mongolia, I had free time to explore Mongolia with the other volunteers. Since I was there for a month, I was able to do quite a handful of things: I went camel and horse back riding multiple times, held eagles, slept in Gers (yurts), visited the Chinggis Khan statue, Gandan Monastery, drank water from the Holy Springs Turtle, climbed Turtle Rock, went into the 100 Monks’ Cave, saw the temple ruins of the Ancient City – Khar Khorum, played with so many sheep and goats, saw cultural concerts, hiked the Tsun Jein Garav Monastery, climbed the stairs of the Zaisan Memorial – where Mongolians and Russians made peace, explored the Black Market, and even tried camel meat.

There is so much to say about Mongolia and all the things that I have experienced; yet I do not think words could come close to describe how much this trip changed my perspective, ambition to travel, and life. To this day, I miss the people I’ve met all over the world and the family who took me in. I miss the mystery of every day — the not knowing of how every day would turn out, being able to explore and be on an adventure constantly and learning so much about a culture unlike my own. I left with 125 hours of hospital internship hours, raising over $900 dollars for cerebral palsy, and a monstrous amount of memories.

I am forever thankful that the Globetrotter Grant Committee chose me as their winner. It immensely helped me pay for my accommodations and traveling expenses around the country and also gave me the inspiration to continue to globetrot the world. “Bayarlaala (thank you), Globetrotter Grant.”

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