Park Ji-yeon Senior, Dept. of Social Welfare firstname.lastname@example.org
When I first heard about the Overseas Voluntary Activities & Field Work (OVAFW) trip to Mongolia, I applied just for the fun. Packing my clothes, I was really worried about how I could endure for seven days without bathing. I did not think much about voluntary work, rather I dreamed about the sightseeing we would do after seven days of work.
On arriving at Ulan Bator airport, I was a little disappointed even though I did not have many expectations. There was no exotic scenery to be seen. It looked just like our rural areas.
Riding ten hours by truck, we reached Amarbayasgalant. The professors divided us into groups consisting of five students and one local who acted as interpreter. Then we moved to our ger (a traditional white Mongolian house where I stayed). It was meant as our accommodation but we had to live with locals in the same ger.
Before departing Seoul, I had determined to endure all the difficulties but it was so tough. On the other hand, I thought the locals were also frightened when they saw almost ten foreigners including two professors come into their house. Nevertheless it helped us become really friendly with the locals.
Whereas other groups insisted on returning to the hotel ger which had better accommodation, we stood firm on staying one more night in the local ger. I am sure no other groups became as close to the locals as we did. Now I thank the professors for putting us all in one ger!
Our first meeting was a little bit awkward. But I resolved to work with them and truly get to know their life and culture by heart. From the next day, I woke up early every morning to get water from a stream and clean the animal pen. Furthermore, we chopped firewood, cleared away dung in the pen, milked cows, sheared sheep, gave injections to sheep and goats and cooked several meals. We also introduced aspects of Korean culture such as Bibimbap and games, to our hosts. The locals seemed to try their best to enjoy and understand Korean culture, too.
I had not noticed many differences when I first got to the airport. However, as I lived with them, I came to realize Mongolia was really exotic. Several things in particular remained in my mind. First, Mongolia is a very dry country so water is really precious. They spare and use very small amounts of it. Bringing water from the stream was one of our most difficult jobs. It took about fifteen minutes and was a really hard thing for us.
If I were in Korea, I would have just turned the water tap and used water without difficulty. It made me annoyed and it brought me a homesick. Yet, humans are smart animals that can adapt themselves to new environments and create their own lifestyle! Mongolians have special ways to save water. They do not eat food that uses much water, and instead drink milk. Most of their diet is made from milk and dried foods which can be used very easily.
The weather is very dry so they do not need to bathe everyday. That’s why we could spend seven days without washing. Another unusual thing is their riding skill. Mongolia is a very big country so horse riding is a common thing.
I think that this may have made it possible for Mongolia to conquer the whole world. And concerning their customs such as simple livelihoods and foods, moving easily to other territories and adapting quickly to new places, they seemed to have no difficulty enlarging their territory.
Recalling my trip, I realize I received so much love from the local people. Although I had been there only for seven days, I felt the warm-hearted affection of the locals with my whole heart. At the same time, I wonder how many traces I left there.
Living with them, I did not think about the time and the date. When I am in Korea, I always look at the clock almost every ten minutes to check that I am not late for school. Yet, in Mongolia, I no longer needed any clocks. Spending everyday sincerely was the most important thing.
People say that when you experience something for the first time, the first impression and feelings are very important. Because we may evaluate other things from our first impression. In particular, I was deeply touched by two guys, Gagi and Mangsa.
Gagi is a twelve-year old boy who can do almost all kinds of work and Mangsa is a twenty-two-year old student who goes to university. (I do not remember his original name but his nickname is Mangsa because he usually wore gauze like wear.) Mangsa came to his hometown on vacation and worked without complaint.
Although I am the same age as Mangsa, he works very hard, whereas I have fun all the time. Watching these two boys, I realized Mongolia has a bright future.
Compared to Korea, all facilities were poor. There was no toilet so I had to make a temporary one with a tent. I brushed my teeth once a day and walked for fifteen minutes to wash my hair therefore I could not dare to take a shower. However, I like Mongolia.
Although I was shivering from the cold outside the house as I waited for the stars to come out, I liked the pure sky and thousands of stars in the Mongolian sky. I was fond of the rainbow I saw after a heavy rain shower, too.
Most of all, I admired the locals, who gave me all their love and affection! I do not know if I will have a chance to meet them again, but I will always remember that time. Whenever I meet with difficulty, I will recall the good old days in Mongolia and regard it as an oasis. I am ashamed of my initial disappointment and ignorance now.
I tried to understand Mongolia from my first impression but it was misguided. Now I surf the Internet to learn about Mongolia and read as much information as possible. It seems that all my memories from Mongolia are coming back. How sweet they are...