Mongolia is a place I never thought I would travel to, and it's also a place where I had the single best experience of my life. I was able to travel across one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, from the mountains to the steppe to the Gobi Desert. Along the way, I learned how to ride a horse and a camel, how to knit, how to play a song on the ukulele, how to speak some Mongolian, and how to communicate without language when attempts at using that Mongolian failed miserably. I came back with a broader outlook on the world and a much better sense of independence.
My absolute favorite part of the trip was the horse trek from community service to the ger camp we were staying at for the night. Other awesome parts were painting a school alongside Mongolian students, taking an overnight train into the Gobi desert to explore the monasteries and holy sites there, cooking with my host mother, and hiking up to places with the best views I've ever seen. Absolutely loved Mongolia, and I'd highly recommend the trip to anyone looking for an adventure!
My group: We came from all across the US, coast to coast. Getting to know the city helped us bond really quickly, and we stayed super close throughout the trip. It was really cool how everybody accepted one another. We couldn't have been more different, and it couldn't have mattered less. The awesome thing about traveling with EIL was that I had the security of group leaders and friends around me without the trip feeling like a teen tour--we had freedom in a way other teen groups wouldn't, like a weeklong homestay spent with just our host families and their herds. We had two group leaders, and both treated us like friends and equals while still keeping us all safe.
In-country staff: friendly, helpful, knowledgeable--basically just amazing. They set up language lessons, brought in performers to teach us throat singing and instrument playing, took us sightseeing around the city, helped us buy deels at the market, traveled with us as translators and guides, and gave honest information about the country that you can't find in a tourist guidebook. Two Mongolian high school students traveled with us as well, and they became our best friends for the rest of the trip. It was really cool to learn about what high school was like for them compared to the US, and they helped us a lot when we struggled with the language.
Things to keep in mind: If you wanna do EIL Mongolia, you have to be willing to do without running water whenever you leave the city, and that means the bushes will become your toilet and wet wipes will become your shower. It wasn't a problem for anyone in my group, and we all stayed clean and healthy. Also, the diet in Mongolia is highly meat and dairy based, especially during the homestay. Personally, these little difficulties just helped me learn more about self-sufficiency and using only what you need, but it's just stuff to be aware of.
Things I wish I'd brought more of: wet wipes, wet wipes, wet wipes. Wet wipes. Also,really do make sure to pack sun protection shirts because a lot of the trip is spent outside. A sturdy pair of shoes is super duper important too. Culturally, long pants are preferred for both boys and girls, so lightweight hiking pants became my go-to thing. Basically, it's not gonna be a fashion show, nobody's going to care what anyone's wearing, and you'll probably get paint or dirt or sweat on everything, so forget about style and focus on function. Also, I highly advise bringing a journal--I love looking back into mine now, and it was a great way to make sure I remember everything years from now.
Basically: Come to Mongolia! It was absolutely amazing.