Wedged between the giants of China and Russia thrives the fascinating country of Mongolia. Long gone are the days when Mongols used to be feared for their superior fighting and hunting skills; Mongolia today is revered for its hospitable and peaceful people. This is a land where tradition clashes with the turn of modernization. You will see the old mixing with the new and how through it all, tradition, customs, and culture live on.
Now is a prime opportunity to explore this rather untouched nook of the world. A great way to develop yourself and make a positive impact on the country is to journey to Mongolia on an internship placement. The idea of interns coming to Mongolia has starting to gain popularity and with this, a various selection of different programs.
Whether you are a current student wishing to gain practical experience or a working professional looking for another perspective, Mongolia is sure to provide insights into a world like no other. Go from working on a human rights case to herding yaks on the Mongolian steppes; it matters not where you are as there will be treasures of knowledge and experiences around every corner.
Journalism and Media
You will find no shortage of interesting and inspiring experiences for your reports as you live and work in Mongolia. As a journalism/media focused intern in Mongolia, your options for work may include assignments for a newspaper, radio station or national TV station, depending on your abilities and interests. Your resume will be greatly enhanced by the practical skills you gain during your internship and you will have a large portfolio of work from your time abroad. Your experience of living and working in a foreign country will act as proof of your adaptability, while giving you an interesting perspective on future discussions and interviews.
- Newspaper Journalism internships are not only attractive to those thirsty for a new experience, but are also suitable for working journalists and seasoned professionals who wish to take a career-break or broaden their horizons. Newspapers have flourished since the democratic revolution in 1990; you will be working in a country where the idea of a free press is relished. There is the possibility of working with Mongolian newspapers where your work will be translated into Mongolian and used in the main body of the paper. You may even be asked to write your own regular column for the English language section
- Radio Station Interns are given the opportunity to work as both presenters and behind the scenes. Imagine dabbling in the areas of production and/or broadcasting, or perhaps fronting your own chat show! You could be producing a radio show or out on the town searching out stories; either option lends you the opportunity to connect with local people and be the voice to your story, their story, or the combination of both.
- Television The local staff are eager for you to bring new and exciting skills to the job along with your foreign ideas and perspectives. With cuttings and tapes to bring home, a Mongolian internship within the area of television is an interesting way to add something extra to your portfolio.
A healthcare internship in Mongolia can be more than an eye-opening experience. As an intern you will do a great deal of observational work alongside some of the most skilled and doctors in the country. The facilities are generally very basic serving patients who have often traveled vast distances to attend appointments and treatments. Healthcare internships in Mongolia are largely based in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar; you may be placed in busy hospitals or more specialized clinics. Your areas of focus may include dealing with pediatrics, maternity, or trauma patients.
- Public vs. Private Your options for working in the healthcare industry in Mongolia include both the public and private sector. The public sector practices are typically 'Western' while the private sector practices may help broaden your medicine and healthcare experience due to the exposure to some traditional inspirations.
- Nursing and Midwifery Whether you are fully qualified or just looking to gain initial experience, many internships in Mongolian Hospitals welcome those who would like to shadow nurses and midwives.
- Medical Elective Internship In Mongolia, you can complete an elective in Medicine, Nursing or Midwifery. If this is the route you are able to pursue and choose, it is probable that you will be working in a large hospital in Ulaanbaatar. You will most likely shadow one of the experienced staff members who are knowledgeable at working with western medical and healthcare students. Be prepared for them to test out your knowledge along with giving you the benefit of their training and experience, as they are more than eager to exchange educated ideas.
Law and Human Rights
You have an opportunity to dip your toes into the waters of change. As one of the world’s smaller economies, and due to the ratio of the country’s widespread land to its population, the Mongolian legal system was based on customary law and initially took some time to develop. Not even two decades ago Mongolia was run by a government whose policies were very closely mirrored to the Communist model. A country whose legal framework was based on the former Soviet Union saw drastic changes when the old framework and the old Mongolian system came to an end in 1990. Within two years, a new democratic state and constitution were established in Mongolia; this turn of events has created an increasingly outward-looking country.
Participating in a Law and/or Human Rights internship in Mongolia will be a valuable addition to your resume when entering into this notoriously competitive profession. All Law interns are expected to have some relevant experience and/or education. The ideal intern may be part way through a law course or have completed their studies, now wishing to gain first-hand experience overseas. The tasks may be varied while on your internship, ranging from conducting interviews, writing legal opinions, completing case research, or doing contract work. Some common areas where your expertise will be appreciated include: violence suppression, gender equality, sexism in the workplace, human trafficking and child protection. Both Law and Human Rights interns should expect to work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with the option of working longer hours if they so choose. It is expected that all interns show a good level of initiative; you are entering into a fast-paced environment where asking questions and ‘stepping up to the plate’ will go a long way in the eyes of your supervisors.
If you are interested in this area of internships but do not have any qualifications or background, you will be happy to know that there are still some options within grasp relating to Human Rights. Many of the organizations you may be placed with are not-for-profit. You may find yourself networking with people from various organizations and running campaigns to raise public awareness about these different areas. The only pre-requisite for the path to success is a passionate interest in the area, lots of enthusiasm and are willing to work hard and potentially long hours.
If you've ever fancied really getting away from it all – even away from those white sandy beaches and palm trees – then a nomadic placement in Mongolia might just be your cup of tea. Forty percent of the population in Mongolia comes from nomad families. These families endlessly wander the countryside – more commonly referred to as the Mongolian steppes – on camels or horses, herding their livestock, living from the land, and connecting their daily life and activities with Mother Nature. This type of opportunity allows you to learn about a very unique group of people and their ancient way of life, one that is still fairly untouched by the urban centres of Mongolia and the rest of the modern world.
It is also a good opportunity to gain experience with looking after animals such as goats, cows, yaks and horses. Your daily life may include riding horses to move herds of yaks or cattle, caring for livestock, helping to produce dairy products such as butter and cheese and most likely teaching a little English. It is a great way to learn more about this ancient way of life and how it is being affected by modern-day Mongolia. In exchange for helping with the animals or playing with the children, your host family will fully involve you in their domestic life.
Below are some of the animals you can expect to work with and the products you will help to produce:
- Horses: Airag and transportation.
- Yaks: Meat, leather and milk. Dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese.
- Sheep: Meat and milk, skins, wool and felt.
- Goats: Mongolia is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of cashmere.
- Two humped Bactian camels: Meat, milk, wool, riding and transportation.
Planning Your Trip
When and Where to Look for an Internship
It's truly always a good time to look for an internship in Mongolia. Because of the various internship options here, the possibility of landing a position is quite high. True, some specific areas may require a more lengthy application process or specialized requirements, but the door is always open. A benefit for the potential intern is that Mongolia is still fairly low on the radar in terms of foreign travel and interested interns. This is a great opportunity to have your pick of the lot and land the perfect internship in a truly rousing country.
A good place to start your search is with The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The UNDP Mongolia Internship Programme is offered to a small number of national and international students (preferably 3rd or 4th year students) as well as university graduates who are enrolled in a master’s degree program.
Internship placements may vary in length, depending on availability, education and experience requirements, and of course the needs of UNDP Mongolia. “Interns specialize in the areas of democratic governance, environmental policies, poverty reduction and other activities related to sustainable human development. In doing so, they will acquire practical experience in various aspects of project management in an international work environment.”
Cost of Living in Mongolia
US dollars and credit cards are accepted in most hotels and some restaurants, mainly in Ulaanbaatar. US dollar traveler’s cheques are accepted at some hotels and can be converted at several banks. Carry local currency, especially in rural areas; the Mongolian currency is called the tugrik.
On a minimum salary you will earn about US $150 a month for full-time work, that is if your internship is a paid role. This is definitely a ‘break-even’ or a ‘save-before-something-to-intern’ type of country. As a local, prices are reasonable and not above what one can afford, but as a foreigner, be prepared for artificially inflated prices (non-Mongol priced items) without the salary to back it up. With that being said bargaining is widely accepted and is a probable way to secure items you may have your eye on. If the salesperson on your left won’t budge, chances are the one on your right will.
For the financially prepared travelling intern, US $15-$20/day gets you a one night stay in a guesthouse which typically includes a hot shower, laundry, internet services, and access to experienced tour guides. An alternative as well as a great way to save some of that ever-so-precious traveller’s moolah, try arranging for a homestay where not only will you save on some coin, but your experience may be much more valuable and the cultural insights plentiful. Maybe go one step further and consider a Nomadic Placement as your Mongolian internship.
Work and Labor Laws in Mongolia
Mongolia stipulates that any foreigner traveling to this country must present a passport valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry. Whether the purpose of travel is leisure, business, or studies, a visa is also required; furthermore, travellers arriving in or departing from Mongolia through China should also be aware of the Chinese visa regulations.
Overland entry into Mongolia, other than by train, must be authorized by the Head of the Consular Section at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with requests specifically addressed to the Head of the Consular Section. Visitors must register with the Office of Immigration, Naturalization and Foreign Citizens within one week upon arrival if they are staying for more than 30 days.
Health and Safety
When travelling to any country, it is always important to educate yourself on the local laws, customs, and health and safety measures. Mongolia is an extremely unique country with plenty to keep in mind during your journey; the following points will help along your way:
- Demonstrations occur and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. Avoid all demonstrations and be vigilant in areas where there are large crowds and gatherings.
- Traffic drives on the right. Road conditions are poor. Driving can be hazardous, especially in rural areas. Drivers have little regard for traffic regulations and do not follow safe driving practices. Accidents occur frequently. Access to rural areas can be hampered by heavy snowfalls during the winter months.
- The use of public transportation and regular taxis is considered to be unsafe. Use licensed taxis equipped with meters, regardless of the distance of the journey. Make arrangements for taxi service through a reputable source.
- The standard of medical care is low and local facilities are limited. A few hospitals in Ulaanbaatar cater to foreigners, but they suffer from a shortage of safe medicine and reliable medical staff. Leave immediately for Beijing, China, where high-quality medical treatment can be obtained, if you are suffering from any illness or injury that could be life threatening.
- Bring basic medical supplies, such as antibiotic ointment, bandages, diarrhea medication, a laxative, aspirin and contraceptives, as they may be difficult to find. Bring a supply of antibiotics, bearing in mind that these should be taken only under a doctor's supervision.
- Tap water is not potable. Bottled water is available in urban areas.
- Air pollution is acute, especially in heavily industrialized areas. Take this health risk into account if you suffer from respiratory problems. You may also experience some health problems associated with high altitudes.
- Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia as temperatures can drop to minus 35 to 40 degrees Celsius in winter.
- Foreigners have also been robbed by individuals posing as police officers, particularly in the Sukhbaatar Square area. If approached, ask to see police credentials or offer to go to the police station.
- Exercise caution in crowded areas, including open-air markets, the central post office and the Gandan Monastery, as well as when using public transportation.
- Individual travellers have been harassed at border crossings. Thefts occur frequently on trains between Mongolia and Russia.
- Drinking is acceptable for students but Mongolian law stipulates one must be at least 22 years old to drink and at least 18 years old to smoke. Beer, wine, and some vodka are the most common drinks. Most of the men smoke.
- Mongolians tend to always be very close to one another; this includes in public as well as in the home where it is common for family members to sleep in the same bed (kids together, adults together).
- During conversation people‘s distance from one another relates to how well they know each other. For instance, male friends will often place a hand on one another’s shoulders when speaking.
- Touching during conversations should almost be expected. The only “inappropriate touching” one should avoid as it is considered lewd is touching people’s legs.
- Avoid putting your hand near someone’s face unless you really love or really hate the other party.
- People often crowd around to look at something and will lean on one another as if in support of each others’ weight.
- It's best to always look people in the eye when speaking to them. This conveys honesty and is in-line with the very straightforward manner in which people speak to one another.
- It is always considered to be a derogatory gesture to point a person. One should use the whole hand instead.
- Putting your thumb in between your middle and index finger while making a fist is an obscene gesture. It's the Mongolian version of giving someone the middle finger.
- Showing the bottom of your feet is considered bad manners.
- Out of deep respect, when children speak to adults or someone younger speaks to someone older, it is the custom to refer to the more senior person as “older brother” or “older sister.”
- Mongols tend to be very direct. If they like you, you’ll know it right away; and the opposite is true, as well.
- Time in Mongolia is exemplified by the expression “margaash” – “tomorrow.” Counting on anything to get done now or in the immediate future is not the norm.
- People tend to show up when they’re ready and not a moment sooner. This runs true with other items such as the mail, the train, the plane, your salary, etc.
- The Western romantic notion of “traveling on a shoe-string” is not well-received. It is considered unacceptable to sleep in the city on a bench or at the train station. Cleanliness is very important and wearing old-sweaty clothes around in public, unshaved men, and women with lots of body hair are all looked at in disapproval.
- It is common to address people by “Noyen” means “sir” or “the respected" and “Hatagtai” means madam.
- It is best to present a business card as it is taken as a sign of legitimacy for whatever operation you are running.
- When presenting a gift, it is expected for the item to be wrapped. It is polite to open the gift in front of people as a sign that good-will has been established and that the receiver appreciates the gesture.
- A hada is a traditional silk ceremonial scarf common in Mongolian culture; they are usually blue in color, symbolizing the sky. Hadas can be presented along with incense and other religious items at special occasions such as weddings, funerals, births, or the arrival/departure of guests. In Mongolia, hadas are also often symbolically tied to ovoos, stupas or special trees and rocks.
Mongolian culture is beyond unique and quite dissimilar to anywhere else on earth. It is the combination of history, traditions and customs that create a fascinating Mongolia and a truly special experience for all who visit. Without a doubt, the best place to experience the country’s raw culture is in the countryside where the nomadic herders have lived in much the same way for hundreds of years.
Mongolians traditionally are afraid of misfortunes and believe in a variety of good and bad omens. Misfortune is said to be attracted by talking about negative things, or by persons that are often talked about. They fear being sent bad omens as a result of taboo behavior such as stepping on a yurt's threshold, or desecrating waters and mountains.
It has always been believed that the most endangered family members are children. Parents are known to occasionally give children non-names like Nergui or Enebish or have their young boys dress up as girls; this is an attempt to ‘trick’ the bad omens and disguise the young. Before going out at night, young children's foreheads are sometimes painted with charcoal or soot in order to deceive evil spirits that this is not a child but a rabbit with black hair on the forehead.
Lifestyle - Urban vs Nomadic:
Approximately a third of Mongolians follow the old Nomadic traditions, moving camps 2 – 4 times a year and following their livestock to fresh new pastures. However, the ongoing changes in climate of Mongolia have led to a number of successive harsh winters with large numbers of livestock perishing in the cold. There has been a recent surge in migration from the countryside to the suburb, as Mongolians are taking up fixed abodes and pursuing a more modern lifestyle. The combined effects have resulted in a threat against the traditional nomadic lifestyle.
One of the most obvious overlaps of urban and nomadic lifestyles are the white gers, the traditional dwelling of Mongolians; in urban centres you will find both permanently fixed homes as well as neighborhoods dedicated to the setup of gers, the nomads of the steppes live only in the transportable gers.
One of the unique features of nomadic culture is that Mongolian people live in full harmony with nature. In comparison with settled communities, the nomadic peoples are entwined with nature on a daily basis. This daily lifestyle has been the main influence of many traditions, customs, and teachings regarding the protection and care of nature. For example, tearing up flowers and grass, allowing filth into water systems, digging up and destroying land, killing of animals and destruction of forests are considered sins and are thus strictly prohibited even to this day.
Livestock Herding, the main source of the nomadic lifestyle, is another important trait of Mongolian culture; horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and camels are praised as the "five treasures". These are typically the main types of livestock kept by the nomadic peoples, however two notable exceptions are the Tsaatans who maintain their lifestyle by raising reindeer and the Kazakhs who hunt using golden eagles. Although urbanization and modernization inevitably have had a heavy impact on nomadic traditions in Mongolia, many of the distinctive old conventions have continued.
Contributed by Ashley Persson
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