Alumni Spotlight: Birgit Podelsky


Birgit Podelsky is an Estonian traveller. She graduated from a British university with a Film studies degree and is currently working in TV distribution in Toronto, Canada. She participated in the Global Nomadic journalsim careership in Mongolia in October of 2013.

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Global Nomadic in Mongolia?

The decision to volunteer for Global Nomadic came out of the blue as is the case with most major ideas in my life. Well actually I had been daydreaming of going to a far away country for a bit. And as my background is in media I hoped to incorporate some career enhancement into my traveling daydream. And the first thing that popped up while Googling 'Journalism internship' was the Global Nomadic option.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

My day-to-day life during weekdays was split between my host family and work at the TV station. I lived with a sweet family. Two older parents and a girl my age. They gave me a separate bedroom and a queen size bed. Them three, on the other hand, slept on the living room floor. Without mattresses, just sheets. Mongolian hospitality is something else I tell you.

I would wake up and we would have breakfast together. They were very curious about my cornflakes and soy milk and laughed that I eat strange. That was while drinking fermented horse milk themselves. I lived close to the TV station and walked to work every morning. I would tag along with the news crew when they went filming.

Once me and the family were watching TV in the evening and we spotted my bright colorful clothes among the professional looking journalists and politicians that were filming a press conference. I also did quite a lot of research. I wrote my own stories and filmed them on the streets of UB with my fellow intern from Texas.

I almost scheduled an interview with the mayor of Ulaanbaatar as I was writing a story about traffic issues. Even though it got cancelled I felt privileged for a tiny moment. Therefore the work experience part was quite interesting.

What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?

Apart from work experience I took time every weekend to explore the adventurous side of Mongolia. We often went for road trips with the co-ordinator. Mongolians like to off-road a lot, they also don't believe in seat belts. So I often found myself driving on the backseat of a speeding car jumping up and down to the rhythm of some Mongolian pop song.

While looking out the car window I could see mountain tops covered with silky sand and tribe drawings. Cows and camels were walking around and beautifully dressed herders would follow them. It was just so picturesque at every footstep.

Was it difficult to navigate around language barriers?

The language barriers were definitely more evident than I had imagined. Even though Ulaanbaatar has a lot of foreign investors and businessmen living in the city, the local people still have a hard time learning the sufficient level of english. People in UB mostly talk in numbers.

They carry a calculator around them. If you are not local, the calculator shows higher figures. That's all the english they need and it works well.

How has this experience impacted your future? (Personally, professionally, etc)

The trip had somewhat of an affect to my career pursuit. I applied for a job over the internet while I was in Mongolia. I sent a resume in, but did not think I would get a reply. But they called and I had an interview straight after arriving back to Toronto.

I had slept for 3 hours before the interview due to a major jet lag. I can't even remember what I said exactly. But I guess a month among such peaceful people and camels had a relaxing effect, cause I miraculously got the job. I washed my horse smelling clothes and started an office job a few days later.

All in all the trip was amazing and I recommend this program to anyone.