Volunteering in Mongolia will be an experience that you will never forget. You’ll gain an understanding of a different workplace and learn how to adapt to a different work ethic, whilst understanding how important family is within the country, Not only will you learn more about the Mongolian empire and the reign of Genghis Khan, you’ll discover how far the country has come since its communist past and experience cultural traditions, such as throat singing, which are truly Mongolian as well as other influences, such as Tibetan Buddhism. Becoming a volunteer in Mongolia will be a unique experience, to say the least.
Ulaanbaatar is the capital city and the biggest city in Mongolia. It is also the most surprising, with apartment buildings, designer stores, and even a Sky Bar. Ulaanbaatar is also the most popular place to volunteer in Mongolia, with many volunteers choosing to live and work here every year. As the capital city, there is much to see and your volunteer organisation may arrange weekly events for volunteers to get together. The National Theatre shows tradition Mongolian dancing and throat singing, plus there is the ballet and the famous Mongolian wrestling.
Ulaanbaatar is known as the coldest capital, as temperatures get as low as minus 40 degrees in the winter and up to 40 degrees in the summer. As a volunteer in Ulaanbaatar, you will find some locals are definitely willing to learn English and will want to practice with you. There’s a real choice of cuisine in Ulaanbaatar too, from Mongolian (which is traditionally mutton), to Korean, American, Russian, and Korean. Sukhbaatar Square is the main meeting place for volunteers and the hive of activity in the city, especially on weekends where you will find families gathered everywhere.
Most of volunteer programs in Mongolia are based in the capital, but you may also find yourself to the west of the city in the countryside, where most people don’t speak English. This is a great place to volunteer in Mongolia if you want to practice your Mongolian whilst learning about their way of life from making traditional colourful costumes and arts and crafts to milking yaks.
Volunteering in Mongolia
Medical volunteering in Mongolia is the most popular type of volunteer work, with volunteers most frequently opting to work in the capital’s hospitals. Medical placements are great for those wanting a general experience of the medical profession in another country before deciding to go onto medical school or university. Some types of medical volunteering in Mongolia will require you to be in the process of earning a medical degree before applying, especially if you are working in private practices. It is also possible to volunteer in Mongolia in midwifery specifically.
Teaching in Mongolia in primary, secondary or even university level schools is also possible. You don’t need any prior knowledge of teaching to become a volunteer teacher in Mongolia, just enthusiasm and a desire to teach. The average class size is between twenty to thirty students in Mongolia.
There are also opportunities to volunteer in Mongolia is the areas of media and journalism. Multiple television networks in Mongolia regularly look for journalists to contribute new ideas and research new guests to feature, or assist in the production of interview shows or documentaries.
Although volunteer placements in Mongolia tend to be for only two weeks to a month, knowing a few phrases of the language will really help volunteers get by. Mongolian can be a difficult language to learn, but many people also speak Russian, if by chance you have Russian language skills. Take some key phrases with you to help you understand the basics, and do your best to practice and learn from locals during your stay. Your volunteer program provider will be able to liaise with your volunteering placement in Mongolia if needed, and relay any instructions in English.
Costs & Affordability
Volunteering in Mongolia is slightly cheaper than basic living in the UK, and most other Western nations. Accommodation is generally included in volunteer programs in Mongolia, as well as meals. Weekly events may also be included by your volunteer organisation, so usually the only extra daily expenses will be associated with how often you go out and meet with other volunteers or locals in your spare time.
A main course at a restaurant will cost you anywhere between £3 to £15, depending on the type of restaurant you choose to dine in. Eating at traditional Mongolian restaurants is generally the cheapest option. A coke will set you back only £1. Souvenirs are incredibly cheap and you can stock up on presents, such as dolls in Mongolian dress for less than £2.00 or cashmere woollen jumpers for approx £25, quite easily, which is unique to Mongolia. There are department stores where you can pick up t-shirts for the same price as the UK, or designer stores such as Guess with the same price tag as you’ll find at home.
If you want to make the most of your time off and explore the rest of the country, tours can be quite expensive. A day tour booked through tourism offices can cost from £100 or more, although it will include a private driver and a guide. There are also eco tours that are much cheaper, during which you can experience life in the countryside living with the nomads in gers. Alternatively, the money from eco tours typically goes to nomadic families, as opposed to a larger for-profit business, so these can be a great way of getting outside of the city and seeing what the real Mongolia has to offer while also giving back.
Accommodation & Visas
Living with a Mongolian family is an experience in and of itself. Not only will you learn more about the Mongolian way of life, but since family is so important to them, you will be taken under their wing and introduced too the whole family. Any trips they take on the weekend, you’ll be invited to as well so you can explore the countryside together. If you are volunteering in Mongolia in the city, most families will live in apartment blocks, so you’ll have your own room. Although, whether it is the room where the children usually sleep or a spare room will depend on the family.
In the countryside, Mongolians sleep in gers (yurts), which are round portable tents, ideal for packing up and moving around when they travel onto pastures new. The families tend to sleep together in one yurt, which is usually where they cook dinner with meat hanging from the walls. They may have another yurt for sleeping or guests, so don’t expect to have your own just in case. Bathroom facilities in the countryside don’t exist and washing in streams and rivers are the only option for bathing, with an outside toilet consisting of a hole and wooden planks.
If you choose to stay in the city, for one month in the summer there is a lack of hot water so only cold water is available. Adapting to the Mongolian diet can be challenging. Fruit and vegetables can be hard to come by (unless they are pickled in a jar), so the diet may not be what you are used to. Meat and salty tea are the main staple foods, which are necessary for the cold winters.
The visa process is not difficult and your volunteer organisation will help you arrange any visas you may need to volunteer abroad in Mongolia.
Benefits & Challenges
Adapting to the way of life in Mongolia can take time. While volunteering abroad in Mongolia, things may not run on time or as smoothly as you are used to in the Western world.
- Urban Life. The city runs out of hot water and pavements are crumbling, so although the city looks very modern, it does have its challenges.
- Diet. The diet is also heavier and the country isn’t that great for vegetarians, since meat is a staple food.
- Language. Not many people speak English, and Mongolian can be difficult to learn, but smiling and body language is definitely universal.