Mongolia August 10, 2012Posted by Jeff Riley in : Uncategorized, international development , trackback
Adrienn Gecse, who has posted on this blog before (http://bit.ly/OaqxHx) has returned – full of stories and adventures and advice from six months in Mongolia. One of the themes from Adrienn’s experience for me as that by taking a bold step in one direction means you will meet unexpected opportunities coming towards you. She has kindly given us an update below….
‘Hi Jeff, I think it’s time to drop you a line or two as I promised a few months ago. I am back in Europe now after six months spent in Mongolia.
My decision to travel to Mongolia proved to be a really good one however difficult it was to leave London for having to give up many things there. For those who didn`t read my first account I would summarize the antecedent. I graduated from SOAS in 2009 but I did not manage to find a position that really interested me and that would have been at least near to my fields that are African and Inner Asian Studies. I did many kinds of jobs during the 3 years and 3 months I spent in London but mostly translation, interpreting work as well as market research. They were all useful experiences in many ways but far from what I really wanted to do. At some point I realized I have no more time to waste therefore I left Europe in February 2012 to spend six months in Mongolia. Well, it was a little more difficult than that and took longer to arrange everything but this is the short story.
As a start, I applied for and secured a six-month scholarship which allowed me to improve my Mongolian at the State University of Mongolia and to carry out my PhD field work. Even though I consider research a proper and challenging job, many employers do not share my views so I knew I need the `traditional` work experience too. Volunteering has got out of the picture soon enough considering the amount of my scholarship. But this also proved to be a lucky situation. If I did volunteering during my six-month stay I wouldn`t have experienced half the things I have done this way.
After a not very easy job hunt via emails and networking sites I managed to secure a job in the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, in Ulan Bator. I was hired to translate their soon to be published catalogue from Mongolian into English as well as to guide tourists in the museum. Apart from these I got involved into many other things. Probably the biggest achievement is that the proposal I wrote for the call of the ‘Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development’ (in the Netherlands) secured a 20.000 EURO grant for the museum that will be used for developing educational programmes for children and also for introducing an automatic guide for visitors. Since the museum closely works together with UNESCO I had opportunity to look into one of their projects too. Strangely, all the things I met and worked on during my stay were somehow related to my research topic.
The best thing is that my tie with the museum didn’t stop after returning home because I still continue working on the catalogue, there are still many things to do before it would be published. Anyone who has seen a Buddhism-related text is aware of how challenging and complex this work is. I will also do their automatic guide that is not available at the moment in the museum in English and that became possible to do thanks to the mentioned grant.
After a month or so I decided to take on one other thing that would have been some kind of volunteer job on the weekends. I was going to start work for an organization which work I found interesting and really useful – youth development. I didn`t take it simply because I found out that the organization were funded by a well-known mining concern whose work I didn`t particularly agree with. You can call me naive but it made me feel uneasy to give my name to something like this. However, I must admit that it is very difficult to avoid this industry in Mongolia nowadays. They are there in every sector, they support all sorts of things. They organize conferences in sustainable development, they fund educational projects, they sponsor sportsmen and open days for museums and so on and so forth. Have you heard that even a certain percentage of the gold used to create the Olympic medals came from Mongolia? Basically everything is about mining in Mongolia these days. Of course it brings lots of revenue but it is a very sensitive issue due to the unequal distribution of resources. As a friend advised the best we can do is working with these companies trying to make them consider the interest of locals as well as the environment. Greenwashing must not be allowed anymore. It is especially difficult topic because Mongolia is developing to the extent it does partly due to this particular industry. It is exciting to experience this transition – I prefer this word rather than development – but the country and foreign investors must always pay attention to the whole picture, including humans with their culture and traditions, as well as the environment and not only the amount of income generated.
Cutting the story short I met a lady through Facebook (whatever anyone, including myself, says about FB, it can be used effectively) whose work I found interesting. Within the Association Goviin Khulan her work includes the ‘protection of the endangered Mongolian Khulan and its habitat in partnership with rangers and local communities to reach a better harmony between nature, animals and humans’. In her project environment protection, education and arts are combined so it was everything I was looking for, in one. I helped her searching for artists who could contribute to the success of her project. Besides, I am going to provide a report on the present condition of mining and its effects on traditional way of life as well as how we could involve both Buddhist and contemporary artists into environment protection and education.
As a final treat I was asked to write an article into a Mongolian magazine about the latest art works of one of the most famous painters of Mongolia. It will be published soon.
Apart from the work experiences gained I could see many unique places during my travellings to the countryside and I could meet extraordinary people I would not have had the chance without opting for this journey. I didn`t have much time for travellings within the country now but the few trips I made was worth everything. Besides, thanks to the works I did I spent most of my time with locals. You might ask why I had to emphasize it. Only because as I saw it, volunteers and foreigners in general tend to live together, work together, travel together, breath together and so they miss many things. Or to put it differently, they experience the European/American/Canadian etc way of expat life in Mongolia and not definitely the locals’ reality. I am certain I would not have had half the fun and experience if I didn`t take this paid job at a Mongolian workplace. I am saying it with full respect to the volunteers working there. I met very interesting projects but I feel that for me personally this real-life experience was more important to gain. At last but not least, when you survive in a foreign country longer than the period of a tourist trip with limited resources, that’s a huge confident boost.
I am neither old nor wise enough to advise anyone so it’s not more than a request – from pure respect of your host country please learn its language. Reading about the place where you are planning to work/volunteer/study is essential. I met so embarrassing situations which arose simply from lack of basic knowledge and the inability of the person to place themselves into a different way of thinking, religion, tradition. For those who plan to work abroad in development, I would make it obligatory to learn the local language. It is not possible to work for someone if you don’t understand their language and if you don’t understand their language you will surely never understand their way of thinking. As a result, you will not help them but distract them, or do what is good for you and not for the country or its people. Am I too strict? Might be, but I have travelled a lot and sometimes I just wish I become invisible when I see foreigners behaving and speaking in a certain way. Certain representatives of well-known international agencies are no exceptions either.
I attended a conference that was organized to get a better understanding of the locals’ viewpoint, needs and difficulties within a certain field. I was outraged to see as the ladies and gentlemen from a respected European organization did not pay the slightest attention to the Mongolian party’s representatives, professionals. Instead, they were happily chatting ignoring even the interpreter. They absolutely had no idea about what the lecturers were talking about but when returning to their offices probably they wrote their report about a very successful cooperation and did what they think would be the best for people there without being able to consider what they were supposed to listen to. It made me especially sad also because I know that many more able and committed people would do anything to get into this organization. I was hugely disappointed to see how they work but it also helped me to shape where I want and where I do not want to work in the future.
Only on a side note because I don’t know if anything will come out of this… During the last week I spent in Ulan Bator the Museum’s director introduced me to the Mongolian ambassador freshly accredited to Hungary. She doesn’t know the country and was happy to meet someone who did Mongolian studies and might be able to assist her work. Shortly, I have only a few days to put a research proposal or whatever idea I have onto paper that would help to promote Mongolian culture in Hungary. She will arrive to Hungary in the middle of August and by than I must find out something. I have a few ideas,…..”