Mongolia: Nomadic and Urban Cultures

Experience Mongolia’s nomadic traditions and rapid urbanization on an immersive summer abroad program for high school students.

Discover nomadic culture, ancient traditions, and contemporary issues in Mongolia on this high school summer abroad program. Participate in the daily life of a nomadic pastoral community and discover how nomadic traditions inform life in urban areas. Visit important Buddhist pilgrimage sites, take lessons in traditional Mongolian arts, and live in a ger — a round, felt-lined tent. At the famous Naadam festival, the biggest national festival in Mongolia, observe competitions in horsemanship, wrestling, and archery.

During your orientation in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, you’ll experience urban Mongolia, take lessons in throat singing and morin khuur playing, and begin your Mongolian language study. In the mountainous Hovsgol province, you’ll complete a community service project such as painting or cleaning a school. Trek on horseback to the ancient, pristine Lake Hovsgol, the second largest freshwater lake in Asia.

The program will then take you to Mongolia’s open grasslands to experience rural life during a homestay with a nomadic pastoral herder family. Here, you’ll help your host family tend livestock and learn from them how to cook traditional meals, prepare various dairy products, and ride horseback. Your experience in Mongolia will draw to a close at the edge of the Gobi Desert, where you’ll see Buddhist temples and meditation caves and learn about Danzan Ravjaa, known as the Lama of the Gobi, at the important pilgrimage site Hamryn Hiid. You and your group will venture into the desert on camels and spend the night sleeping in a ger under the desert sky.

Community Service Certificate: At the conclusion of this program, each participant will earn a community service certificate noting how many hours of community service s/he completed.

Orientation: Ulaanbaatar, 3–4 days
Homestay: Delgerkhaan,* 10 days
Other Accommodations: Hotels, camps, and gers

* Homestay locations can vary.

These are leader bios from summer 2014.

Mila Dunbar-Irwin

Mila IrwinMila Dunbar-Irwin grew up in northern New Jersey with a love for travel and a passion for wide open spaces, exploration, education, and science. She graduated in 2008 from Yale University with a BA in ecology and headed west to spend the next few years teaching outdoor environmental education, leading backcountry trips for high school students, managing organic farms, and working on wildlife research projects. In 2011, she returned to school at University of California, Davis, where she is completing an MSc in ecology.

Mila has traveled all over the world, beginning in 2006 with a solo trip to Central America. She spent a semester in Botswana with SIT Study Abroad in 2008 and then spent two months working on a research project in South Africa. She has also traveled to South America, England, Western Europe, New Zealand, and Hong Kong, as well as all over the US and Mexico. Mila is passionate about environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, and forward-thinking development and loves to do anything outside in her off time, particularly if it involves good friends and her dog, Finn.

Emily Wheeler

Emily WheelerA Vermont native, Emily Wheeler graduated from Middlebury College in 2007 with a BA in sociology/anthropology and a minor in environmental studies. From 2007 to 2011, she worked for a variety of schools and youth development programs in Vermont, Boston, and California. In 2013, she completed her MEd in community education at Goddard College. She then spent a year in Hawai‘i, working at a horticulture therapy program for adolescents and young adults.

Emily first spent significant time abroad as a student with SIT Study Abroad in Mongolia, where she returned in summer 2014 to lead The Experiment’s Mongolia program. Besides her love for adventure and sharing in new cultures, Emily is passionate about organic agriculture and cooking, sustainability, and community development. Emily is now the director of Admissions at The Woolman Semester School, a high school program focused on social justice and sustainability, located in the Sierra Foothills of California.

I really like my host family.… I loved helping out around the ger whenever it was needed and experiencing a different culture hands on and without any distractions. My relationship with my family was pretty strong, especially with my siblings. They all made me really feel like another kid in the family. I learned that I take everything, even the simple things like a toilet, for granted back home. It takes a lot of work to get things done at the homestay. I had to lug water up from the river, and I have a greater appreciation for my own home and everything my parents provide me. But they make it work, they have a system for everything, and it’s nice to sometimes have a pattern every day.

Shelby Scoggins, Bigfork High School

In the Gobi Desert, we walked for hours with no particular destination and discussed our lives while watching the sunset. Coming from the busy and hectic New York City, I had seen nothing as calm and open like the Gobi. I lost of track of time, just looking out into the blue sky and neverending desert. At night, the group went outside and lay under the countless stars. We pointed out constellations and wished upon occasional shooting stars, laughing and telling each other to be quiet and linking arms so we could look at the beautiful sky in silence but know there was someone right next to us in the dark and vast desert. Painting the walls of a school in Sainshand, a small town on the edge of the Gobi, was a very rewarding community service experience. The children at the school were very welcoming, and we all tried to communicate with one another by playing games, reading books, and attempting to learn a Mongolian dance. Knowing that we were painting the schools for the kids and that it would put a smile on their warm faces was very gratifying.

Mitsuki Nishimoto, Spence School