Tuesday, May 10, 2011


It's amazing how much can change in such a short amount of time.

New people moving in to the city, old people leaving, making new friends just in time to say goodbye, dealing with Summer-Mongolia again only with a slightly more jaded outlook this time around, planning for the next steps while trying to understand all the steps that brought you here.

In the last few weeks or so there have been a lot of new foreigners moving into the city and the expat circle. They seem so bright and hopeful. They haven't experienced a winter or the pollution yet, they haven't been accosted on the street, or had to detour around the city to avoid nationalist marchers, they haven't explored and found all of the hidden treasures the city has to offer, they haven't had to deal with hoards of street children, they haven't met all the amazing people that have already left, they haven't been able to participate in the neverending rounds of house parties that keep the winter warm, they haven't tasted airag or had to deal with overpowering revulsion to mutton...And, that's all in one year. I can't imagine all of the other treats (and tricks) in store for the longer term. It's odd to think that very shortly this will no longer be my city, it will be somebody else's city. And, while I could always come back - it will never be the same as the first time. It won't offer the same things, it won't be the same, I won't be the same, and it's very possible that all of the people I love here that have made this experience awesome will be scattered around the world. It's like leaving Athens - it will always be an amazing place. But, it's not a place I can ever really return to. Now it's someone else's city.

Why does it always seem that you run into a good thing just as it has to end? Meeting amazing people at international conference, finding a best friend the last semester of university before you move across the world, falling in love in the last minutes of the movies... Do you jump into these relationships deeper because of the time constraint or to you leave well enough alone? Sure, it's great while it lasts. But, what is it worth? There's a great quote that I've found has an interesting application to friendships: "Absence diminishes mediocre passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans fires." -Francois de la Rochefoucauld. Over the last year I have found certain friendships strengthened or rekindled largely because of the distance between us. We had to be stronger friends because that was the only option. And, that's great. But, what if you don't want to start fanning the flame because you're afraid it's going to blow out? Sure it's okay in the long run, but what about now? What if you don't want to go through losing another friend? While I love traveling and meeting fabulous people from all over the world, I can't help but be a little jealous of those who get to keep all of their loved ones in one location.

Even in work everything is in a state of flux. For my team, our job now consists of finishing projects while trying to summarize everything that happened professionally in the last year so that the next team is better prepared to face the year ahead of them. Wrapping up all of our handiwork and giving it over the the next team with the hopes that they will take care of our projects, our members, our efforts and surpass everything that we were able to accomplish. Not only that, but now we have to find some closure and meaning from the last 11 months that will make it easier to leave the 2 other people that have made the entire year easier, more fun, and totally worth it. When you travel people talk about culture shock and homesickness. But, how do you deal with the startling change for going from spending nearly every working and waking hour with the same people to being continents apart? How are we supposed to jump from one such intense experience straight in to the next? How does that not mess with a person? And, while we are working on wrapping up the last messy, chaotic, amazing, ridiculous year so that we can move on we are each trying to jump start the next phase of our lives with little or no break in between. Talk about changes.

Even something as simple as the weather can change amazingly fast. From +20C yesterday morning, to -11C today and tomorrow is supposed to be back to +21C. Summer to snow in the space of 7 hours.

Thank you Mongolia.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Let's play a game...

...called "What would YOU do?"

Part 1: You are given scenarios that are either real life or hypothetical situations. You must respond with how you would react in such a situation. Thus, the name "What would you do?" You respond with what you would do.

1) You are walking down the street at 10 o'clock at night. You are alone. As you are walking you hear something rustling behind you. You look back. It's a dog. Not even a dog really, but something between a puppy and full grown dog. You make eye contact. Suddenly the puppy is trotting towards you instead of cautiously following. It starts to wag it's tail. You realize that you've stopped for too long, and now the puppy is hopeful. Clearly, it is a stray. But then again, most of the dogs in the city are strays. Even though you start to ignore it, it follows you all the way home and starts to whine at the entrance to your building. What do you do?

2) It's in the middle of the winter, and it's cold. Very cold. Nearly every day there are children sitting outside near your apartment begging. They sit outside with box singing and begging for money. They might be homeless, but they might be forced by their parents to go out and beg. What do you do?

3) You are walking down the street with some friends. It's during the day in a public place. You are walking on the edge of your group. As you pass a stranger, he reaches out and grabs you. He's not trying to steal your stuff. He just reaches out, grabs you, then walks by laughing. What do you do?

4) You are coming home late at night on a Saturday. It's at most -20C outside. As you climb the stairs to your flat you pass a little boy sleeping in your stairway curled around the heater between flights of stairs. He looks to be about seven years old. What do you do?

5) As you walk to work in the morning (again in the cold - noticing a trend?)you look down. There is a puppy, probably 8 weeks old, curled up near an open doorway trying to catch residual heat. But, it's pretty obvious that he's freezing to death. What do you do?

6) You are in a cab late at night. As you pull up to your stop, the cab driver demands 10x the amount you should pay for the ride you just took. Furthermore, you don't actually have the money that he is asking for. You tell him this, hand him what the fare should have been, and go to get out. But, he grabs your jacket and refuses to let go until you pay him more money. You don't have more money and, he won't let go. What do you do?

Part 2: Guess which scenarios are real and which are hypothetical.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What do you do? What do you do? Do do do do do...

That's a line from Across the Universe (for everyone who is NOT Amelia, and won't get the reference otherwise.)

It's recently come to my attention that a lot of people (friends, family, strangers, etc) don't really know what I do, or what it is that keeps me moving farther and farther away from home. So, here it is. What I do. I warn you, it's a very long winded explanation.

Part I: AIESEC, The Global Organization.

AIESEC is the largest student-run organization in the world. It is run for university students by university students (and recent graduates). We function at the global, regional, national, and local levels. We started just after WWII in the late 1940s. Originally, AIESEC started in Europe, but it spread. We are now in 110 countries. Overall our aim is the "Peace and fulfillment of humankind's potential." That means that we believe that given the right tools and motivation that humans, particularly youth, can make a positive difference in our world. We can shape the world into a better place, a place in which peace is the overriding theme, not hate.

So how do we go about building peace and all that jazz?
We operate through two main functions. 1) Exchange 2) Leadership

- Parts of our organization focus on creating relationships and contracts with local/national/global companies to create internship opportunities for international interns. The other side of this is the group of people who recruit local students and AIESEC members to prepare and send them for internships to other countries. So, our exchange facet focuses on sending students (both AIESEC member and non-AIESEC member) around the AIESEC network for internships.

Leadership - We build leadership skills through putting people in leadership positions and letting them learn from the experience. There are tons of leadership opportunities in AIESEC. Students can do anything from leading a functional area team for a year at their local chapter. So, for example, leading the incoming exchange team to create contracts near their university. Or, they can lead team of 4-10 people to plan, organize, and run a conference. AIESEC has regional, national,and international conferences every year in every country that we're in - someone needs to plan those, and someone needs to lead that planning team. There are a lot of different opportunities, but you get the idea.

So, how do these two things create peace and happiness?
The idea is that if a person goes on exchange to a country they are able to build a more accurate idea of that country with less prejudices and assumptions. They make friends in that country and form a better opinion of that country. When they return home they talk to the friends about their experiences and how awesome this other country was. It's hard to hate a country when you have friends and good memories there. It's hard to hate a country when your friends at home talk so highly of their experience. This is particularly important between countries that have negative or wrong views of each other. Mongolia to China, India and Pakistan, US to Bahrain, France to England, the list goes on...
By putting people into leadership experiences they are forced to learn and recognize parts of themselves that may have never been uncovered otherwise. They learn how to motivate their peers, how to relate their experiences in AIESEC to the "real" world, how to be a role model.
By combining the two experience you get someone we in AIESEC idealistically call a "change agent" - someone who realizes the size, scope, and potential of the world AND has the ability to go out and make a positive difference. Wham, bam, peace and fulfillment of humankind's potential.

Yeah, that's great...but what do I do?

Part II: AIESEC in Mongolia

AIESEC started in Mongolia about two years ago. We are very new in a country that has a lot of potential to develop both in AIESEC and out in the rest of the country. My team is the national staff of AIESEC in Mongolia. We run AIESEC in the whole country of Mongolia. Right now AIESEC is just in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, but we'll get bigger. My team consists of three people. The MCP: Member Committee President, Gina Palmisano from the US. She oversees everything and is the boss lady. MC VP ICX: Member Committee Vice President of Incoming Exchange, Tomas Petrzela from the Czech Republic. He works with the businesses in the city to create contracts for internships for international students. MC VP TM: Member Committee Vice President of Talent Management, Bridget Mailley from the US. I work with the university student to create and deliver leadership training, soft skills training, and other organizational education. I am responsible for generating leadership positions, coaching conference organization teams, coaching my local counterparts, and monitoring the satisfaction of members with their experience.
My team is also the first team to come to Mongolia to do what we do. The last "team" was one international guy and a Mongolian girl. I am the first MC VP TM of AIESEC Mongolia. Before me, there was little to no leadership generation, and certainly no one making sure that students were satisfied with their experience.
Since the beginning of our one-year term, my team has done a lot in the way of building structure and precedent. I have run recruitment for new members; run induction training for those members; built local structure for leaders; created the procedures and run the first local leadership elections; created the first conference organizing committee (OC) for the first ever AIESEC Mongolia conference; taken that OC to China to experience an AIESEC conference before they had to plan one; coached the OC for that conference; wrote (parts), edited, and ratified the first compendium of AIESEC Mongolia; and that's just the stuff that's easy to explain. And, all of that was just the first seven months. That's what I've been doing.

Some context...
AIESEC is particularly important in a place like Mongolia. The education system is lacking. The education content is poor and they expect very little from their students. There are few or no other organizations like us here, that give students the opportunity to challenge themselves and learn valuable business skills and life lessons outside of the classroom. Most other exchange organizations here are expensive and offer opportunities abroad like dish-washing and fast food service. We offer everything from financial internships with Pricewaterhouse Cooper (one of the largest financial consulting firms in the world, and one of AIESEC's largest partners) to educational internships teaching language or arts around the world, to IT internships in the gaming industry in Europe, to internships helping run the administration of an NGO in China. We offer an attainable opportunity for Mongolian students to access the rest of the world in a field of their interest. We tell them that it's not only okay to dream about seeing the rest of the world, but that it's a possibility. In the US, this is not as big of a deal, American students have all kinds of opportunities thrown at them on a daily basis. Mongolian students don't. They especially don't get opportunities from their current university system to take ownership over their projects or goals and the chance to learn through experience. that's what we offer. We offer real-world experience in generating business skills, soft skills, international education, CV building activities, along with international exchange, and leadership opportunities.

When I was explaining some of my recent activities to my Gramma, she said, "So, you're changing lives." I'd like to think that she's right. That's why I'm so far from home, and going even farther away from home. I believe that my generation has the opportunity to change the world if just given the right tools. I'm equipping my peers with the tools to go out and change their world.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Around the world in 18 days...

Dear hecklers, you know who you are, I haven't been posting in my bloggy blog, because I'm way cooler than you and have been traveling. Also, China blocks blogs - so there's that too. Anyways, here's your update. Enjoy.

Coming in to Christmas was a little rocky. I know I'm a big girl and everything, but this is the first Christmas I've spent away from home. And, at home we have a very specific way of celebrating Christmas. And, there was no way I was going to be able to replicate that this year. It wasn't home, but it was still good. Christmas Eve I started out getting drinks with friends, which turned into a Christmas part back at my apartment. Small, crowded, and very boozy. I opened presents with my parents over Skype, put present under our Christmas tree (both compliments of my ridiculous (wonderful) parents), and finally kicked the last guest out of the apartment around 4:30am. On Christmas morning I went and made eggnog with a foodie friend, although I ended up skipping the party at which it was present. Then came home, opened presents with the roomies, and watched movies all day long. It was glorious. My favorite part of the whole holiday was late on Christmas Eve after I had placed the present from my parents to my roommates under the tree. I thought that those would be the only presents for anyone, but more and more just kept showing up. Some from Tomas, my roommate and teammate, some from Ula and Sylwia, "the Polish girls". It was great to see Santa at work so far from home.

New Years
This one passed relatively quietly over a 13 hour movie marathon. Hooray movies!

Although the fun thing about both Christmas and New Year's is that the Mongolians claim that they don't celebrate Christmas, but there are Christmas decorations and trees, and Santas everywhere! But, if you ask a Mongolia what they're for, they're respond "New Years." They are "New Year's Trees" And, every time I would think. "No, you silly Mongolia, there are no trees on New Year's. Those are CHRISTMAS trees..." Oh well.

After 3 months of planning, and a lot of blood and sweat (not so many tears, that's an AIESEC China thing...) we pulled it off. 3 days of trainings, dancing, companies, and scant potty breaks. The facilitators did a great job, the organizing committee pulled it together and did a fantastic job, and of course, the delegates were wonderful. AIESEC Mongolia has officially had it's first AIESEC conference. And, it went over very well. I'm so proud of my AIESECers taking responsibility and changing their reality. You go guys! Like my gramma said, "So, you're changing lives and stuff, huh." Yeah, gram, I am. It's okay, they're changing mine too.

I finally got to see my parents for the first time in 7 months, and we didn't even kill each other. Hooray! And, I didn't kill them, even if I did have to play tour guide for a week. Silly parents.
We covered Vicenza, Rome, and Venice. Mostly we just hung out in Vicenza I got a healthy dose of all of the *wonderful* things about American culture on the Army base, and decided I don't need that again for a while. But, Peggy (family friend) was great in putting up with us and sending us on our way. Thanks Peg!
After a few days we drove down to Rome and stayed in a little bitty hotel right.next.to the Vatican. Seriously, I could have spit on the outer wall of the Vatican. If, ya know, I wanted to go to hell. Did Vatican Museums (and didn't get lost this time)and saw a bunch of stuff. The best (new) was Rafael and the School of Athens. Suhweet. Sistine Chapel is always awesome. Actually got to walk by JPII's tomb this time, but it was quick because there were a BUNCH of nuns praying at him and I didn't want to block their prayers... Day 2 in Rome was spent walking the whole city from Vatican to Coliseum to Trevi Fountain to Santa Maria della Vittoria. Got to see the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. So. Awesome. Her with her tricksy little cherub. Then back to Vicenza for a night to regroup and on to Venice. Sigh. Mostly we just wandered around the city. Spent some time on Murano looking at glass. Skip the glass museum if you have the opportunity - so not worth it. But, I did finally find a statue that I've been looking for all three times I've been to Venice. Not a well known one, just a simple statue of a dude sitting on a stack of books - it was in a book I read a while back. So, win for me. And, finally got to go into San Marco. So, obnoxiously golden. And, the originally horses are inside, upstairs. So cool, so. cool.
I've also decided that I way prefer to be an off-season traveler. Way less tourists, lines, etc. Better for sightseeing, better for moods.
After a few days in Venice it was time to take off and start the second leg of my journey.

I guess when you travel a lot you can eventually expect something to go wrong or weird. Lost baggage, irritating passengers, mechanical issues - eventually you run into something. Well, I certainly did on the way to Shanghai. (And, I'm not just talking about the smelly dude I had to sit next to for 10 hours to Beijing. He smelled homeless, honestly. And, he had terrible breath...) No, when I finally got to Beijing and got on my flight to Shanghai, that's where the fun started. So, we're sitting on the runway waiting to take off when the voice of god (or an attendant) comes of the speaker announcing that due to mechanical difficulties we are taxing back to the gate. They offload all 300-400 of us back to the terminal to wait for further instructions. Lots of angry Chinese people are yelling angrily in Chinese. (A very scary noise for you who haven't heard it. Almost as scary as Nigerian accents. Actually, I think the worst would be an angry Nigerian yelling in Chinese.) After about 45 minutes they herd us back on the bus to get back on the plane. And, I'm pretty sure it was the same we're-having-issues plane we were on before. But, we're still not leaving. After a while, god comes back on saying that there is an issue with a passenger and the police are on their way. Oh good. It turns out that one of the angry, yelling men was also and angry, punching man. Someone punched a security guard and was in custody. The kicker, needs-anger-management wanted to get back on the plane and all of the attendants were flipping their shit because they didn't want him on board. Duh. HE PUNCHED A SECURITY GUARD. You can't punch security guards. That's against the rules. Anyways, I think they finally came to a decision that he couldn't get back on the plane and we left for Shanghai. Three hours late. No big deal.
Being in Shanghai at the conference was cool. It was the most relaxing AIESEC conference I've been at but, I was also sick and dying for most of it so whatever. Yay fever! My body got significantly happier when I told it that I was bringing it back to Mongolia. Silly body. Don't you know there's smog and cold here?

Anyways, I'm back to the land of smog and ice now. Hooray! Back to work! Which I'm actually very excited about. There's a lot to get accomplished in the next few months before we move on to different things. For me, that will mean moving to Australia to work for AIESEC there. I'll be based in Sydney, but I'll get the chance to travel a bit. (And, if I can swing it International Congress in Kenya...but I'm not counting that egg yet).

There, that should keep you kids busy for a while. :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dear Mr. Colbert and your writers,

This week Cosmo officially started printing in Mongolia. This is pretty cool. The women of Mongolia are already stunningly beautiful and incredibly well dressed. It is not uncommon to see Mongolian ladies strutting their stuff down Peace Ave in 4-6" heels over ice covered and slick sidewalks. Do they slip? Rarely. Do they even look apprehensive? Never. Now, they have an international publication recognizing them and including them in fashion and women's issues. Superb.
Only there's one problem, Cosmo's move into Mongolia is the brunt of late night TV jokes. I understand that no topic is sacred and that anything can be fodder for comedy. However, they piece that you, Stephen Colbert, did is both ill researched and insulting.
One line insinuates that Cosmo will now be able to help Mongolian women feel self-conscious as well as women all over the world. This could be true. However, the part that you seem to think that is most concerning for Mongolian women are their beards. Here's the quote, "Now that Mongolian women have Cosmo, they'll finally know which body parts to feel insecure about -- it's the beards." Dear Stephen, Mongolian women don't have beards. Actually, Mongolian men rarely wear beards either. One idea that I've heard is that wearing a beard is a sign that a man has lost his father, and is nearly an orphan. Beards are not a good sign on Mongolians. Cosmetically or symbolically. Thanks.
You also posit some possible headlines..."This Season's Hottest Unisex Leather Gerkins"; "Go From Stable Girl to Yurt Flirt"; and "Does Your Mongol Have a Horde on the Side?"
Where to begin? Steve, dear. They're not gerkins, and they're probably not leather. It's called a deel, and you'd be pretty hard pressed to find a warmer piece of clothing. In fact they're absolutely beautiful. Deels are often made of bright, patterned silks and lined with various furs or hides. They are warm and yet pliable to allow for things like riding horses, and conquering nations. Leather, while great for shoes, wallets, and things, would be too heavy to wear for manual labor and riding. Which is mostly what they're worn for because deels are most common among countryside folk. Most people of the younger generations in the city have deferred to western wear, which is a shame. Deels are beautiful - like most things in Mongolia.
Next, "yurt flirt"...really? Fooling around, dating around, and multiple partners doesn't seem to be the style of Mongolian women. American women maybe. But not Mongolian women. Most women I've talked to either live with their parents while they go to school or work. Or, they live with their husbands and families. It's kind of hard to date around when you've got mom and dad and honor looking over your shoulder the whole time. They seem much more interested in finding the one person they can actually share a life with - not just the flavor of the week. Also, it's not a yurt. It's a ger. Kind of like - it's not Genghis. It's Chinngis.
I was recently listening to an interview with John Stewart and he seemed to think that research was one of the most important parts of comedy - because if you don't have the right facts you're not funny, you're just an ass. And, that's what this piece makes you look like - an ass. Most people in America don't even have an inkling of a clue of what life in Mongolia is like, and now you've painted a picture of a homely, backwater, Mongoloid existence and it's simply not true. Mongolian people, men and women, are beautiful and proud people. Who else can look as sexy as Mongolians while surviving -40F/C temperatures?
Don't get me wrong, Mongolia is by no means perfect - it's got it's share of problems. But, fashion is not one of them.
Stevie, dear - get it right please.

With embarrassment and frustration,
An American in Mongolia