Boston high school kids heading to MONGOLIA!

United Planet is pleased as punch to be part of a project funded by the U.S. State Department to arrange an exchange of public school students between Boston, MA and Mongolia. We have been so excited to meet wonderful teachers and students, and provide this all-expenses-paid opportunity to travel, live with a host family, and learn about a very distant culture.

This summer, as part of an Emerging Youth Leaders Program, 11 high school students from 4 different Boston Public schools will travel to Mongolia for 3 weeks.  A group from Mongolia will then travel to Boston, MA for a similar exchange trip in October of 2011.

We had the pleasure of meeting the Boston group this week for an Orientation; here’s a report from this fun night…

The focus of the exchange trips, as set by the State Department and facilitated by iEARN USA, United Planet, and the Mongolian Education Alliance, is on democracy and free expression in civil society.  These impressive students as well as 4 teachers and one United Planet representative, will receive training and complete projects focused around freedom of expression, journalism, and the media.

The trip has been funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and administered by iEARN USA.  United Planet has been chosen as the Boston subcontractor to choose and prepare Boston teachers and students and prepare program for Mongolian participants on exchange in Boston.

A group of us from United Planet had the pleasure of meeting the teachers and students on Tuesday night for an Orientation at Boston Latin School.  The students from the four Boston Public Schools (Boston Latin School, O’Bryant School of Math and Technology, Quincy Upper School, and Snowden International School at Copley), and their parents, attended the Orientation to hear about their exciting trip as well as to get to know one another.

Introducing each other to the group

Right off the bat it was easy to see these kids were a great bunch.  They were incredibly excited about their trip and had a great time getting to know one another.  A couple kids from the same school expressed how cool it was to get to know someone who went to their school that they hadn’t known before.

Sitting in a circle and enjoying some pizza, they talked about their hopes for the trips as well as their fears; all of the kids were excited to meet their host family as well as explore another new culture. One girl asked what the internet access would be like, and her mother shook her head and laughed as Theresa (Vice President of United Planet) explained it was, “a lot less than you’re used to,” suggesting, “you might consider weaning yourself off gradually this summer.”

Hello, Mongolia! We’re as nice as we look.

Only one student in the group has traveled to Asia before; she said until she was 9 her family would go to China each summer.  Most of the other kids have had some travel experience, but nothing like this 3 week trip, (without their parents)!

Some of them said they were a little nervous about the language barrier they would encounter while traveling, (especially communicating with their host family), as well as the long flight (over 20 hours in the air!), but they were overwhelmingly positive, and their enthusiasm was contagious.  When asked what their friends thought of them going to Mongolia, a few kids laughed and said that their friends had asked, “Where’s Mongolia?”

Group’s Statue Representation of “Finding Nemo”

Later during the Orientation, the students and chaperones were asked to separate into two groups and form a statue representation of a movie.  One group depicted a scene from “Black Swan” and the other chose “Finding Nemo.”  Both groups did a great job and looked like they had fun putting it together. We also played a Trivia Game to see how much research the students had done on Mongolia and they had fun working together to come up with answers.

It was cool to hear about Mongolia and both the students and their parents learned a lot about the fascinating history and culture.  Mongolia, part of East Central Asia, has an interesting hybrid culture of influences from its neighboring countries, Russia and China. 

It is a country 3 times the size of France, but with a population of only 2,736, 800 people, 30% of which is nomadic, it is sparsely inhabited. A majority of the population is centered in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar (UB), where the students will fly into and spend about 1.5 weeks.  In the cities, as well as throughout the country, a large portion of the population still lives in traditional yurts (tents) following the nomadic tradition.

After adapting to the time difference and the culture in UB, the students will have the chance to explore and camp in the Gobi Desert for about 5 days.  The Gobi Desert is about 500,000 square miles spanning from North east China and the southern portion of Mongolia.

It is a place of extreme temperature changes, often shifting as much as 61 degrees F in the span of 24 hours.  During their time in the Gobi, the students will interview herdsmen, explore the sand dunes, and go for nature walks to observe, document, and photograph the amazing environment.

After returning to UB, the students will have about 4 days to stay with their host families.  They’ll do some amazing exploring in the capital city; including visiting a local TV station, participating in an open Discussion forum with the President of Mongolia, and attending a Mongolian folk concert.

The whole group including chaperones

Next it’s onto Nairamdal Center for 5 days of cultural exchange programs including ceremonies, game nights, sports nights, and presentations by both the American group as well as the Mongolian group.  To top off the trip, the Boston crew will head back to UB for one final night before flying back home; on this final night of their trip, they’ll have the unique opportunity to sit down to a Farewell Dinner with the US Ambassador to Mongolia!

Needless to say, this experience will be amazing. The students and chaperones who are going are a great group of people who will definitely make the most of this incredible journey; not only learning more about the culture of the Mongolian people and the art of journalism, but also about themselves and just how much they all can achieve.  Good luck to everyone!