By Laura Bub
Graduating high school seems like a big step in life, but what is there to do next? This is a question many teenagers can be left with. Often, they do not even know what kind of future they are interested in and need more time to decide on their next step. Since approximately 10 to 12 years were spent studying, the urge to start university right away might not be very strong for many graduates. They want to experience an adventure before they dive into adulthood and a working life.
The constantly developing globalization makes it easy and therefore popular to travel and explore the world. Since experiences abroad are more and more required to successfully enter the working world, young people take the chance to broaden their horizons. What better way is there to do that than to find an adventure in a country far away?
Many teenagers, mainly Europeans or North Americans, tend to take a certain time period off, called a “gap year”, before starting or continuing with their education or work choose to do so as a break from their current studies. Despite its name, a gap year does not necessarily have to be a year. It can be as short as two weeks and continue to be as long as two years.
Though many people take a gap year right after graduation or in their early twenties, projects abroad are usually not limited to a certain age. Anyone who wants to join the thrilling experience can apply for any of the various programs, given that specific requirements are met in the desired program.
A trip like this to a foreign country needs a lot of thoughtful preparations and is hard to be organized by one individual. Therefore, many organizations from all around the world specialize in supporting these young people’s ambitious plans by offering chances to anyone who is interested to become part of an international project.
There are a lot of different prospects, so anyone can find the right project for themselves. The offer ranges from an exchange semester or a work and travel experience, where people can try out different professions while exploring the country, to an internship at a company that cooperates with the organizations and agencies or voluntary work at a social institution.
Voluntary work is becoming increasingly more popular for young people throughout the world. The countries in which these projects take part are usually not the typical well-visited tourist destinations but countries that can either use the support because they may not be economically well off or are less developed than others, or the ones that are yet unknown to the Western world and hidden behind a curtain of stereotypes and missing knowledge.
These organizations help participants who can apply usually by submitting details about their expectations and preferences about their placement online, to get connected to companies or institutions, find a proper accommodation during their stay and make travel arrangements for them. The main purpose of these projects is to connect countries and spread knowledge about different cultures around the world. The participants on the other side do not only gain meaningful work and life practices but can also experience character development by facing a new situation where they have to take responsibility, show independence and be more self-confident while at the same time giving something back to the world through social work in childcare, teaching or medical work.
Projects Abroad is the world’s leading international volunteer organization with headquarters in North America and the UK. They send up to 10,000 volunteers each year to over 50 different countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. Projects Abroad was founded in 1992 by geography professor Dr. Peter Slowe, with the goal to build a multi-national community in which it is the norm to passionately learn and understand the world while at the same time help and inspire.
As one of only a few organizations worldwide, in 2002, Projects Abroad included Mongolia in their program, offering a huge variety of different projects. A special and popular project, which can only be offered in Mongolia, is the Nomad project, which gives volunteers the chance to travel around the country in true nomadic way that Mongolia is famous for in Western thoughts, living in a traditional ger along with native Mongolians, learning about the Nomadic life and animal herding.
Furthermore, applicants can participate in voluntary child care work, English teaching, medical and health care, nursing or do an internship in business, journalism, sports or legal institutions.
In general, volunteers stay with host families, which means that native families provide their home to foreigners, so they can get a closer insight in the countries’ culture, which most tourists do not get to experience.
Projects Abroad sends 200 volunteers a year to Mongolia to participate in projects, the Nomadic, medical care and teaching projects being the most popular ones.
“We want to lock countries and make it a norm for volunteers to contribute something. Our goal is to make it a standard [so that] volunteers can have experiences as well as learn during their project,” says Ariunzul Ganbaatar, who is working as a Projects Aboard supervisor since 2011, along with three other Mongolian staff members. Their office, as well as the Projects Abroad International Finance team, is located in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar. As a supervisor, Ariunzul takes care of the volunteers during their stay, gives introductions to the country’s historic and cultural backgrounds, helps with any kind of problems and supports volunteers as best she can, through culture training to prevent a culture shock and weekly or monthly meetings with all participating volunteers.
Volunteer projects such as the ones organized by Projects Abroad connect cultures on a friendship like basis, making people associate countries like Mongolia with pleasant memories and feelings, and results in direct or indirect sharing of experiences and information, for example through social media like internet blogs, Facebook or Instagram. They spread cultural aspects they learned about during their project among their friends and family, and this way a large group of people can be educated about Mongolia who maybe otherwise would have never learned more about the country than what is taught by popular media, which is usually not a lot. As a big part of globalization, projects like this will not only educate the world about the less known countries but also clarify wrongly assumed stereotypes and establish an international bond between countries all over the world. Voluntary work and other projects continue to gain popularity not only in Europe and North America but in other continents as well. It is a great cultural exchange that might help raise a cosmopolitan generation in the future.