Jean was one of 11 Boston Public School students and three teachers selected to join a three-week expedition to Mongolia as participants in the U.S.-Mongolia Emerging Youth Leaders Program. This October, Mongolian teenagers will travel to Boston to learn about journalism and the role of free expression in democratic society. The program is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and coordinated by United Planet, a Boston-based nonprofit that offers volunteer abroad programs; and iEARN.
Enrolled at Boston Latin, Quincy Upper, and Snowden School, as well as O’Bryant, the students represent the diversity and talent in Boston’s public schools. They were each selected, says Caitlin Ferrarini, International Programs Manager at United Planet, because they were “involved in extracurricular activities, had an interest in journalism and free expression, were mature and independent, and were good students. We also tried to select kids who hadn’t had many opportunities to travel, especially internationally. A few kids were flying for the first time ever – it was really eye-opening!”
When they arrived in Mongolia, the students met their host families and visited schools, media outlets, an orphanage, historic sites, and nomadic herders in their ger tents (or yurts) in the desert. They wrote newspaper articles and explored the meaning of free speech with their Mongolian peers. They learned to play games with goat anklebones and taught their hosts the latest Hip Hop dance moves. They heard harmonic throat singing, rode camels, and drank fermented mare’s milk. The American fad of planking – in which players compete to “plank” or lie like a board on top of unusual locations – may have found its champions when the Boston students planked on sand dunes in the Gobi desert.
Jean brought home a new sense that “the world is a lot smaller than I thought it would be.” He was struck that “as far away as they live, a lot of Mongolians we met spoke English really well – along with Russian and Mongolian – when Americans struggle to speak a second, or even one. Now I want to learn more languages myself.” As a member of the Boston Student Advisory Council, Jean was impressed with the schools in Mongolia. “All the parents, teachers and students there are involved in the schools. I hope I can emphasize the importance of being involved in your school through my work on the Council.”
The American and Mongolian students are now staying in touch through Facebook, and can’t wait to see each other again when the Mongolians visit Boston this fall. “I’m saving up to take my host brother to the Galleria and shop for sneakers,” says Jean. “I’d love it if he could go to a Red Sox or a Patriots game.” The Mongolian students will spend two weeks in Boston, visiting and learning; they will tour the Emerson College radio station, visit the BU Center for Investigative Journalism, interview homeless people, drop by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, and more. The third week, they will be in Washington, DC, where they will tour Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court, visit the Smithsonian, and more.
Both the Mongolian and Boston-based students will be available for interviews throughout the exchange trip.
Mongolia, a landlocked country in East and Central Asia, is bordered by Russia and the People’s Republic of China. Mongolia’s political system is now a parliamentary republic; during the last century, its politics were similar to those in the USSR, until a democratic revolution in 1990 led to a multi-party system, a new constitution in 1992, and transition to a market economy. Since 2006, the media environment has been improving with the government debating a new Freedom of Information Act, and the removal of any affiliation of media outlets with the government. Market reforms have led to an increasing number of people working in the media, along with students at journalism schools.
The project is a program of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is being managed and implemented by United Planet (based in Boston, MA) and iEARN (International Education and Resource Network).
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About United Planet
United Planet, an international non-profit based in Boston, MA, strives to create a world in which all people understand, respect, and support one another. United Planet's global network of leaders and volunteers fosters cross-cultural understanding and addresses shared challenges to unite the world in a community beyond borders.
Over the past nine years, United Planet has worked with local communities all over the world to find meaningful work for volunteer travelers; and has placed thousands of volunteers in those communities to live and work – for periods ranging from a week to a year. United Planet is the U.S. and Canadian member of the International Cultural Youth Exchange (ICYE) Federation, founded in 1949.
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