ANU Students in Mongolia 2018. Post No. 1: The Importance of Traveling

A selection of four student blog posts from the intensive field course ‘Modern Mongolia: Challenges to the Environment, Economy and Empire’ will be featured within the next couple of weeks on various topics from experiences in the field in Mongolia,  July 2018.

Photo: Damien Bere (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).


The Importance of Traveling

By Alexander Hill

‘When you travel you must always bring three things:
your passport, your wallet, and your sense of humour.’

Stuart Hill, 2018.

My father has always counselled that travel is life’s greatest teacher. Recently I have warmed to his view. I now believe that it is in the domain of traveling and exploring that we are presented with the greatest opportunity for academic and personal development. Although our fundamental, theoretical learning occurs in the classroom, I consider that a premium should always be placed on using travel to gaining experience and to develop character.

When I travel to a foreign country my favourite part of the day is usually dinner – here I get to enjoy new and exciting foods. During this trip to Mongolia I have been fortunate to develop another passion at dinner – getting acquainted with my fellow winter term classmates. In the sizeable mess hall of our Ger camp I began asking my new friends, “why do they consider travel to be important”. Their initial response was usually that travel fostered a greater respect and appreciation for other cultures. When I queried, “what is your primary motivation for traveling?” I began to receive a more diverse range of answers. Some answered that they travelled to be exposed to attitudes and behavioural norms that are regarded as highly unorthodox in our own country. Others replied that they travelled because the experience demands commitment and determination. Travel, they insisted, is a transformational experience. This group sought to be pushed beyond the peripheries of their comfort zone and into situations where travel forced them to adapt to different norms and adopt new perspectives.

I have learnt that travel, for me, is an act in humility. As students of the ANU we are very fortunate to be provided with the opportunity to expose ourselves to foreign ideas and landscapes as a part of our study. Travel dislocates us from our state of comfort and normality in Australia, into a position of utter abnormality and to some extent discomfort. (I am writing this literally on the back seat of a bus, on the bumpiest part of our four-hour trip back to Ulaanbaatar (UB), surrounded by the vast steppe and by livestock, who are courageous enough to consistently challenge motor vehicles to a game of chicken). Mongolia is profoundly different to any other country I have visited. Accordingly, I surrender to the magic of the steppe, embrace all that is around me, and try to remain humble.

I have been blessed with a most unorthodox itinerary in Mongolia and throughout the journey the country has not ceased to amaze me. As the trip has progressed from the bustling streets of UB, to the coalmines of Mongolia, and to the vast steppe of Kharkhorin, our travels have broadened my perspective. [i] When I arrived in Mongolia I was particularly interested in the history of the region and the story of empire.[ii] During the last fortnight however, I have taken a deep personal interest in the Mongolian people: their nomadic traditions and the emerging challenges of urbanisation.[iii] During my visit, the economic and environmental issues that are impacting the development of contemporary Mongolia have increasingly fascinated me.

Without the opportunity to visit Mongolia personally, I could never have generated such an intimate understanding of these phenomena. Most importantly, I have now been exposed to new and vibrant people, including the fellow students, who I may have once regarded merely as ANU colleagues, but now call my friends. As my trip to Mongolia concludes, I now feel bold enough to embellish my father’s travel advice. When I travel now, I will always make sure that I bring my passport, my wallet, my sense of humour, and my handheld Sony video camera!

[i] Wariko, K. & Soni, S. K. 2010. Mongolia in the 21st Century: society, culture and international relations. Pentagon Press, India. This book gives an extensive account of modern Mongolia, including its contemporary culture and connection with world history and empire.

[ii] Bedeski, R. E. 2006. “Mongolia as a modern sovereign nation-state” Mongolian Journal of International Affairs, 13: 77-87. I found this article to be most pertinent in conceptualising Mongolia historically and to understand the influence Chinggis Khan’s empire has had on the development of Mongolian identity.

[iii] Campi, A. J. 2006. “Globalization’s Impact on Mongolian Identity Issues and the Image of Chinggis Khan.” In H. G. Schwarz, (ed.). Mongolian Culture and Society in the Age of Globalization. Centre for East Asian Studies Press. Campi addresses the complex relationship between urbanisation and pastoral nomadism and subsequently their implications in an evolving contemporary Mongolia.

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