Seven Oregon high school 4-H students traveled to Mongolia last summer to sharpen their leadership skills, joining a delegation of 30 youth and five chaperones on a four-week visit, where they lived with host families and participated in community service.
This exchange program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and is administered by the University of Wyoming’s 4-H Youth Development Program. OSU’s 4-H Youth Development Program is a partner in the program, as is the Mongolian 4-H Youth Organization. It allows students to gain firsthand knowledge of different cultures and to work together to solve global natural resource and environmental issues, says 4-H Specialist-World Citizenship Lillian Larwood.
During their stay, delegates from Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming learned about environmental issues such as renewable energy, water quality and land restoration and reclamation, and participated in community service projects in and around the capitol, Ulaanbaatar.
Erynne van Zee, a sophomore at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis, said that seeing Mongolia’s environmental issues up close was eye-opening. “The ease at which I can access clean water, food, roads and medical care was something I had taken for granted. Seeing so many young Mongolians interested in helping protect the environment so essential to their way of life was inspiring and reaffirmed my belief that education regarding it must start from a young age.”
The best part of the trip for another Crescent Valley High School student, Sam Greydanus, was a trip to the countryside with his host family, driving into the open plains and staying in gers, traditional Mongolian houses. It was there, watching large herds of horses, cattle, sheep and goats dot the plains and taking in the beauty of rugged mountains on the horizon, “I truly realized I was in a far different world, living the trip I had dreamed of,” he says.
For both students, experiencing a new culture made a lasting impact. Erynne was able to attend a traditional Mongolian concert with throat singing and horsehead fiddling and was invited to drink airag, fermented mare’s milk. She also attended the national festival, Naadam, wearing traditional Mongolian clothes called dels.
“Watching everyone interacting, learning and sharing their cultures with one another was so inspiring and solidified my belief that much can be accomplished in the world just by respecting each other and working together,” she says. For Sam, “I learned that though some elements of culture may at first seem absurd or even irritating, they take on great meaning and appeal when you allow yourself to accept them and learn about them.”