How Does A Melbourne-based Woman End Up Living And Working In Mongolia?

Andie Noonan is an online journalist and producer at the ABC. She was the editor of the Star Observer, before taking a year out of regular life to spend in Mongolia to work in media development.

How does a Melbourne-based woman end up living and working in Mongolia? 

I was mindlessly trawling the internet one day and saw a job advertisement for an online journalism teacher in Mongolia. The position was a volunteer gig funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I was working as a journalist at a community newspaper at the time and found I was increasingly working online. I thought if nothing else it would make for a pretty interesting year so I put in an application and got it.

My job was at the Press Institute of Mongolia, a non-government organisation that hosts a school of journalism and advocates for a free press in Mongolia.

Mongolia’s media is an interesting beast. It’s still mired in its Soviet past, doesn’t really challenge the government of the day and is quite partisan.

My main role there was to create an online journalism curriculum for the diploma of journalism students.

I had never been in front of a classroom before, so it was a challenge but I really enjoyed putting the classes together and made some great friends with the staff who are now training the next generation of Mongolian journalists. I think I learned far more from the staff and students than they learned from me though.

Living in Mongolia had its challenges as well. The winter is brutal, at some points reaching 40 degrees below zero. I remember getting up to walk to work one morning, I checked the temperature and it was -36 degrees. I thought, ‘how am I ever going to do this?’ but somehow I made it – with a very warm jacket, face mask and several pairs of gloves.

How did you find life as a woman in Mongolia?

I found it relatively easy living in Mongolia. Being an expat can be a blessing or a curse. You’re an easy target simply because you look so different, but it also means you’re generally left to your own devices as the ‘strange Australian woman’.

For the locals though, women don’t always find it so easy. Mongolia is still very much a patriarchal society. Although many women are involved in high levels of government and business, representation of women in parliament is still low, and most of the very senior roles automatically go to older men.

Just after I left Mongolia, I set up a website for a local campaign, called Our Voices, to help women in Mongolia speak out about domestic violence.

One woman told an incredible story of how she escaped an awful situation of domestic violence and joined the circus. She then went to live in the US, but returned to Mongolia in 2013. She travelled to some of the country’s most remote areas performing with a circus troupe to help spread the word that there was a future for women who escaped domestic violence situations. The campaign also called for more government help and a change to laws to better protect women.

I was struck by the bravery of the women who shared their stories. It wasn’t easy for them to speak out – Andie Noonan

Did you always want to travel and work? Or did life take an unexpected turn? 

Growing up in rural Victoria, I have always wanted to travel and work.

After I finished university I travelled to London where I lived and worked for two years, but I never expected I’d end up in Mongolia for a year of my life.

I had been to Mongolia before, in 2007 with my partner, so it wasn’t completely unknown. We were only there for about a week, it was a stop en route to Beijing travelling on the Trans-Siberian railway, but loved it.

Now that I have worked abroad, I’d definitely do it again. I’m enjoying being back in Melbourne for the moment, but I’m sure I’ll get the travel bug again soon enough.

Do you have one hot travel tip for anyone visiting Mongolia?

Make sure you have plenty of time and get out of the capital, Ulaanbaatar. The saying goes, you haven’t been to Mongolia unless you’ve been to the countryside. And, to be honest, it’s pretty hard to miss. Mongolians are quick to encourage you out into the wilderness. It really is an incredible country well worth exploring.

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