Leaving Mongolia


When you’re in a foreign place you drink the water

Mongolian saying


While this saying means something roughly the same as “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” I have taken more from it than that. In Mongolia in particular, there are plenty of opportunities or moments to decide to “drink the water” or not. Sometimes it comes in the form of a literal healing spring, sometimes in the form of a bowl of organs followed by vodka, sometimes in the form of hazardous levels pollution and -40 degree weather. But getting past these new flavors, I feel that I have gained access to a much deeper understanding of Mongolian culture.

It’s impossible to encapsulate nine months of learning in a short blog post, but what stands out to me is the sense of freedom that many Mongolians, both in Ulaanbaatar and the countryside.

For many herders I spoke with, their job as herders cannot be separated from their freedom and from being Mongolian (or Kazakh depending on who I was talking to). For ambitious young people in UB, they feel like there are many opportunities to develop their own business ideas alongside their county’s rapid economic

Part of the ten-part Young Mongols series I filmed

While I’m ready for what’s next outside of Mongolia it’s difficult to even write this without tearing up. This country and the work I have been doing in it have given me a sense of freedom that I think anyone would be lucky to experience.

I’ve forgone sips and taken this country in continuous gulps that have left me short of breath. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I’ve seen more of this country than most Mongolians will ever get to see, which is an incredible privilege. For me, that privilege comes with the responsibility to share what I have learned in addition to the content I have captured. I carry that responsibility with pride. I am excited to continue to develop this project when I get back to the US where I will undoubtedly, and very quickly, start plotting my next trip to Mongolia.

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To see Dimitri’s full project visit mongolmusicarchive.com. To get in touch with Dimitri, feel free to email him at dimitri.staszewski@fulbrightmail.org or visit his personal website itsdimitri.com. Get frequent updates about his project by following him on Instagram @dimitri.photo.


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