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Wanderlust: Sarah Bown

Emma Macdonald

At 26, Sarah left a corporate job at the ANU to volunteer in Mongolia

We meet the women who gave in to their Wanderlust and did something a little crazy, a lot brave and ultimately life-affirming when they packed up their ordinary lives and took the plunge.


I had a terrible foreboding feeling my life was slipping into monotony at the tender age of 24. A friend had won a role in Tonga in a program with Australian Volunteers for International Development.

I went at it like a bull in a china shop. I started applying for positions in Laos and Vietnam and was already imagining all of the Vietnamese coffee and sunshine. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the job descriptions themselves and was unsuccessful.

After three months I was getting a little frustrated and 2015 was getting really close. This was the year I said I would go on this adventure and the universe just wasn’t feeling my jam. Then lo and behold, the perfect job came up: marketing and communications in two education host organisations; tertiary experience preferred. I was stoked; this was it, my 2015 adventure! And then I realised the job location was Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. I resigned at the beginning of 2015, leaving the security of a job and my partner of four years behind in Australia.



Luckily not. I am a proud person at my core so getting cold feet is something I fear because it indicates I’m not fully on board with my decisions; it’s a weakness.


Arriving in late March, it was pretty much smack bang between summer and winter. Which meant all of the winter snow had melted but the lush green summer grasses had yet to appear. So everything was grey and dry with no vegetation. So it pretty much looked 
like the moon. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with another volunteer in a really central area of Ulaanbaatar.



Because of their location and extreme climate, the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in Mongolia is a little limited so there is a lot of meat and dairy. However, when you go to the supermarket to buy some meat and the man gestures to a whole dead goat on
 a board and asks you something in Mongolian which is probably “which bit do you want?”, it is a little confronting.


Winter in Mongolia goes for about five months of the year and at its worst can be -30?C for four or five weeks at a time. You have to wear about seven layers of clothes and the hairs in your nose freeze when you breathe in and your eyelashes get stuck together. There were definitely moments we had to break into our supply of Tim Tams to get through a bad day!



Every single day I experienced something that has inevitably changed me for the better. I guess the most profound is, as a Type-A personality, I preferred everything to run to Plan A and go like clockwork.

I feel like the positive aspects of my personality have just been enhanced and I’ve broken out of a couple of bad habits like stressing over little things and being Ms Impatience. It’s also increased
my appetite and appreciation for the “new” and I’ve been really confident in exploring new hobbies and interests in Canberra and meeting new friends. If I can handle living in Mongolia for a year I can handle going to an Italian class on my own!


If you’re interested Sarah’s journey, volunteering Information Sessions will be held on 23 February for anyone interested in the Australian Volunteers for International Development program.

You can register here:

Read Sarah’s articles for HerCanberra here

This article originally appeared as part of our Wanderlust article in Magazine: Escape for Summer 2016/17. Find out more about Magazine here.


Magazine Edition 7: Escape


Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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