Brandon Boynton, an applied computer science major and serial entrepreneur, visited Mongolia in late October and early November through the U.S. State Department's U.S. Speaker program. While there, the IUPUI Honors College student taught young Mongolian entrepreneurs about launching startups.
Question: How did you get to Mongolia? What was the travel like?
Brandon Boynton: Traveling to Mongolia was uniquely exciting! Unlike most trans-Pacific flights, I departed from Minneapolis to Seoul, South Korea. The shortest route to Seoul is actually over the North Pole; I was able to see some incredibly beautiful glaciers from 32,000 feet. The entire trip took 26 hours of flight time and layovers.
Q: What happened during the weeklong Tech Entrepreneurship Program?
BB: The program taught Mongolian entrepreneurs the skills they need to build a startup. We spent every day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. going over two or three core business concepts. I had prepared lessons for each concept, including activities in which they could implement the concept with their own business ideas.
Throughout the program, participants were invited to networking events. One was at the residence of the embassy's deputy chief of mission.
On the last day, Brandon Andrews, a serial entrepreneur and casting director for ABC's "Shark Tank," worked with participants to create a business pitch. The entire program culminated that night with a pitch competition between all of the participants' startups. Brandon and two local Mongolian entrepreneurs served as judges.
Q: How are Mongolian and American cultures similar? How are they different?
BB: Mongolia has been very westernized. Ulaanbaatar, the capital, has a population of 1.5 million -- which is about 50 percent of the country's population -- and is very similar to many American cities. People go to bars, see movies, shop in malls and have many of the same hobbies as Americans.
More significant differences in the cultures become evident the farther you travel outside of the city. The outer layers of the city are composed of hundreds of thousands of traditional Mongolian homes, called gers. They are circular tents that are disconnected from utilities and rely on coal furnaces for heat. Beyond the ger districts, the city fades away into the desert. This is where you sporadically see herders and nomads living in gers dozens of miles from the nearest ger of another family and hundreds of miles from the nearest city.
Another thing I learned is that Mongolian food is particularly delicious. I am not an adventurous eater, so I was nervous that I would have to eat some weird stuff or be rude by refusing food. It turns out that khuushuur, one of the four signature Mongolian dishes, is now one of my favorite foods. The Mongolians also distill excellent vodka.
Q: You went to Mongolia as a teacher and an expert. What did you learn during your stay?
BB: It sounds painfully obvious, but the greatest lesson I learned in Mongolia is that people are people. Around 7,000 miles from where I was born and raised, the people of Mongolia speak a radically different language and have a different predominant religion, but each person I met was not very much unlike me. This realization is something I really knew all along, but it's one thing to know it and another to experience it.
Q: What else would you like to share about the trip?
BB: If there is one takeaway that came from this trip, it is that I want to travel more. I want to see more of the world and learn from more cultures. I certainly would like to participate in humanitarian missions across the world and help where and when I can.