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Mongolia: Geopolitics and the Environment

Mongolia: Geopolitics and the Environment

Examine international relations, natural resource management, nomadic traditions, and economic growth from Mongolia’s unique vantage point.

The program looks at the interplay between foreign engagement, economic development, and natural resource utilization in the context of Mongolia, a nation facing rapid economic and environmental change. Students scrutinize the multitude of ways in which mining, conservation of pasturelands, grazing rights, and other resource management issues are shaping public and private life. For one to two weeks, students live alongside nomadic herding communities and experience some of the most pristine natural environments in the world.

Major topics of study include:

  • Diplomatic engagement with major global economies including the US and regional relations with China, Russia, and North Korea
  • Rapid urbanization and the rise of urban consumption in the context of a dramatic influx of foreign direct investment (FDI)
  • The search for a balance between environmental conservation and natural resource development
  • Cultural shifts among Mongolia’s pastoral population
  • Socioeconomic and political reform
 
SIT provided me with in-depth opportunities to learn about Mongolian culture, make contacts, and conduct research, which allowed me to hit the ground running when I arrived for my Fulbright.

Hedwig (Heddy) Waters, George Washington University

Program components

The SIT Mongolia program consists of the following elements: a weeklong orientation, two thematic seminars, a research methods and ethics course, a rural and urban homestay, an intensive Mongolian language course, and a four-week independent study research project.

seminarStudents on this program have the rare opportunity to:

  • Experience the international roots of Mongolian culture, examining similarities and differences between contemporary Russian, Chinese, and Central Asian cultures
  • Explore diverse topics ranging from Buddhism to coal mining to cashmere to wildlife of the Gobi
  • Discuss current issues with members of Mongolia's Parliament and local governments
  • Interact with Mongolian musicians
  • Eat seasonal, local food based on the annual cycle
  • Experience life in a country both protected and restricted by a dramatic physical environment that includes the Gobi Desert, vast mountain ranges, and forest steppes
  • Ride horses as a form of transportation*

* Students receive lessons during the semester. If possible, students should plan to bring a riding helmet. Riding boots may be purchased in Mongolia.

Seminar on pastoralism and natural resource management

In this course, students examine Mongolia’s nomadic population and the impact of political, social, and economic transformations and national resource management policies on Mongolia’s social, cultural, and physical environments.

Main topics of inquiry in the Pastoralism and Natural Resource Management seminar include:

  • The history, traditions and livelihood of Mongolia’s nomadic communities and the challenges for this population as a result of Mongolia’s political transformations and development policies.
  • Mongolia’s attempt to create a national resource management policy that balances conservation and traditional values and practices with the demands of the mining industry and other modern business and economic development opportunities.

seminarSeminar on geopolitics and development trends

In the geopolitics and development course, students focus on Mongolia’s path to political and economic development and the country’s current strategies for external relations and internal growth.

Students analyze two key academic themes:

  • Mongolia’s diplomatic attempts to cultivate key international allies through its Third Neighbor Policy, and its engagement with China, Russia, the two Koreas, and Japan within the geopolitics of northeast Asia.
  • Mongolia’s development policies and its attempt to address issues of rapid urbanization and growth.

Learn the language of Mongolia.

Students receive 45 class hours of intensive language instruction beginning shortly after arrival. Classes are conducted by trained Mongolian language instructors and emphasize introductory speaking and comprehension skills. Further practice is available outside of class, including during the homestays.

ISP meetingIndependent Study Project

In the final month of the program, students conduct an Independent Study Project (ISP). This provides each student with an opportunity to pursue original research on a situation or topic of particular interest to him/her.

Possible areas of inquiry include a wide range of topics and study areas including:

  • Nomadic organization in transition
  • Cashmere trade and cultural interaction with China and Siberia
  • Buddhist painting, sculpture, and architecture
  • Environmental impacts of mining
  • Symbols of collectivism and pastoralism in daily life
  • Education policy since the disintegration of the socialist system
  • Cultural perceptions of Mongolian medicinal plants
  • Commodity production and regional politics
  • Mongolians of Kazakh descent and their place in modern Islam
  • Investment climate for foreign direct investment
  • Mongolia’s Third Neighbor Policy
  • Urbanization of the nomadic nation
  • The concept of national security in Mongolia
  • Nature conservation efforts and natural resource management

Access Virtual Library Guide

The program’s coursework provides an essential foundation in Mongolian language, history, and culture, from which to springboard into in-depth discussions of Mongolia’s most pressing development issues.  Key issues of examination include: Mongolia’s nomadic and rural society; the country’s young market economy; systematizing social support and providing for those in need; and the strengthening of governmental structures and oversight. Coursework is based on SIT’s experiential, field-based program model.

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Geopolitics and Development Trends – syllabus
(ASIA 3010 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
This interdisciplinary course focuses on Mongolia’s path to political and economic development and the country’s current strategies for external relations and internal growth. With special attention to Mongolia’s location between China and the Russian Federation, this course’s discussions on government policies for international investment and the shifting political discourses about domestic investment form the background against which Mongolia’s development trajectory is analyzed. Educational excursions are an integral part of this course, and lecturers are drawn from local universities, research institutes, and NGOs.

Pastoralism and Natural Resource Management – syllabus
(ASIA 3020 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
This interdisciplinary course, with required readings and relevant educational excursions, focuses on Mongolia’s nomadic population and the impact of political, social, and economic transformations and national resource management policies, ranging from wildlife to resource extraction to water quality and conservation, on Mongolia’s social, cultural, and physical environments. Lecturers are drawn from local universities, government agencies, and NGOs.

Beginning Mongolian – syllabus
(MONG 1000–1500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Intermediate Mongolian – syllabus
(MONG 2000–2500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Advanced Mongolian – syllabus
(MONG 3000–3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Emphasis on speaking and comprehension in Mongolian, plus reading and writing skills, through classroom and field instruction. Classes are conducted by trained Mongolian language instructors. Students are placed in intensive beginning, intermediate, or advanced classes based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing. Language training starts immediately after students arrive in Mongolia and continues during field excursions.

Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH 3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Through a carefully designed sequence of field projects, workshops, and related lectures, this course will prepare students for independent research. Knowledge will culminate in each student’s successful completion of an individually designed and executed Independent Study Project (ISP) at the end of the semester.

Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR 3000 / 4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in an approved location in Mongolia appropriate to the project. Sample topic areas: the concept of national security in Mongolia; nomadic organization in transition; cashmere trade and cultural interaction with China and Siberia; Buddhist debate and monastic education; Buddhist painting, sculpture, and architecture; symbols of collectivism and pastoralism in daily life; education policy since Soviet disintegration; the shagai tradition; cultural perceptions of Mongolian medicinal plants; commodity production and regional politics; analysis of the environmental impacts of mining; maternal healthcare, motherhood, and birth in Ulaanbaatar; the Mongolians of Kazakh descent and their place in modern Islam.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects / Undergraduate Research.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

This program allows you an intimate view of a good portion of Mongolia and is loaded with experiences. Well-balanced between classes and excursions, you learn as much in the classroom as you do outside the classroom.

Kara Pellegrino, Kenyon College

The SIT Mongolia program includes a number of excursions, which exposes students to life outside the capital city. Excursions vary from semester to semester based on seasonal and climate conditions, but may include one of the following:

ErdenetErdenet (3–4 days)

In Erdenet, Mongolia’s second-largest city, students learn about Mongolia’s manufacturing and mining industries, while contemplating the country’s past, present, and future in the context of one city. Erdenet is home to one of the world’s largest copper mines, Erdenet Copper Mine, which has been a central player in Mongolia’s development. Presently the mining corporation is the sole copper concentrate producer and accounts for between one-fifth and one-fourth of Mongolia’s GDP.

During the excursion to Erdenet, if travel conditions permit, students visit Amarbayasgalant Monastery, one of the largest and most beautiful Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia. It is considered a sacred cultural landscape. Students meet the monastery’s small but thriving Buddhist community, attend their morning or evening ritual chanting, and may have the chance to play soccer with the lamas.

Sainshand, Khamryn Hiid/Khamar Monastery (3–4 days)

Students travel to Dornogobi Province (East Gobi) to the site of Khamryn Hiid. The province is connected with the name of Danzan Ravjaa (1803–1853), officially known as the Fifth Reincarnate Lama of the Gobi. Students learn about the life and times of this extraordinary man, an enlightened master, a distinguished Buddhist thinker, and outstanding figure of the Mongolian Buddhist reformist movement of the 19th century.

Highlights of the excursion include:

  • Visiting the recently re-established Khamar Monastery. The original, like so many historic monasteries across the country, was completely destroyed during the political and religious purges of the 1930s. Students conduct in-depth interviews with individuals who have devoted their lives to Khamryn Khiid restoration endeavors. Students explore the monastery’s meditation caves used by lamas of the monastery for advanced tantric meditations and retreats 150 years ago.
  • Observing the revival of the circumambulation, prostration, and puja practices of Northern Shambala land. Students experience local religious and cultural practices at Khan Bayanzurkh, the most famous Gobi mountain associated with Mongolian religious beliefs and rituals. 
  • Learning about opportunities, attainments, and challenges of East Gobi development. Expansion of mineral industry mainly located in the Gobi area is turning Sainshand, a provincial town, into a center for an industrial park. Students meet officials from the provincial government who can shed more light on geopolitical issues around this area.

mountainsAdditional religious centers and sites

Mahayana Buddhism is increasing its popularity alongside Islam, Christianity, and Shamanic practices. Lectures at and excursions to various religious centers and sites help students find themselves in the midst of a religious re-emergence that is taking place in Mongolia following the transition from a Communist government to a democracy in the early 1990s.

Nature sites

Field excursions to Mongolian nature sites, combined with formal lectures and seminars, expose students to the environmental challenges and threats Mongolia is facing in relation to increased globalization. Students meet with policymakers, environmental NGO activists, and leaders of grassroots movements who are opposing destructive mining operations to protect Mongolia’s natural environment.

I chose the SIT Mongolia program because of its exciting and unorthodox take on abroad learning. I didn't want to be in a modern city or at a university for my time in a different country. The itinerary of this program was ideal. I wanted to see the land and the people as they are today in the environment they both live and love.

Chimi Lama, Smith College

UlziiUlziijargal Sanjaasuren, Academic Director

Ulzii (short for Ulziijargal) Sanjaasuren, graduated from the Odessa State University in Ukraine and then taught English for 10 years at the University of the Humanities in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She later spent six years working as a program coordinator for international development organizations including UNDP, DANIDA, and the Soros Foundation. Her responsibilities included identifying priority areas for future projects and conducting onsite supervision and evaluation of project activities, while specializing in education development programs. After two years of freelancing, she joined SIT in 2000 and was one of the designers of the SIT Mongolia program.

Ulzii holds an MA in teaching foreign languages from the Pedagogical University of Mongolia. She completed her PhD coursework at the same university and has started her thesis on the application of cognitive language learning principles in course design. Ulzii is the author of several series of English language textbooks for secondary schools in Mongolia. She is a past recipient of the Mongolian President’s Prize – Author of the Best Textbook, 2002. In March 2009, Ulzii received an ELTons Award from the British Council, as team leader of the Mongolian Curriculum Development and Textbook Writing team. She is a full-time resident of Mongolia.

Yarinpil Ariunbaatar (Baatar), Homestay Coordinator

Baatar works with the academic director to help oversee the program's day-to-day activities. He assists the academic director with the design and development of homestays, both urban and rural, in addition to helping with personnel and contingency matters. Baatar has extensive in-country and international travel experience. Personal interests include photography, ethnography, and Mongolian history with an emphasis on the history of the Mongolian Buryad people. He is fluent in Russian and speaks intermediate English. Baatar holds a BA and MSc from the Mongolian University of Science and Technology. His focus changed from engineering to education in early 2000 when he joined the SIT Study Abroad Mongolia program.

Chuluunbaatar Ulziikhishig, Field Coordinator

Ulzii (Akh) has been working for the SIT Mongolia program since its inception. He has been responsible for the development and execution of all educational excursions and travel to rural homestays. He manages visas and program logistics and assists students in finding appropriate ISP locations and making the necessary contacts and logistical arrangements for project execution. He is responsible for all of the payments and purchases made for field travel. He speaks fluent Russian and good English. His personal interests include shamanism, table tennis, photography, and wrestling. He holds a diploma in radio engineering from Odessa Military University and an MSc in military management from Tveri Military Academy in Russia.

Tsedenbal Baigal, Program Assistant and Language Coordinator

Baigal helps the academic director arrange lectures and site visits and oversee the implementation of the language program. She also manages the program offices and lecture facilities as well as the SIT library. She holds a BA in English language teaching and also computer science from the Mongolian University of Education and an MA in foreign relations from the School for Foreign Service at the National University of Mongolia. Prior to joining SIT Mongolia in August 2009, she worked for the University of IEB as an English teacher.

Sampling of the lecturers for this program:

Bumochir DulamBumochir Dulam, PhD

Dr. Bumochir Dulam is in charge of the field study seminar lectures on field methods and ethics and thematic seminar lectures on development of anthropological studies in Mongolia and shamanism, particularly Mongolian shamanism. Additionally, he frequently serves as an ISP advisor.

Dr. Bumochir is a professor at the National University of Mongolia and is the acting chair of the Social and Cultural Anthropology Department in the university’s School of Social Sciences. His main areas of interest and experience are in the fields of philology (folklore) and anthropology. He has conducted field research on shamanism in the north and east of Mongolia and undertook a yearlong field study to examine respect and politics among the Deed Mongols in Qinghai, in the northwest of China. Based on his fieldwork findings, he completed an MA in primary source studies at the National University of Mongolia and a PhD in philology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. For his MA, he compared and analyzed sacrificial texts used in the worship of Eternal Heaven (Monkh Tenger); for his PhD he studied shamanic chants.

Additionally, Dr. Dulam studied social anthropology at the University of Cambridge where he was awarded an MPhil and PhD. For his MPhil, he analyzed shamanic rituals in terms of language and chants. For his PhD he studied respect and traditional ways of producing political power. 

Oyun Sanjaasuren, PhD

Member of Parliament; Minister of Nature and Environment and Green Development of Mongolia, Head of the Civil Will Party and the Zorig Foundation
Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren delivers lectures for the thematic seminar focused on Mongolia’s present political and social development and Mongolia’s central government policy for nature conservation and green development. Additionally, she is a strong source of support and information for students’ Independent Study Projects.

Dr. Sanjaasuren is currently serving her fourth term in the Parliament of Mongolia. In addition to her duties as an MP, she is the head of the Civil Will Party, head of the Zorig Foundation, and president of the Mongolian Geological Association. She received her BA and MA in geology in the former Czechoslovakia in 1987 and her PhD in earth sciences from Cambridge University in 1996. She started her professional career as a geologist in a Mongolian-Czech joint venture. She has also worked for a UNDP project and for Rio Tinto Ltd (UK). She is a former minister of foreign affairs and former vice speaker of the Parliament. She is one of the main initiators of anti-corruption legislation in Mongolia and is an avid advocate of education, democracy, and good governance. Dr. Sanjaasuren is one of the most prominent and well-respected female politicians in Mongolia.

Mr. Badruun Gardi

Mr. Badruun Gardi delivers lectures for the thematic seminars on the status of civil society in Mongolia and the urbanization process and discontent in ger (suburban) districts of Ulaanbaatar. He regularly advises students on their ISPs.

Badruun Gardi is the executive director of Zorig Foundation. He has previously served as the foundation's scholarship programs coordinator. Named after the leader of the democratic revolution of 1990, the late Zorig Sanjaasuren, the foundation aims to spread and strengthen democratic values in Mongolian society. Badruun is an adjunct fellow at the Urban Community Research Center for Asia at the Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan, and is a graduate of Stanford University, where he studied psychology and communication.

Ms. Onon Bayasgalan

Ms. Onon Bayasgalan lectures on ecosystem-based climate change in Mongolia and adaptation strategies and water resource management policies.

Onon Bayasgalan works as a policy analyst at Wildlife Conservation Society, Mongolia. She holds a BA in environmental economics from Whitman College and a master's of environmental management in environmental policy from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is interested in environmental policy in fields such as sustainable pasture management, air pollution, global environmental governance and climate change strategies. She has dedicated time to youth education on global environmental problems, both for young students in primary school and for young adults seeking to further their careers.

Mrs. Batjaviin Bayartuul

B. Bayartuul graduated from the National University of Mongolia (NUM) as a teacher and researcher of Mongolian language and literature. She holds an MA in linguistics from the NUM. Currently, she is a PhD candidate at the same university. She has worked a number of years as a Mongolian language teacher for foreign students.  

Her research work focuses on second language acquisition and lexicology.

Dr. Luvsanjav Chuluunbaatar

Chair, Foreign Language Department, School of Mongolian Language and Culture, NUM
Dr. L. Chuluunbaatar delivers lectures for the thematic seminar on history and the development of script culture among nomadic Mongols. He also serves as an external Mongolian language examiner.

Dr. L. Chuluunbaatar holds a PhD in the history of linguistics from the Institute of Mongolia, Buddhism and Tibetan Studies and the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Russia. He has an MA in Mongolian language and literature from the National University of Mongolia. He has worked for many years as a lecturer at the National University of Mongolia and extensively taught Mongolian, English, Tibetan, and translation theory. With an interdisciplinary background in Mongolian, Buddhism, Oriental studies, and educational and comparative studies, he has lectured at universities in England, Russia, Hungary, China, Japan, Thailand, and Korea. He was a visiting professor at London University for two years and at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies in Japan for three years. He has compiled 14 publications and authored over 30 articles in disciplines that include Mongolian language and Buddhist studies. His work has been published in Mongolian, Russian, English, and Japanese. He chairs the Foreign Language Department, School of Mongolian Language and Culture, at the National University of Mongolia. He has presented his research at numerous national and international professional conferences.

"The homestays were perfect for practicing Mongolian." — Program alum

Students live with host families in urban and rural areas to experience the diversity of contemporary Mongolia. Students discover the cosmopolitan nature of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia's capital and largest city, as well as the open expanses of the steppe or high mountains and rolling hills through homestays with nomadic communities. 

Other accommodations during the program include apartments, guest houses, educational institutions, or small hotels.

homestay familyUrban homestay in Ulaanbaatar (three to four weeks)

Students experience Mongolian middle-class urban life, practice their Mongolian language skills, and test their new cultural skills in the context of a family in Ulaanbaatar. Host families are often excellent sources of contacts and information for students' Independent Study Projects. All host families live in apartment blocks located in various micro-districts of the city. Students typically form strong connections with their host families.

During this period of the program, students attend lectures and language classes at the SIT program center and visit important cultural sites throughout Ulaanbaatar.

Rural homestay (one to two weeks)

Students live with a nomadic community in either central or northern Mongolia, depending on the season and travel conditions. These communities regularly move in search of better pastures and water for their livestock in the steppe. Students typically work with and learn from the nomadic community, actively participating in a wide range of daily animal herding and household chores.

  • Central Mongolian plains. Central Mongolia is the land of the central Mongolian Khalkh people, Mongolia's largest ethnic group and nomads who move between five and ten times a year. The region includes open steppe with rolling hills and a semi-desert area. During this period, students live in a ger, a transportable shelter made of felt and wood.
  • Northern Mongolia. The northern part of the country is a remote mountainous area containing forests; it has a different climate and environmental influences from the central region. For part of the year, nomadic families in the north live in wooden structures, and some of them herd reindeer. The region is home to the Buriad, Darkhad, and other ethnic groups. In Buriad areas, students will observe similarities to Russian culture. 

rural homestayHighlights of the rural homestay period include:

  • Engaging with community members involved in local politics
  • Discovering the influence of governmental policies on rural communities
  • Gaining firsthand perspective on herders' coping strategies with issues of desertification, climate change, and Mongolia's ongoing socioeconomic transformation
  • Teaching English to Mongolian students at area schools (may not be possible every semester)
  • Gaining insight into the nature of the tensions and relationship between rural communities and mining companies
  • Debating how changes in transportation, such as the motorcycle, can affect nomadic life and discussing the introduction of renewable energy technologies
  • Learning centuries-old traditions including nature conservation practices

During the rural homestay period, students also work on their Research Methods and Ethics assignments and language skills, synthesizing new information within the frameworks presented through the thematic seminars.

Program Dates: Spring 2015

Program Start Date:  Feb 23, 2015

Program End Date:    Jun 7, 2015

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Nov 1, 2014

SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $12,160

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Introduction to Mongolian history
    • Mongolian life and culture
    • Geopolitics and development issues
  • Research Methods and Ethics course on research methods and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive language instruction in Mongolian
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Erdenet and historical and cultural sites in rural and urban areas of Mongolia, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board:$2,590

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Ulaanbaatar), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
  • All homestays (up to four weeks in Ulaanbaatar and up to two weeks in a nomad camp, depending on local conditions)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare

International airfares vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses:$160

Immunizations varies

Books & Supplies :$120

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during a semester abroad vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region.  See a full list of our alumni contacts.  Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.

 

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SIT was founded as the School for International Training and has been known as SIT Study Abroad and SIT Graduate Institute since 2007. SIT is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

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