Mongolia: Geopolitics and the Environment

Key Features

“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.

Students 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.

Learning about nomadic Mongolian culture

Seminar 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.

Independent 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
  • 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

“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


Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Ulaanbaatar

Language Study: Mongolian

Prerequisites: None


View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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