Mongolia: Geopolitics and the Environment


"The SIT Mongolia program taught me to think, live, and breathe outside the box, and to be able to relate to people with whom I had, on the surface at least, very little in common."

-- Bianca Santos, Rice University

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

Live alongside nomadic herding communities and experience some of the most pristine natural environments in the world.

Mongolia offers a fascinating study of the interplay between foreign engagement, economic development, and natural resource utilization, in the context of a developing nation. Landlocked between Siberia and northern China, much of this rugged nation was historically isolated from global development and is today facing rapid economic and environmental change.

Topics of study include:

  • Diplomatic engagement with major global economies including the US and regional relations with China, Russia, and North Korea
  • Socioeconomic and political reform
  • The search for a balance between environmental conservation and natural resource development
  • Cultural shifts among Mongolia’s pastoral population
  • Rapid urbanization and the rise of urban consumption in the context of a dramatic influx of foreign direct investment (FDI)

Resource management and exploitation
A central factor in Mongolia’s development planning is the fate of the country’s abundant natural resources, particularly coal and copper. 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. Additional areas of study include public policy prioritization, urbanization, conceptions of private property, and shifting livelihoods and pastoral traditions.

Through the program's field excursions, students visit historically, economically, and culturally important areas in Mongolia’s central and northern regions. Rural homestays in nomadic camps provide stark contrasts between Mongolia's urban and rural communities.


Program resources
The program is based in Ulaanbaatar, home to nearly one half of Mongolia’s population and its political, economic, and cultural capital. In addition to SIT faculty and staff, lecturers include academics, diplomats and domestic government officials, national and transnational mining companies, national and international NGO representatives, and other professionals from highly esteemed entities such as:

In a creative narrative about her time on SIT’s Mongolia program, Columbia University creative writing major Kening Zhu reflects on her rural homestay mother. Read more.

Learn more about the rapid changes underway in Mongolia on NPR’s special series Mongolia Booms.

Dimitri Staszewski While studying with SIT in Mongolia, Dimitri Staszewski (Loyola University) began a project to record and archive the singing performances of Mongolian herders. In an interview on the SIT blog, Dimitri discusses his project and the importance of preserving traditional Mongolian music. Read more.

Dimitri was interviewed by New Orleans Public Radio, an NPR affiliate radio station, about his project. Listen to the interview.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects/Undergraduate Research

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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