Mongolia and Siberia

Nomadism, Geopolitics, and the Environment

Explore Mongolia’s search for balance between environmental conservation and natural resource development on the doorstep of China and Siberia.

At a Glance

Credits

16

Prerequisites

None

Language of Study

Mongolian

Courses taught in

English

Dates

Feb 17 ‎– May 31

Program Countries

Mongolia

Program Excursion Countries

Russia (Siberia)

Program Base

Ulaanbaatar

Critical Global Issue of Study

Climate & Environment

Climate & Environment Icon

Geopolitics & Power

Geopolitics & Power Icon

Overview

Why study geopolitics in Mongolia?

A young democracy nestled between authoritarian Russia and China, Mongolia is undergoing rapid socioeconomic and cultural change. Live with a nomadic family in a ger, the iconic shelters made of felt and wood, ride horses for transportation, and experience the nomadic lifestyle on Mongolia’s starkly beautiful grassy steppes. Travel to the capital of Ulaanbaatar to meet with key experts and discuss the impact of mining on Mongolia’s social, economic, and environmental future. Along the way, learn about the traditions and livelihoods of Mongolia’s nomadic cultures and the effects of ecotourism and climate change on their communities. Learn Mongolian and speak with Mongolian students while exploring urban landscapes, remote Buddhist monasteries, and some of the most pristine natural environments in the world. See the cities of Siberia and meet Russian students. Trek through the East Gobi Desert, vast mountain ranges, and forest steppes of a country both protected and restricted by its dramatic environment. Take an excursion to Russia’s East Siberian region and ancient Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world.

Highlights

  • Ride horses and live with a herding family on Mongolia’s steppes.
  • Witness Mongolian and Russian economies, resources, and changing ways of life.
  • Trek to Buddhist monasteries and the 150-year-old meditation caves.
  • Study Mongolia’s relations with the U.S., China, Russia, and North Korea

Prerequisites

None

Excursions

Erdenet

Over three to four days, explore Mongolia’s second-largest city, Erdenet, home to one of the world’s largest copper mines. The Erdenet Copper Mine once accounted for a quarter to one-fifth of Mongolia’s gross domestic product and was a major driver of the nation’s economic development. Travel through the city and meet with Mongolian students as university schedules allow and, depending on conditions, visit the Amarbayasgalant Monastery, one of the largest and most beautiful Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia.

East Gobi

Journey through Dornogobi Province and visit a reconstructed monastery linked to the famed Buddhist thinker, Danzan Ravjaa (1803-1853), whom many locals believed to be a living god. Discover the meditation caves used by lamas of the monastery for tantric meditations and retreats 150 years ago. Witness religious practices at Khan Bayanzurkh, the most famous Gobi mountain associated with Mongolian religious beliefs and rituals. In Sainshand, see the expanding mineral industry and speak with government officials.

East Siberia and Lake Baikal

Examine the impact of economic development and ecotourism on the management of natural resources among transborder ecosystems. Understand the influence of geographic and political factors on food security and development in East Siberia and Northern Asia. Study how transborder waters, such as Lake Baikal and the Selenge River basin, are monitored; meet students in Russia; and visit natural resource sites in national parks and educational and research institutes in the Siberian cities of Ulan-Ude and Irkutsk.

Additional Religious Sites

Alongside Islam, Christianity, and Shamanic practices, Mahayana Buddhism is experiencing a rise in popularity. Understand the re-emergence of religion in Mongolia, following the transition from Communist government to democracy in the early 1990s, with a variety of lectures and guided explorations of religious centers and sites.

Nature Sites

Witness the environmental challenges and threats Mongolia faces in an era of increased globalization with field excursions to Mongolian natural habitats combined with lectures and seminars. Speak with policymakers, environmental non-governmental organizations, activists, and leaders of grassroots movements opposed to destructive mining practices.

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

Academics

Coursework

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.

The following syllabi are representative of 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.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • Environmental conservation and natural resource development
  • Rapid urbanization and dramatic influx of foreign direct investment
  • History, traditions, and livelihoods of Mongolia’s nomadic cultures
  • Mongolia’s unique roots in Russia, China, Europe, and Central Asia
  • Independent study project or intern with a Mongolian organization

Geopolitics and Development Trends

Geopolitics and Development Trends – syllabus
(ASIA3010 / 3 credits)

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 strategies. With special attention to Mongolia’s location between China and the Russia, this course discusses government policies for international investment and the shifting political discourses about domestic investment that form the background of Mongolia’s development trajectory, including food safety and security and academic and economic cooperation with Mongolia. Educational excursions are an integral part of this course, and lecturers are drawn from local universities, research institutes, and NGOs and private entities both in Mongolia and Siberia, Russia.

Pastoralism and Natural Resource Management

Pastoralism and Natural Resource Management – syllabus
(ASIA3020 / 3 credits)

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, including ecological zones of Lake Baikal region in East Siberia, environmental challenges facing populations in each zone, and their interrelationship across international borders. Lecturers are drawn from local universities, government agencies, and NGOs and private entities both in Mongolia and Siberia, Russia.

Mongolian

Beginning Mongolian – syllabus
(MONG1003–1503 / 3 credits)

Intermediate Mongolian – syllabus
(MONG2003–2503 / 3 credits)

Advanced Mongolian – syllabus
(MONG3003–3503 / 3 credits)

Emphasis is on speaking and listening 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 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

Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)

Through a carefully designed sequence of field projects, workshops, and related lectures, this course prepares students for either an independent research project or an internship. Knowledge will culminate in each student’s successful completion of an individually designed and executed Independent Study Project or internship at the end of the semester.

Course Options

In addition to taking the above courses, students will also need to enroll in one of the following two courses:

Internship and Seminar
Internship and Seminar – syllabus
(ITRN3000 / 4 credits)

This seminar consists of a four-week internship with a local community organization, research organization, business, or international NGO. The aim of the internship is to enable the student to gain valuable experience and to enhance their skills in an international environment. Students will complete an internship and engage in a weekly seminar (typically online), write weekly progress reports, and prepare a final paper and presentation the reflects on the internship learning experience and ties that experience to program’s themes. The internship seminar includes a module titled Internship in the Context of Mongolia, which is designed to help students build a foundation on which to engage in the internship experience.

Sample internships:

  • Providing children with food, healthcare, clothing, and accommodation, as well as education, counseling, and support to help them break free of the cycle of poverty at Lotus Children’s Centre
  • Developing and applying innovative strategies that will help conserve Mongolia’s most important lands and waters with The Nature Conservancy Mongolia
  • Increasing visitor engagement by teaching at Lake Hovsgol National Park
  • Supporting Nutag Partners’ consultation services in rural development, risk management, natural resource management, land use and livestock management, alternative livelihoods, development of community-based organizations, and social impact assessments
  • Assisting at the Mongolian University of Life Sciences, a research-oriented university focusing on veterinary medicine, animal science, biotechnology, agroecology, engineering, economics, and business
  • Participating in innovate national and international research and consulting projects at Independent Research Institute of Mongolia

OR

Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits)

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 Russia; Buddhist debate and monastic education; Buddhist painting, sculpture, and architecture; symbols of collectivism and pastoralism in daily life; 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.

Sample ISP topics:

  • 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
  • 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
  • Community-based pastureland management
  • The concept of national security in Mongolia
  • Nature conservation efforts and natural resource management
  • Spirituality and conservation
  • Understanding the Mongolian tourism supply chain
  • The culture and identity of food
  • Contemporary horse racing practices in Mongolia
  • Environmental justice and herders versus mining

Homestays

Rural Homestay with a Nomadic Family

Live for one to two weeks with a nomadic community in central or northern Mongolia. Central Mongolia is the land of the Khalkh nomads, Mongolia’s largest ethnic group. Live in a ger, a comfortable, transportable, nomadic shelter. Learn animal herding, ride horses, cook local dishes, and develop your Mongolian language skills. Immerse yourself in the open spaces of the steppes and rolling hills of this semi-desert area. In northern Mongolia, you’ll be surrounded by pine forests and grassy mountains.

Ulaanbaatar

Experience Mongolian urban life during a three- to four-week homestay in cosmopolitan Ulaanbaatar, the largest and capital city. Attend SIT lectures and language classes and visit key cultural sites. Host families live in apartment blocks in micro-districts of the city and are often excellent sources of information for your Independent Study Project.

Career Paths

Students on this program represent a wide range of colleges, universities, and majors. Many of them have gone on to pursue academic and professional work that connect back to their experience abroad with SIT. Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI

  • Vice president at Erdene Resource Development Corp.

  • Post-doctoral researcher and course director at University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

  • Researcher and instructor of social and cultural anthropology at University College London, London, UK

  • PhD candidate at Indiana University, Indiana

  • Fulbright fellow in Mongolia

  • PhD candidate in economics at Massachusetts Institute for Technology

Faculty & Staff

Mongolia and Siberia: Nomadism, Geopolitics, and the Environment

Ulziijargal (Ulzii) Sanjaasuren, PhD Candidate
Academic Director
Shijir Batchuluun
Program Assistant and Seminar Coordinator
Maral-Erdene (Maralaa) Oktyabri, MA
Language Program and Urban Homestay Coordinator

Discover the Possibilities

  • COST & SCHOLARSHIPS

    SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.

    See Full Breakdown
  • ACCESSIBILITY

    Prepare for an accessible educational experience with SIT Study Aborad! In-country conditions and resources vary by site. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact disabilityservices@sit.edu for more information.

    Accessibility Overview
N4Ag3dGC3zE
  • Facebook

    SIT Study Abroad Mongolia: Nomadism, Geopolitics, and the Environment
    @sitmongolia

    Facebook
  • SIT Study Abroad Mongolia: Nomadism, Geopolitics, and the Environment

    Experience some of the most pristine natural environments in the world, learn nomadic traditions from Mongolia’s unique vantage point.

    Video
  • 2017 SIT Study Abroad Undergraduate Research Award Winners

    SIT is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2017 SIT Study Abroad Undergraduate Research Award, Maya Sutton-Smith, of Connecticut College, and Lani Cupo, of Occidental College.

    Learn More