Examine Mongolia's search for balance between environmental conservation and natural resource development.
Live in a ger with a nomadic herding family on the steppes of Mongolia.
You’ll learn about the traditions and livelihood of Mongolia’s nomadic communities and the current challenges for this population. You’ll see up close the international roots of Mongolian culture and examine similarities and differences between contemporary Russian, Chinese, and Central Asian cultures.
Experience some of the most pristine natural environments in the world.
See the Gobi Desert, vast mountain ranges, and forest steppes of a country both protected and restricted by its dramatic environment.
Learn to ride a horse and use horses for transportation.
Bring your helmet—the program includes horse-riding lessons. You can bring boots, or buy Mongolian riding boots once you arrive.
You will receive 45 class hours of 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, on excursions, in your daily interactions with people in your host communities, and during the homestays.
Visit sacred sites in Kharkhorin, the ancient Mongolian capital, and East Gobi.
Conduct independent research or complete an internship.
Discuss current issues with members of Mongolia’s Parliament.
Key Topics of Study
Key Topics of Study
- The search for balance between environmental conservation and natural resource development
- Rapid urbanization and the rise of urban consumption in the context of a dramatic influx of foreign direct investment
- History, traditions, and livelihood of Mongolia’s nomadic communities and their challenges caused by Mongolia’s political transformations, development policies, and climate change
- Socioeconomic transformations and political reform
- Mongolia’s Third Neighbor Policy and diplomatic engagement with major global economies, including the US, and regional relations with China, Russia, and North Korea
- Mongolia’s path to political and economic development
- Mongolia’s development policies and its attempt to address issues of rapid urbanization and growth
- Diversification of national and local economies away from mining
- The international roots of Mongolian culture and similarities and differences between contemporary Russian, Chinese, and Central Asian cultures
Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.
The program’s excursions offer you a close-up look at life outside the capital city. Excursions vary from semester to semester based on seasonal and climate conditions but may include one of the following:
Erdenet, Mongolia’s second-largest city, is home to one of the world’s largest copper mines, Erdenet Copper Mine, a key factor in Mongolia’s development. The mining corporation accounts for between one-fifth and one-fourth of Mongolia’s GDP.
Over three to four days, you’ll explore the city with Mongolian students and learn about Mongolia’s manufacturing and mining industries while contemplating the country’s past, present, and future. If travel conditions permit, you’ll also visit Amarbayasgalant Monastery, one of the largest and most beautiful Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia. You will meet the monastery’s small but thriving Buddhist community and attend morning or evening ritual chanting, and you may have the chance to play soccer with the lamas.
This three- to four-day excursion takes you to Dornogobi Province, site of Khamryn Hiid. The province is connected with Danzan Ravjaa (1803–1853), officially known as the Fifth Reincarnate Lama of the Gobi. You will learn about the life of this enlightened master, a distinguished Buddhist thinker and outstanding figure of the Mongolian Buddhist reformist movement of the 19th century.
You’ll also see the recently re-established Khamar Monastery. The original, like many monasteries across the country, was destroyed during political and religious purges of the 1930s. You will interview people who have devoted their lives to Khamryn Khiid restoration endeavors and explore the monastery’s meditation caves, used by lamas of the monastery for tantric meditations and retreats 150 years ago.
You will also get to see religious and cultural practices at Khan Bayanzurkh, the most famous Gobi mountain associated with Mongolian religious beliefs and rituals, and the circumambulation, prostration, and puja practices of northern Shambala land.
In the provincial town Sainshand, you’ll see how the expanding mineral industry is changing the local landscape. You’ll meet officials from the provincial government to talk about local geopolitical and environmental issues and learn about the opportunities, attainments, and challenges of East Gobi development.
Additional Religious Sites
Mahayana Buddhism is increasing in popularity alongside Islam, Christianity, and Shamanic practices. Onsite lectures and guided exploration of religious centers and sites will help you understand the re-emergence of religion in Mongolia following the transition from Communist government to democracy in the early 1990s.
Field excursions to Mongolian natural sites, combined with lectures and seminars, will help you understand the environmental challenges and threats Mongolia faces in an era of increased globalization. You will meet policymakers, environmental NGO activists, and leaders of grassroots movements opposing destructive mining operations.
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.
- Geopolitics and Development Trends – syllabus
- (ASIA3010 / 3 credits / 45 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 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. 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
- (ASIA3020 / 3 credits / 45 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
- (MONG1003-1503 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- Intermediate Mongolian – syllabus
- (MONG2003-2503 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- Advanced Mongolian – syllabus
- (MONG3003-3503 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- 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 – 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.
In addition to taking the above courses, students will also need to enroll in one of the following two courses:
- Internship and Seminar – syllabus
- (ITRN3000 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
- 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 work experience and to enhance their skills in an international work environment. Students will complete an internship and submit a paper in which they process their learning experience on the job, analyze an issue important to the organization, and/or design a socially responsible solution to a problem identified by the organization. A focus will be on linking internship learning with the program’s critical global issue focus and overall program theme. The internship course 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.
- Independent Study Project – syllabus
- (ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 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 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.
Program in a minute-ish
Faculty and Staff
Faculty and Staff
Ulziijargal (Ulzii) Sanjaasuren, PhD Candidate, Academic Director
Ulzii graduated from Odessa State University in Ukraine and taught English for 10 years at the University of the Humanities in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She later was a program coordinator for international development organizations including UNDP, DANIDA, and the Soros Foundation. She identified priority areas for future projects and conducted supervision and evaluation, specializing in education development programs. She joined SIT in 2000 and helped design SIT’s Mongolia program.
Ulzii holds an MA in teaching foreign languages from the Pedagogical University of Mongolia, where she’s completed her PhD coursework and begun her thesis on the application of cognitive language learning principles in course design. Ulzii authored several series of English language textbooks for secondary schools in Mongolia and received the Mongolian President’s Prize for author of the best textbook in 2002. In 2009, Ulzii received an ELTons Award from the British Council, as team leader of the Mongolian Curriculum Development and Textbook Writing team.
Yarinpil Ariunbaatar (Baatar), MS, Homestay Coordinator
Baatar helps oversee the program’s activities, assisting the academic director with design and development of homestays and with personnel and contingency matters. Baatar has extensive in-country and international travel experience. His interests include photography, ethnography, and Mongolian history, particularly the history of the Mongolian Buryad people. He is fluent in Russian and speaks intermediate English. Baatar holds a BA and MS from the Mongolian University of Science and Technology and a certificate in management of human resources from the Academy of Human Resource Management. His focus changed to education in 2000, when he joined SIT.
Shijir , Program Assistant and Seminar Coordinator
Shijir holds a bachelor’s in business management from Citi Institute of Mongolia. He has lived in Germany and the US and was a translator and safety officer for Major Drilling Mongolia. He joined SIT in 2014 as a program assistant and seminar coordinator. He also acts as office manager and as a translator in the field.
Oyunbold (Oyuka) Zorigt, Field Coordinator
Oyuka holds a BA in international economics from the University of the Humanities in Ulaanbaatar. He worked as a translator for tourists during summer breaks in college. After working in the business sector, he joined SIT in 2015. He participated in the “Work and Travel in the USA” program twice.
Maral-Erdene (Maralaa) Oktyabri, MA, Language Coordinator
Maralaa, from Govisumber province, received her BA (2013) and MA (2016) in teaching Mongolian and English languages from the Mongolian State University of Education. She worked at the School of Mongolian Studies for a year and in 2015 joined SIT. She coordinates all language program activities and sometimes teaches language classes. Maralaa also coordinates the Mongolian language textbook writing project and is the program’s library coordinator.
Lecturers for the program typically include:
Badruun holds a BA with a double major in Psychology and Communication from Stanford University. He is founder and CEO of GerHub and a leader in Mongolia interested in national development. GerHub is a nonprofit seeking to transform the living environments of the urban poor. From 2011 to 2014, Badruun was Executive Director of the Zorig Foundation, an NGO focusing on good governance, youth education, and community development. He is also a board member of the Institute of Engineering and Technology. He is an alumnus of the US Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program and the inaugural class of the Asia Foundation Development Fellowship.
Jon Lyons, MBA
Jon is vice president of Regulatory Affairs and Strategy at Erdene Resource Development, where he is responsible for managing the various government permitting processes required to advance Erdene’s mineral exploration and mining projects. Jon is also responsible for oversight of health, safety, environment, and community areas for the company, especially to ensure compliance and cultivate shared value for all stakeholders. Previously, Jon was with the Global Green Growth Institute as the country representative to Mongolia. Jon has lived and worked intermittently in Mongolia and the region, including a previous posting with Erdene, since 2001. Jon earned an MBA from Maastricht University and the EuroMBA consortium and a BA (summa cum laude) in physics and anthropology from Wheaton College and is fluent in Mongolian and Russian.
Batjaviin Bayartuul, PhD Candidate
Batjaviin has taught Mongolian for SIT students since 2009. She graduated from the University of the Humanities as an English teacher and translator and holds an MA in linguistics from the National University of Mongolia, where she is a PhD candidate and a language teacher for international students. Her research focuses on second language acquisition and lexicology. She published two textbooks on Mongolian grammar and a dictionary of synonyms for foreign learners.
Damba Ganbat, PhD
Damba advises the Mongolian president and is a member of the Board of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He is also director of the Institute for Strategic Studies of Mongolia. He earned his PhD in political science from the Mongolian Academy of Science. He was executive director of the Academy of Political Education and is a board member of Mongolian National Public TV/Radio, secretary general of the Mongolian Political Science Association, and member of the Doctoral Dissertation Committee in Political Science. He worked in Foreign Aid Coordination for the Prime Minister and is a member of the Asian Barometer Survey group. He has written about democratization, political party development, and foreign policy. Damba lectures on political and civil society development and Mongolia’s democratization process. He often helps with students’ Independent Study Projects.
Ganbold Dashlkhagva, PhD
Ganbold has taught SIT students Mongolian since 2012. He graduated from the teachers college in Arkhangai, and received another BA in Mongolian language and literature from School of Khovd, the National University of Mongolia. In 2001, he received his PhD in Mongolian language and culture studies from the Institute of Language and Literature at the Mongolian Academy of Science. His research focuses on ancient and religious Mongolian literature, traditional Mongolian script, and Buddhist studies. He has published articles in Mongolian, Russian, and Chinese. He is a Mongolian language teacher at Mongolian State University of Education.
Onon Bayasgalan, MA
Onon is 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 sustainable pasture management, air pollution, global environmental governance, and climate change strategies. Onon has worked in youth education on global problems for primary school students and young adults. She lectures on ecosystem-based climate change in Mongolia and adaptation strategies and water resource management policies.
Oyun Sanjaasuren, PhD, Former Member of Parliament
Oyun holds a PhD in earth sciences from Cambridge University, and a BA and MS in geochemistry from Charles University, Prague. She is chair of Global Water Partnership, a former member of the Mongolian parliament, former minister of Environment and Green Development, and former minister of Foreign Affairs. She is president of the United Nations Environment Assembly of UNEP. After a career as a geologist, she served five consecutive terms in parliament, and has led reforms in green development and the water sector. She is founder and head of the Zorig Foundation, a leading Mongolian NGO dedicated to the advancement of democracy. She chairs Special Olympics Mongolia and the Mongolia Chapter of Women Corporate Directors.
Since 2016, Adiyasuren has worked as executive director of the Academy for Political Education, where he focuses on political education for youth and capacity building of newly elected mandate holders. After graduating from the National University of Mongolia’s School of Foreign Service, Adiyasuren worked as a researcher at the Institute for Strategic Studies of the National Security Council of Mongolia. There, his work focused on Mongolia’s third neighbor policy, Mongolia-US relations, and Mongolia’s involvement in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Adiyasuren has participated in programs such as the OSCE’s 17th Summer Academy’s Conflict and Modernization in Central Asia international program and the Daniel K. Inoue Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies’ Advanced Security Cooperation course.
Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel, PhD
Nicole has taught research methods, ethics, and writing for SIT since 2015. She completed her PhD in environmental psychology at the City University of New York (2007) and postdoctoral training in urban health at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health in Toronto, Canada (2008). Nicole has worked on projects aimed at homeless adults, people with mental health and substance use problems, disadvantaged youth, and HIV/AIDS patients. She co-edited a handbook on urban health research. Nicole teaches at the American University of Mongolia and is a visiting adjunct professor at the Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences. She writes about expat life and is an editor for Tales of a Small Planet.
I chose the SIT Mongolia program because of its exciting and unorthodox take on abroad learning.
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.
The homestay is an integral part of the SIT experience. During your homestay, you’ll become a member of a local family, sharing meals with them, joining them for special occasions, talking with them in their language, and experiencing the host country through their eyes. Homestay placements are arranged by a local coordinator who carefully screens and approves each family. Students frequently cite the homestay as the highlight of their program. Read more about SIT homestays.
You will live with host families in urban and rural areas to experience the diversity of contemporary Mongolia. You’ll discover the cosmopolitan nature of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital and largest city, and experience the open expanses of the steppe or high mountains and rolling hills through a homestay with nomadic communities.
Other accommodations during the program include apartments, guest houses, educational institutions, or small hotels.
During a three- to four-week homestay in Ulaanbaatar, you will experience Mongolian middle-class urban life, practice your Mongolian language skills, and test your new cultural skills with a family in Ulaanbaatar. Host families are often excellent sources of contacts and information for your Independent Study Project. All host families live in apartment blocks located in various micro-districts of the city. Students typically form strong connections with their host families.
In Ulaanbaatar, you’ll attend lectures and language classes at the SIT program center and visit important cultural sites.
Rural Homestay with a Nomadic Family
For one to two weeks, you’ll live with a nomadic community in 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. Central Mongolia is the land of the Khalkh people, Mongolia’s largest ethnic group, nomads who move five to ten times a year. The region includes open steppes with rolling hills and a semi-desert area. In northern Mongolia, you’ll be surrounded by pine forests and grassy mountains in a climate similar to Siberia’s.
You’ll live in a ger, a transportable shelter made of felt and wood, and learn about the traditions and livelihood of Mongolia’s nomadic communities and the current challenges for this population. You will be part of daily animal herding and household chores. You’ll receive riding lessons during the semester and then ride horses as a form of transportation. (If possible, you should plan to bring a riding helmet. Riding boots may be purchased in Mongolia.) You’ll also work on your Research Methods and Ethics assignments and language skills, synthesizing new information within the frameworks presented through the thematic seminars.
Highlights of the nomadic homestay period include:
- Seeing 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 tensions and relationships between rural communities and mining companies
- Debating how changes in transportation, such as the motorcycle, affect nomadic life and discussing renewable energy technologies
- Learning centuries-old traditions, including nature conservation practices
- Learning to cook Mongolian dishes
Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project
In the final month of the program, you can choose to conduct an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursuing original research.
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
- Pasture land management
- The concept of national security in Mongolia
- Nature conservation efforts and natural resource management
For the last four weeks of this program, you can choose to complete an Independent Study Project or an internship. For the internship, you’ll work with a Mongolian organization where you will gain experience related to the program’s theme and develop professional skills you can use in your career.
SIT internships are hands-on and reflective; you’ll submit a paper processing your learning experience on the job and analyzing an issue important to the organization you worked with, and/or you will design a socially responsible solution to a problem identified by the organization.
Interning in Mongolia
The internship will deepen your knowledge of a global issue, culture, and language, and enrich your working experience. The Mongolia program offers a wide variety of internship opportunities focused on geopolitics, civil society, environmental and natural sciences, or humanities through its longstanding network of government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private businesses.
- 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
- 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
- Promoting socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth at the Global Green Growth Institute
- Working at the Mongolian University of Life Sciences, a research-oriented university focusing on veterinary medicine, animal science, biotechnology, agroecology, engineering, economics, and business
- Performing public relations and marketing work at Breakthrough Communications
- Participating in innovate national and international research and consulting projects at Independent Research Institute of Mongolia
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 at University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
- PhD candidate at Indiana University, Indiana
- Fulbright fellow in Mongolia
Cost and Scholarships
Cost and 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.
SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding for the term during which they are studying with SIT. This award can be applied to any SIT program. Qualified students must complete the scholarship portion of their application. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.
Tuition: Not yet available.
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
- Natural resource management
- Research Methods and Ethics course on research methods and Human Subjects Review
- 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 or internship (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
- Health insurance throughout the entire program period
Room & Board: Not yet available.
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 or internship, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered 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 by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
Estimated Additional Costs:
International Airfare to Program Launch Site
International airline pricing can 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
Books & Supplies: $120
International Phone: Each student must bring a phone with them to their program.
Personal expenses during the program 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.