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Teachers College, Columbia University
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The First Mongolian students at TC

When we hear the word "Mongolia," most of us may associate the country with Chingiz Khan, the 13th century creator of the Great Mongolian State, who united the scattered Mongolian tribes and conquered China, most of the Middle East, Russia, and threatened Europe's existence. But there's much more to Mongolia than the historical explosion of an imperial nomadic powerhouse.

Today, Mongolia is a country three times larger than France and slightly smaller than Alaska, located in Northern Asia, between China and Russia, with a population of a little more than 2.5 million. In that last decade it has made great strides in its social and political development. Though Russian dominance was in evidence from the 1930s, by 1989, Glasnost and Perestroika reverberated in Mongolia. Students and intellectuals demonstrated, seeking the abolition of the command economy and the one-party system in favor of a market economy and democratic pluralism.

While many can still question whether the collapse of the old order has really made the country more broadly representative, the government is attempting to rebuild the educational system on a new foundation. Enter, two young ladies, Bolorchimeg Bor and Munkhbayar Bayansan, both from Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, who are the first Mongolian students to study at Teachers College. They have come to study International Educational Development through the auspices of the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute.

The Institutes are usually located in Central and Eastern Europe to promote the development of an open society. In Mongolia, it was established in 1996 and supports a variety of programs in the areas of education, social, legal, and health reform.

Bor and Bayansan are residents of Ulaanbaatar but Bor lived in the southwestern city of Bayankhongor before entering the Foreign Language Institute in the capital in 1991. She received her master's degree from the State Pedagogical University and is trained as an English teacher. When she returns to Mongolia after receiving her degree at TC, she will work with the Soros Foundation and the Mongolian government on finding the most appropriate position, most likely, she said, in English teaching.

"But what's most important," Bor said, "is that we have an opportunity to learn about a totally different educational system and that we return home with ideas that we can use that fit our culture and our attempt at democratization. Our home country is our most precious thing and we want to preserve its traditions too!"

Bayansan, age 26, has lived all her life in Ulaanbaatar and received her bachelor's and master's degrees from the National University of Mongolia's School of Foreign Service. After graduating in 1998, she served as a Lecturer of English in the Department of American and British Studies at the National University.

In speaking about her adjustment to life in New York City and Teachers College, Bayansen said, "I've been going through a sort of culture shock. I arrived in August and I've always dreamt of coming to New York, but it is certainly different than the traditional life we had in Mongolia. We are accustomed to keeping our thoughts to ourselves whereas here everyone is so easygoing. There's also so much ethnic diversity in the City and at TC and I find that terrific!"

Bayansen is effusive about her TC experience. "Everyday and in every course I'm flooded with new and important information. Our secondary and higher education system is changing daily and what I learn at TC will certainly make a difference at home."

Both Bor and Bayansen are working with Gita Steiner-Khamsi, Associate Professor of Education in the Department of International and Transcultural Studies in tandem with the professor's evaluation of "School 2001," a school-based reform program for secondary schools in Mongolia. The two Mongolian students are producing a video that they are calling "Through Mongolian Eyes," which will show Mongolian students and their professors student life and curriculum development at TC. Bor is hopeful that the video will have a positive impact on university life at home.

Both young ladies were happy to be interviewed but felt that they were so new to university life in the U.S. Bayansen expressed their point succinctly by saying, "We are just trying to adjust our bodies and souls to a new world."

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