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Mongolia: Nomadism, Geopolitics and the Environment (SIT)


Todd Heidt

Director, Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401-4999



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In this program, 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. As a young democracy sandwiched between the authoritarian systems of Russia and China, Mongolia is going through a process of rapid socio-economic and cultural change. Participate in debates on critical issues presented by members of the Ikh Hural (Parliament) of Mongolia.

Major topics of study include:

  • 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
  • Climate change and its effects on Mongolia’s nomads
  • Privatization of livestock and pastureland degradation in Mongolia
  • 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

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.

You will begin preparing for an Independent Study Project (ISP) or Internship and Seminar from day one of the program. Meet potential advisors to brainstorm ideas, refine topics, and finalize your project proposal or internship plans. With an ISP you’ll conduct fieldwork possible only in Mongolia. With an internship, you’ll get international professional experience in a remarkable setting. ISPs and internships may be conducted in national parks, among nomadic families, or with NGOs in the city. Many students return to Mongolia continue their studies or internship.

In the final month of the program, you can choose to conduct an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursuing original research.

Often students produce publishable papers that are frequently used for further postgraduate and/or Fulbright research. At least four PhD research projects by alumni were based on initial ISP projects. A great number of students have returned to Mongolia with a Fulbright fellowship.

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

Learn more about the Mongolia: Nomadism, Geopolitics and the Environment program and other SIT programs.

Credits: 4.5 for the fall or spring semester

Advisor: Professor Katie Adelsberger

Click here for more information about the application process, program selection, and more!

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Printed on Monday, May 23, 2022