I am a country girl from a remote town of 13,000 in Eastern Mongolia. Not many people had ever imagined I could make it as far as the United States of America with the Fulbright Program.
I have had the honor to be a Fulbrighter twice – the first time as a Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) and the second time around with the Fulbright Student Program for a master’s degree. For that I am extremely grateful, and it has completely changed the course of my life.
The first Fulbright I received was a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) fellowship. Before applying for the FLTA program, I was a part-time English language teacher at the University of the Humanities. Since my undergraduate studies, I had been holding on to the thought of studying abroad. In the meantime I applied for Fulbright scholarships both for FLTA and the Fulbright Student Program. Soon enough I found out that I was selected for the FLTA program.
In summer of 2008, I left for the University of Pittsburgh to teach Mongolian language. Upon my arrival in a new country, everything seemed to be a challenge. My greatest challenge was adjusting to the academic disciplines and classroom settings. For example, I had to prepare a syllabus that appealed to American students and their mindsets, and to cross cultural differences to interact with my American students. Faced with these challenges, I designed my own syllabus on teaching Mongolian and incorporated some well-known Mongolian folk stories into my lessons. Although some of the demands forced me to adapt, the overall experience was incredibly positive and rewarding.
Aside from the teaching job, I was also responsible for organizing cultural events with my American students. We celebrated Tsagaan Sar together, and prepared some buuz and huushuur and built a “ger” right in the heart of Pitt campus for Mongolian cultural day.
For extracurricular activities, I taught Mongolian traditional dance to my students, cooked Mongolian meals, and watched some Mongolian movies with them.
In addition to being a teaching assistant and a cultural ambassador, I audited some courses from the school of education for professional development. As my chosen field was English teaching, I took courses in language teaching methodologies and American history. Taking the American history class helped me understand the people of America, their successes, and how their society came to be.
Nine months went really quickly. I left with numerous good memories to embrace, including attending an orientation at Brown University, giving a presentation at FLTA workshop in Washington, D.C., representing Mongolia at an International Dance Festival and so on. My brief experience teaching at an American higher education institution enabled me to get a greater understanding of the people of the U.S. and its higher education system. Teaching at the Honors College of University of Pittsburgh, I saw how a university runs, the systems, the discipline and the work ethic. Having witnessed this, I wanted to study in this environment, absorb it, and bring it back to Mongolia.
Following the completion of the FLTA program in Pittsburgh, I came back a changed person, with a new mindset and newly gained resources for language teaching. Employed at the graduate school of the University of the Humanities, I started to integrate the state-of-the-art teaching methods in my classroom teaching and volunteered to train English teachers from secondary schools in Ulaanbaatar. Inspired and empowered by my first Fulbright experience, I decided to pursue my master’s in teaching English as a second language (TESOL).
In 2011, I was granted Fulbright Student Scholarship to pursue my master’s at the State University of New York in Albany. I was given another opportunity because I was able to build upon my first experience.
In July 2011, I flew to Boston for the pre-academic program. After spending a month there I moved to Albany. Compared to Boston, Albany was small and country-like. However, the location was wonderful, and I really enjoyed the program and the people I met. Two months into my academic studies, I began to teach English to international students as part of my teaching practicum. Run by our school department, the ESL program had a diverse group of students from China, Japan, South East Asia and even refugees from Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. Exposed to such diverse communities including Fulbright community, I enriched not only my educational experience but also my interpersonal skills and my views on other nations. I learned many valuable lessons from others who have different experiences, beliefs and perspectives. Personally, I was challenged to get rid of my stereotyped misconceptions. I grew to think critically and learned to communicate effectively with people from unique backgrounds. I believe that Fulbright program strengthens the ties between not just the two nations (Mongolia and the U.S.) but among many different nations.
Through Fulbright, I had the privilege to attend orientations, seminars and pre-academic programs at the United Nations and top-notch universities, programs led by the most reputable professors and researchers from Ivy League universities, Boston University, and Duke. At such official gatherings, I met the most brilliant and phenomenal people from all around the world and held engaging conversations with them on varied topics and further expanded my global networking.
My Fulbright experiences opened the door for me to the world and beyond. Studying abroad with such prestigious exchange programs, I learned to value myself as an independent and open-minded thinker. I grew to become more accepting and understanding of other cultures, other ways of thinking and diverse, integrated societies. Most importantly, I gained confidence and I now know that I can accomplish anything and make a change that can impact hundreds or thousands people back home. Recently returned to Mongolia, I am currently teaching at the American University of Mongolia while sharing the lessons of the Fulbright program with my fellow teachers and others, and I am looking for ways to improve the English language education in the country.