We are now at the point of our program where all of us students pick our own topic of interest and research it for a month. Our Independent Study Project (ISP) allows us to go anywhere to study anything for four weeks, and gives us a great deal of independence and control over what we want to learn about Mongolia. At the end of the four weeks, we have a 25-50 page paper and oral presentation due. The other students are researching a variety of topics, including: accessibility for people with disabilities, how climate change affects herders, street cleaning, emergency medicine in the countryside, and the use of the traditional Mongolian characters in modern society.
I first decided to study distance education in Mongolia, but soon decided that the topic was a bit too outdated. The further I researched distance education in Mongolia, the more I realized that most of the projects were conducted from the 1990’s to around 2007. I could continue to research and interview people on these past projects, but I decided to change my topic to technology in the Mongolian education sector. As you might guess, this topic is huge. I’m covering both the formal and informal education sectors, and it ranges from teacher training to e-learning to changes in classroom culture. It’s large, but I find it so interesting and don’t want to cut anything out.
My main research methods have been attending a conference, conducting 26 individual interviews, and observing classrooms. It was pure luck that the day our ISP research began was also the beginning of a 2-day international conference on technology in education in Mongolia. It was great to be able to experience it, and thankfully, most of the slideshows were in English. At the end of the conference, we were given a CD filled with each presenter’s individual Powerpoint or research papers. I don’t think it can get more helpful than that!
One of the best parts of my ISP time is getting to know Ulaanbaatar city on my own terms. I get to make my own schedule and plan what I want to do during my days, and I love having the opportunity to explore during my free time. The longer I live here, the more I realize how much I love it. This is the first time I’ve gone to a new city and explored it thoroughly on my own, and I love knowing the area so well. The city is relatively small (1.5 million people), but big enough to discover new areas! It’s strange to come from a smaller town in Maine and to realize how much I have fallen in love with this city. I never thought I would like to live in a city so much. This is something new that I discovered about myself abroad! I know that I’m going to miss UB when I have to leave.
Another perk of the ISP is getting to interact with locals more. I interviewed around 1-3 people a day, and so I had to engage with Mongolians on a daily basis. I also used university students as my translators, so I had the opportunity to hang out with them between or after interviews. I learned so much from them, and it’s fun to hang out more as friends outside of interviews. I think that if ISP taught me anything, it’s how to begin to really live in UB. The rest of the SIT program was wonderful, but this time period definitely gives me more freedom, independence, and a look into what life here would be like if I didn’t go to university classes.