From Carthage to Ulaanbaatar: A Fulbrighter’s Journey
While Katie Niemeyer ’13 was at Carthage, she knew she shared something with the people of Mongolia, even though she had never been there: a love of horses and the equestrian lifestyle. In time, she would be able to reaffirm that bond and create many new ones as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) through the Fulbright program.
This year Miss Niemeyer is living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, and deepening her appreciation for her host country as part of the United States’ premier cultural ambassadorship organization.
Double-majoring in international political economy and economics, Miss Niemeyer spent a lot of time thinking about global affairs in the classroom, but she thirsted for a chance to go abroad and learn about peoples’ lives in other countries. While in college, she traveled to Guatemala and Turkey during two of her J-Terms, and also to Tanzania, where she arranged her own summer internship with a non-governmental organization. By the time she was a junior, she knew she wanted to apply to the Fulbright program.
What has it been like for Miss Niemeyer? After arriving in Mongolia in August, she had one month of in-country orientation, where she took a crash-course in Mongolian language, established contact with host institutions, and took many cultural excursions to learn about the country and its people, such as trips to monasteries, Chinggis Khan memorials, and a nomadic family home-stay. She officially began her teaching duties at the beginning of September at the Institute of Finance and Economics in Ulaanbaatar.
Her students are in their first year at the university (which in Mongolia means ages 16-17) and all are part of the “joint program.” This means they spend two years studying either financial or business management in Mongolia, and then two more years in English-taught programs in either Taiwan or South Korea to obtain a degree from each country. Her students receive intensive English training in speaking, writing, listening, and reading (16 hours a week) on top of normal business, economics, and management coursework.
“All English classrooms in Mongolia have such a range of ability that it is sometimes hard to bridge the gap, even in my classrooms,” Miss Niemeyer says. “Since Mongolia only recently switched to teaching English instead of Russian as the official foreign language, many classes are taught in Mongolian by former Russian language teachers. This causes a wide variety of skill levels once they reach university.”
Aside from her work at the university, Miss Niemeyer has also had the chance to explore other interests while in Mongolia. Fulbright encourages ETAs to become involved in the community or other areas of interest during their grant term, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their teaching obligations. Since she has been there, she has had many opportunities to travel to the countryside to ride horses, go hiking, and explore various other facets of Mongolian culture and society, including seabuckthorn farm tours, beekeeper cooperative informational meetings, and even sheep butchering. She has also sought out a volunteer position at a non-governmental organization that does work in the area of food security and agricultural development.
This fall, Katie will begin graduate school at the University of California-Davis, where she will study international agricultural development.
Miss Niemeyer encourages fellow Carthage students to apply for the Fulbright, and offers the following advice: “I think the most important thing students should know when they are applying for a Fulbright scholarship/grant is that they have to be absolutely genuine about their reason and purpose for pursuing a placement in the program. Many people tend to think that grades and maybe even related experience are the main factors that make a Fulbrighter.
“The truth is that of the former Fulbrighters I’ve met and my current peers, one of the common strands that connects all of us is our curiosity about other people and cultures. … Fulbrighters want to pursue the unknown and be willing to create their own unique experience.”
Miss Niemeyer knows she made the right decision to pursue a Fulbright Fellowship in Mongolia. “I couldn’t imagine a better fit for my interests, personality, and personal growth.”
If you would like to follow Miss Niemeyer on her incredible journey, check out her blog! http://kniemeyermongolia.blogspot.com/
To learn more about the Fulbright program, please contact Professor John Isham, Carthage’s Fulbright Program Advisor, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Professor Dan Choffnes, Director of Student Fellowships, at email@example.com.