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Kenny Linden, My Summer in Mongolia

Kenny Linden is a graduate student in the Central Eurasian Studies Department. He has worked as a Graduate Assistant at the IAUNRC in both 2013-14 as well as 2014-15.

This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Mongolia. Although I had studied Mongolian history and language for several years, I was never able to travel there. I stayed over two months in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, studying the language at the American Center for Mongolian Studies. I received much of my funding from a FLAS from the Center for Global Change, as well as funding from the American Council for Mongolian Studies. My summer language study contributed to a strong level of knowledge that I acquired thanks in large part to the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center.

I owe much of my study of history and language of Mongolia to the IAUNRC. In 2011, I received a Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship from the IAUNRC to study Mongolian. I also studied Mongolian during SWSEEL, now the Summer Language Workshop. Although I received funding from the now sadly defunct Title VIII, the IAUNRC always provides a great deal of support for the Summer Language Program.

Bronze Age Burial with cows in the background

Bronze Age burial site, between livestock pasture and a polo field

Indiana University is the only place is the United States where one can study Mongolian language, history, and culture. The robust Mongolian, and broader Central Eurasian, studies program at Indiana University is due in large part to the support of the IAUNRC. I have also had the opportunity to work as a Graduate Assistant at the IAUNRC. This is currently my second year working for the Center, and I am proud to work at a Center that has helped my studies, and those of so many students and scholars like me.  While working for the Center, I have had the opportunity to share culture, history, and language of Mongolia and the broader Central Eurasian region with a large number of people, many of who were exposed to the region for the first time.

Because of the high quality of Mongolian language instruction at Indiana University, supported by the IAUNRC, I was able to comfortably navigate Ulaanbaatar. During my stay, I had many opportunities to improve my language skills around the city, as many Mongolians were shocked to discover a foreigner that spoke their language. I also stayed with a friend that I met years earlier, when she visited Indiana University for a year in order to take Mongolian language and history courses. I met a number of new friends in Mongolia, both Mongolians and foreigners, many of who were becoming interested in Mongolian studies for the first time.

Although it was my first time in Mongolia, my years of study of Mongolian language, culture, and history made me feel at home in UB. In fact, I was able to help my new friends get accustomed to the city and share with them some of the fascinating history of Mongolia. My time in the country also gave me the opportunity to meet Mongolian and international scholars interested in Mongolia, and network and prepare for future research.

Some of the highlights included seeing the National History Museum, and the Bogda Khaan Winter Palace Museum. The Bogda Khaan Winter Palace was one of the residences of the former incarnate lama theocratic ruler of Mongolia that was converted into a museum during the Socialist period.  I was also in Mongolia for Naadam, the Mongolian national summer holiday, which features performance of what Mongolians call the Three Manly Sports: horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Although I wasn’t able to attend the main events, I was able to attend some of the free events held around the city which included a parade of people dressed in a variety of traditional, historical, modern, and fantastical clothing.

Although I spent much of my time in Ulaanbaatar, I was still able to have the opportunity to go to the gorgeous Mongolian countryside. A number of friends and I spent the weekend horse riding and staying in a Mongolian ger (felt tent) camp. The gers had some amenities that were not part of traditional Mongolian life, such as beds as well as meals with vegetables. Still, it was clear that it was a family’s home, where they were raising their one year-old son, who delighted in gifting my friends and me with goat droppings he had found outside.  The couple owned a herd of twenty some-odd horses, and were making plans to start producing fermented mare’s milk. The Mongolian man, Pujee, was delighted to find out my friend and I spoke Mongolian. He told us that he was tired of always having to speak English to foreigners, and that henceforth he would only speak to us in Mongolian.

When we rode, Pujee was amused at my attempts to control my horse, who constantly wanted to run off with the other horses. In contrast, I was quite happy going at a slow pace, particularly because of the jarring gait of the small Mongolian horse.  After we returned back to camp, Pujee revealed to me that I was not riding a gelding, as most Mongolian horses are, but rather a stallion! My difficulties in controlling the horse suddenly made a great deal more sense. 

During that time, my friend also pointed out a Bronze Age burial site. This ancient monument was in between a family’s pasture and a polo field owned by one of the wealthiest men in Mongolia. It was fascinating seeing the pre-historic burial side by side with everyday life.

I had an excellent time over the summer in Mongolia, and I cannot wait to go again. Without my time studying Mongolia, supported by the IAUNRC, I do not think I would have had nearly as an enjoyable time. I am grateful for all of the support the IAUNRC provided and continues to provide for my studies. I am proud to work at here and help the Center continue its mission to spread knowledge of our region around the country.