Indiana University Bloomington
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Mongolian FLTA Temuujin Nyamdavaa

On November 10, the IAUNRC sat down with Temuujin, our Mongolian FLTA this year. He is assisting our Mongolian lecturer, Tserenchunt, with teaching the multiple levels (including one post-advanced) that are offered through the department of Central Eurasian Studies. For more information about these courses, visit http://www.indiana.edu/~ceus/language/ or contact ceus@indiana.edu.

 

Can you introduce yourself briefly and tell us a little about your background?

 

My name is Temuujin and I’m from Mongolia. I grew up in Ulaanbaatar, which is the capital of Mongolia. I’m pretty much a city boy. You know, we have this huge territory, but I’m not very familiar with those areas [outside the city]. This is the first time I’ve been outside my country; I’d never been to the airport before, which caused me some trouble on the way here—particularly the whole “finding my luggage” part. Back home I teach English to young kids, aged 5-10. I’ve had a few years’ experience in teaching, but I still consider myself a rookie teacher. I spend many late nights here, pulling my hair out trying to plan lessons for the next day.

 

How many sections of Mongolian are you teaching?

 

We have eight students and they’re divided into three levels: beginning, intermediate, and advanced. I teach all of them, but usually only on Thursday and Friday. Monday through Wednesday I have office hours and coffee hours with heritage students and one post advanced student

 

Brendan, right? He works at our center.

 

Yes, Brendan, but also students in the heritage class. Every day I’m teaching pretty much at least one class.

 

Is it different teaching your mother tongue rather than one that you’ve learned through pedagogy yourself?

 

Yes! It’s very different! You know, I know how to say things and tell them to others, but it’s hard to explain why, to consciously think about why things are a certain way in Mongolian. It’s like I’m learning, myself, how to think about Mongolian in a totally different way. I think I know English even better than my own language, at least in terms of grammar and pedagogy. Sometimes the professor even corrects me in class: “is that really how we would say that?”

 

You’re enjoying your time in America, then?

 

Yes. Of course, this is my first time leaving my home country and, especially coming to America, which is sort of the country you always dream of going to, that has been a bit tough.

 

So this is your first time outside of Mongolia. Yet your English is pretty flawless. How did this come about?

 

I was lucky enough to be recruited by an American company right out of college. In fact, my boss is an American. He’s a bit of a mentor to me; he’s in his early seventies, and he’s always been willing to have a conversation with me, but until working for this company I only really knew grammar and other textbook things about English. Working there, I really learned how to speak it out of necessity. For me, interacting has been the most important thing, as far as my English proficiency has been concerned.

 

After that, I worked at an international school before coming here and there were a few international teachers, English-speakers, and I tried to spend as much time with them as I could to practice.

 

Have you had any culture shock?

 

Not really. I don’t see any particular differences between Ulaanbaatar and Bloomington, other than the fact that one is obviously more urban than the other. I’m a quite gregarious person and people in both places have been quite friendly. The campus is quite big, yet also quite full of people, so in that respect, too, I don’t really see that much of a difference.

 

So no culture shock.

 

Well, the food. I don’t mean that I can’t find any good meat around here, but as a Mongolian I’m just used to consuming more meat in my diet than is common around here. Also, soup. Every Saturday Ms. Karen takes the FLTAs to breakfast and in Mongolia if you want to eat soup, you can order it any time of the day. Here in Bloomington, most restaurants don’t serve soup in the mornings. That’s not in and of itself a big deal, but I thought it was an interesting difference.

 

What is your impression of Indiana University thus far?

 

It’s big. I would say that first. The biggest university in Mongolia is maybe just one five-story building. Here, all the buildings are spread around and through the city. There’s a huge central campus. There are all sorts of departments and schools, and it’s amazing to see that this is basically an average [public] university in America. I’m also struck by the association of particular colors with universities. Before I was here, I was at Michigan State for my orientation and their motto is “go white, go green,” and the campus is covered in those two colors, the buildings, too. Here I was expecting red and white to be more omnipresent than they are. Not that they’re absent, by a long shot.

 

I love the classes that I’m taking. “Second Language Acquisition Corrective Feedback,” is particularly good, given the field I work in. As a Fulbright-er, we’re also required to take a course in American Studies, so I’m taking one called “The Experimental Blackness,” which is about the idea of blackness and global black identity. We read a lot of pieces of novels and short stories and articles and talk about the experience of being black in not only in American society but also globally. There’s well more than 30 students and 90% of them are white, which can make for an interesting dynamic. The class pushes us to think critically and engage in challenging discussions. I can feel the blush on my face and see it on those of my classmates when it comes to talking about racial issues and inequality.

 

Is there anything in particular you want to do while you’re in America?

 

Road trip.

 

Everyone always says that!

 

Yeah, you know, before I came her I read On the Road. I know it’s sort of satirical and not terribly adult, but that book, man. Also, I think I would like the adventure. In a car, on the road, there’s a tremendous sensation of freedom and to experience that over the course of days would be very interesting. I would like to see the diversity that this country contains.

 

How about hobbies? What do you do when you’re not teaching Mongolian or sitting down talking to the IAUNRC?

 

My hobbies? I like reading books and writing short stories.

 

Do you write in Mongolian?

 

No, in English.

 

Cool.

 

Of course, back home when I was rather young, I wrote in Mongolian. When I started learning English as a university student, I started writing in English. Mostly short stories of 1 or 2 pages and then I would throw them away. Recently, I’ve started collecting them. I write horror, mostly.

 

Do you enjoy any sort of sports or physical activity?

 

I enjoy ping-pong and basketball. Since I’ve come here, I’ve been in contact with a few Chinese people that I play ping-pong with.

 

Do you think that for a native English speaker learning Mongolian is difficult?

 

No. In my experience, learning Mongolian for foreigners is not difficult. Of course, I think it’s about as hard as learning other languages. It all comes down to one’s personal situation and commitment and amount of work. Perhaps native speakers of a language like Korean [which is syntactically quite similar to Mongolian] might learn it a bit faster, but I don’t think the acquisition is terribly different from that of other languages.

 

I think that studying Mongolian at Indiana University is also hugely personalized, as a matter of course. It’s not a commonly taught language, so, as a student, you receive more of the instructor’s attention; it’s not like a commonly-taught language where you can be one of 20 or 30 students in the room—Mongolian necessarily caters to you.

 

It may sound simple, but Mongolian is agglutinative and once you figure that out, it seems easy enough.

 

What else would you like people to know about Mongolia?

 

Ulaanbaatar can be rough in a lot of ways, but the stereotypes don’t really hold up. Nor do the stereotypes. Everyone doesn’t really live in gers; not everyone wrestle that much; we don’t necessarily ride horses. We do try to keep up with the modern world and, because of that, Mongolia is really quite a modern country.

 

I don’t mean to say that our nomadic past is not important; it’s unique and it’s our cultural heritage—we were and are still a nomadic people. That doesn’t stop the modern world from coming, nor does it stop our wanting to be a part of it.

 

I encourage particularly undergraduate students to study Mongolia and Mongolian and to take advantage of the unique opportunities here at Indiana University.

 

Thank you for your time.

 

You’re totally welcome!