Sunday, November 30, 2008

Intensive Mongolian Language Program

The American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS) invites applications from students and scholars wishing to participate in an eight week Intensive Mongolian Language Program from June 15 to August 14, 2009 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The program is designed to develop intermediate to advanced language skills, and all applicants must have the equivalent of at least one year of Mongolian language study experience by the time the program begins. Fellowship opportunities are available. The program is open to students and faculty from all countries, but certain conditions do apply for fellowships. More information about the program at

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Technological Advances

This week the ACMS made several technological leaps forward in terms of its computer network. First, we replaced an old windows server that was truly on its last leg with a smaller, faster router. Second, we purchased a new server and loaded it with a Linux operating system (Ubuntu 8.10) for better functionality and security. The new server will perform many functions, but as of right now it is acting as a reliable way for the office computers to share files. Third, we replaced our old Canon photocopier with a newer, sleeker model. It has network printing with the works in terms of finishing documents, so now all computers in the reading room and office can print double-sided and collated if the desire should strike anyone.

All of these changes are due to a grant from the US Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, and we are grateful for the support, as well as the ability to provide our patrons with much better service. Incidentally, we donated the old photocopier to the School of Foreign Service Library at the National University of Mongolia, so they are also able to provide their patrons better service, too.

Earlier in the year the ACMS purchased new computers for the office with funds from the Council for American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC). At that time, we installed special software that resets the operating systems of the reading room computers to their default settings each time a patron logs off. This means that all files, good or malicious, are purged from each system each time they reboot, which further means that the risk of viruses is practically zero on the ACMS computers. It makes the reading room and office computers some of the safest public computers in Mongolia.

Next on the agenda is figuring out how to fix the very slow internet connection speed problem. More information on that as it develops.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

ACMS Field Research Fellowship Program

The American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS), with funding support from the Council for American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), is pleased to announce the fourth year of the ACMS US-Mongolia Field Research Fellowship Program to support student field research in Mongolia in summer or fall 2009. The program will provide $500-$3000 grants to approximately 5-10 students from US or Mongolian universities to conduct academic field research in Mongolia between May and October 2009. Student applicants can be at an advanced undergraduate, masters or pre-dissertation doctoral level, and all fields of study are eligible. Applicants must be either US or Mongolian citizens or permanent residents currently enrolled full-time in a university or college in the United States or Mongolia. Students graduating in spring 2009 are eligible to apply.

More information at

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Political Data and Surveys

I was reminded this week that not everyone knows about the Sant Maral Foundation in Mongolia. This is a non-profit organization that collects political data and conducts surveys of the Mongolian population. Its most well known survey is the POLITBAROMETER which surveys approximately 1200 randomly selected individuals in Ulaanbaatar and the countryside on a series of questions related to politics and social conditions in the country. One example question is "How you evaluate your nearest future?" to which a 75% of respondents chose "Optimistic" in the most recent survey. Another question is "Do you support the creation of coalition government?" to which almost 60% of respondents answered "Yes." This survey, as well as the many others Sant Maral produces, provide a very interesting glimpse into the social and political opinions of ordinary people.

Sant Maral has a website at which is arguably a bit spartan in terms of information. The foundation has not taken to publishing its survey results online, but there seems to be every indication that they will provide survey results if requested by e-mail or in-person. The ACMS receives regular survey results via e-mail because it is a member of the Business Council of Mongolia.

Many of their surveys date back to the early 1990s, so they represent an important wealth of data about attitudes since the dissolution of the Communist government. If a researcher is doing work on politics or perceptions of social change in Mongolia, then that researcher should definitely contact Sant Maral.

Friday, November 7, 2008

October Revolution

Today is October 25th on the Julian Calendar, which was the calendar in use in Russia when the Bolshevik Revolution occurred. It is still a national holiday of sorts in Mongolia. It once was more important as a holiday, but today it is probably more akin to Armed Forces Day in the United States--very easy to forget about if someone doesn't remind you about it on the day. The ACMS staff observed the holiday by eating a kilo of mandarins, which I suspect is not the traditional method of observance. To each his own in the new Mongolia.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Historical Election

As an expatriate US citizen it is still not clear how the outcome of the US elections will affect my life. Mongolia has had exceptional affection for the United States for two decades, and President Bush's visit to Mongolia in 2005 ensured that Mongolians continue to have a better opinion of the president than most Americans. I first came to Mongolia in 2002, and it has always been a place where there has been no fear or shame in being an American, which I have heard from others is not often the case in other countries. This is partly due to the fact that Americans and Mongolians seem to understand each other at a visceral level. I often remark that the only things separating the average Ohioan from the average Bayankhongorian is a language and 10,000 miles. Although different, Mongolian culture and American culture are very compatible. If you understand what makes an Ohioan tick, then you probably can also figure out what makes a Bayakhongorian tick, or vise-versa.

From a political stand point, the acceptance speech that President-Elect Obama gave last night could potentially have special significance for Mongolians as well. Mongolians have a much more optimistic view of things than one might suspect at first blush. The riot of the summer provides a good case in point. Instead of that event being the beginning of a decline in Mongolian politics, thus far it has proven to be a watershed in emphasizing the need for politicians to move towards broader purpose in their work. This is not to say things have been rosy, just that incremental progress continues to be made. I could hear President-Elect Obama's words echoing in some of the things that have occurred since July--the argument that when you give people a chance to surprise you in a positive way, they will. Of course, it is not so simple, but the ingredients for positive surprise are just as much entrenched in the ethos of Mongolian society as it is in the US, and the democratic process is an integral part of making this manifest itself in tangible ways.

One can never predict the future, but it is affirming that the United States potentially will lead the world again by positive example, and that maybe, just maybe this idea that anything is possible if you work for it will have a positive influence on the politics of Mongolia, too.

It's November, and it's not cold!

It's November, and it's not cold--by Mongolia standards anyway. This is will be my fifth winter in Mongolia, and the autumn is indicating this will be the mildest winter yet. It is amazing how warm it is outside. It is supposed to be close to 8 degrees C (46 degrees F) by the end of this weekend. That's astonishing for November. Of course, November isn't traditionally considered a winter month in most of the world, so above freezing temperatures might not seem that astonishing to someone who has not experienced winter in Mongolia. In a country where -40 degree temperatures in the dead of winter are not unusual, however, getting to that point requires the autumn months to be somewhat colder than the rest of the world. If it is not, then it's not out of the question to assume that January is probably going to be mild, too. We'll see.

To check out the forecast for Ulaanbaatar in the coming days, click on the forecast widget in the right-hand margin of this blog.

Monday, November 3, 2008

US Elections

It's already November 4th in Mongolia, and polls should begin opening in the United States sometime this evening. As a political junkie who cannot seem to get enough of the twists and turns this campaign season has brought, I will be anxious over the next 24 hours as everyone waits for the first results to come in.

Some might ask if the ACMS has done anything over the last year to raise awareness among Mongolians about how the political process works in the United States, especially in light of the historic nature of this year's election. The short answer is no. The longer answer is given the mission of the ACMS (i.e. Promoting scholarship in Mongolia), it would make far more sense to focus energy on raising awareness among international observers about the political process in Mongolia, which to some extent we have done over the year. But, in general, the ACMS only gets involved in politics when a researcher comes to the center investigating a political issue, which again more often than not involves understanding the political issues of the day in Mongolia.

Nevertheless there have been a few opportunities to discuss the US political system at the ACMS. In 2007 we actually had two Speaker Series lectures in a row that dealt with the political process and campaigning in the United States. Bob Betty of Washburn University gave a lecture on the use of tv advertisements in US politics with special emphasis on the state of Kansas. Then a week later Dale Lawton, who earned his PhD in government at the University of Virginia and was a Foreign Service Officer at the US Embassy in Ulaanbaatar at the time, gave a lecture on ethics and social responsibility (or lack thereof) in campaigns in US presidential races. Both lectures were based on academic research each had done, and they provided a very interesting look into the mechanics of campaigns in the US system.

To do my part in engaging in the American democratic process, I will take Nov. 5th off to participate in the election day gathering for US citizens and Mongolians being sponsored and organized by the US Embassy. It turns out that the polls will begin closing about 9 in the morning here, so everyone attending will be able to see the different states and races being called in real time. It should be a very interesting day, and a rare opportunity to discuss the US political system.