I still remember freshman year, not being able to contain my excitement for college, a new country and pretty much a whole new life. Being from Mongolia, specifically the capital, Ulaanbaatar, I’m the one of only two Mongolian students at Syracuse University.
It’s funny how I didn’t expect my nationality to play such a big role in shaping my college career. Before coming to the States, I never had to answer the question of where I’m from because the knowledge that I have about my country was shared by everyone back home. I never had to explain myself to be understood. Whenever people ask more questions about home, it’s rare that I don’t go down a rabbit hole explaining the many ways modern-day Mongolia is different than the one ruled by Genghis Khan (correctly Chingis Khaan actually). I unknowingly signed up to be an ambassador.
In a way, I felt like a part of my identity was lost and I had a part of me that no one could fully understand. I don’t really blame people for not knowing about my country since I’ve always been the first person they’ve met who’s from Mongolia. I try to see these moments as opportunities for making a good impression and at least sharing some knowledge that people might find insightful. Every time I introduce myself, I do feel very special and immensely proud. Being different is nice, sometimes.
Students from lesser-known foreign countries can also have a different experience than those from China, India, Korea, etc. Not being able to speak my language or have friends who share my culture during college has been a little disappointing, but this has also led me to leave my comfort zone and expand the circle of people I interact with. It’s still astonishing how you can get along and click with someone from the opposite end of the world, and the friends that I’ve made here are among my fondest memories.
During the summer of my freshman year, I was in Mongolia teaching the SAT, the standardized test widely used for college admission in the U.S., and exposed my high school students to Syracuse University. Sharing my story about how I’ve gotten to attend this school has inspired some of them to apply, many of whom have been accepted, but the financial circumstances made it difficult for any of them to come here. One of my biggest accomplishments at SU would definitely have to be helping a student and a friend from home attend college here and carry on the legacy. I connected Bujinlkham Buuveibaatar to school resources, scholarship and financial aid opportunities and spoke to the chancellor personally to bring this matter to his attention. As I graduate this May, another undergraduate Mongolian student will begin school in the fall.
Representation is important in that it allows different people share their stories, especially for the growth and awareness of the entire school community. At the same time, I’m just very glad that a student with great potential is getting an opportunity to receive higher education in the U.S.
Syracuse has offered me many opportunities to grow and explore as well, one of which is participating in the first ever Invent@SU in New York City. I teamed up with Kalia Barrow ’17, a communications and rhetorical studies student, and decided to help the elderly, disabled and injured people from falling off their chair or couch. We designed and built a prototype in six weeks and won second place in the program, which paved an exciting path to starting an actual business, Pneu-Strength. Similar to how engineers analyze a problem and figure out methods of solution, designing our invention required a very hands-on approach. After many trials and errors, we had a working prototype, but the next set of challenges were of a different kind. In working towards bringing the invention to the market, we had to learn about patents, figure out ways to fund the project, seek advice from and network with many people and above all, communicate with each other extremely closely to work effectively as partners. I realized that for a mere idea to become a real product, there are many difficulties, but taking advantage of school resources, such as the Blackstone LaunchPad, professors and experts on campus helped us get a step closer to success.
Living in the U.S. has also allowed me to further my passion for the environment and renewable energy. It didn’t take long for me to notice the excessive consumption and waste produced here and I knew I had to do something about it, in my own way. With my interest in energy and applied sciences, I’ve decided to work towards becoming an expert in the energy industry and hope to contribute to making the world less dependent on nonrenewable resources.
I grew in ways I never imagined in the past four years but realize every day that I still have a long way to go. Graduating with a mechanical engineering degree with a minor in energy systems, I will start working for Leidos as a power engineer in Chicago. This will be the next part of my journey and I will forever be grateful to Syracuse for the opportunities and all my memories here. Thank you.
Badmaarag (Ruby) Batbaatar ’19 studied mechanical engineering at Syracuse University and is one of the two 2019 Senior Class Marshals, an SU tradition recognizing two outstanding graduating seniors, for the College of Engineering and Computer Science.