When she arrived four years ago, Mongolian student Nomin spoke little English. Now she is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Roanoke College, with honors, and is looking forward to learning more in environmental studies so she can go back home to help her country use its resources wisely.
“We have a great deal of coal and copper at home,” she said, mentioning that Mongolian copper is used in the 2012 Olympic medals. “And there’s gold in the Gobi Desert, the area closest to China.”
After graduate school, Nomin Baasandavaa plans to to back to Mongolia to work in sustainable energy. She’s already started on an environmental career. Last year she conducted research on microinvertebrates as a tool for monitoring soil quality in loblolly pine stands managed for biofuels.
This summer she is an intern with the Roanoke Valley’s Cool Cities project. “She’s already been helpful in analytical and budget matters,” said Cool Cities’ Diana Christopulos of Salem. “This is some kid. You just turn her loose on a project.” Nomin is also a candidate for a paid internship in Washington, D.C.
Nomin explained that although she had studied English in Mongolia, “My English was not that good” when she arrived at Roanoke College. “I understood but did not speak it. Everyday I learn new words.”
“She’s good, because she asks,” added Christopulos.
Nomin, the daughter of economist parents, majored in economics and environmental policy at RC, a college she’d never heard of in a town she didn’t know.
“I found it on the Internet,” the 22-year-old explained. “I never met anyone here. I didn’t want to expect anything. Salem and Roanoke and Roanoke College were beautiful, and everyone was so nice.”
Her brother encouraged her to go to the United States. She took the Test of English as a Foreign Language – TOEFL – exam and the Scholastic Aptitude Test a month before she entered college.
Currently Nomin lives in an apartment that is a five-minute walk from Roanoke College.
Her parents, Oyunchimeg Sodnomdalja and Baasandavaa Choijiljav, are anxious to see their daughter again. As you can tell, Mongolian daughters take their father’s first name as their last. Her older brother Dulguun has completed college and younger brother, Bilegt, is graduating from high school this year.
When she was tapped into Phi Beta Kappa, her aunt Battuya from Korea and Cousin Solongo came for that ceremony and to see her graduate.
In Mongolia, her family lives in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, a city of 1 million people “which is surrounded by four mountains,” she said. Climate and economic conditions in much of Mongolia are harsh. Many squatters live in “gers” which Americans would know as “yurts,” temporary round housing. “The temperature in winter is minus 40 Celsius, and people cannot afford to buy coal.”
People heat with whatever materials they can burn, which in turn, produces smoke. “In winter, it is hard to see,” Nomin said. “Coal would be so much better.”