Four Mongolian educators cheerfully weathered a Midlands and South Carolina heat wave to learn new strategies for teacher training.
Along the way they also tallied a couple of personal “firsts,” including their first dip in the Atlantic Ocean, their first glimpse of zoo animals, and their first sip of sweet tea.
The four — Enkhtsetseg, Odgerel, Amartuvshin, and Ganbold (Mongolians traditionally go by their first names) — return to their native country today after a two-week cultural exchange with Columbia College, armed with teaching strategies to deploy in a country that has clung to traditional learning methods such as lecture and memorization.
“We learned how to make (different) classroom arrangements,” said Odgerel, the director of the education studies and methodology department at the Teacher’s School of the Mongolian State University. “In our country, we focus on content. Now we will also look at divergent learning.”
A university in Mongolia may seem an unlikely partner with Columbia College, the small United Methodist women’s college situated on a leafy campus in north Columbia.
But Columbia College education professor Lynne Noble opened the door to a five-year partnership when she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 2011. She embarked on a six-month international education adventure to the country bordered by China and Russia, not knowing the language and not quite knowing what to expect.
When she makes presentations, she said, “I get three questions, ‘Why Mongolia?’ ‘Where is Mongolia?’ and “Did you choose that or did they make you go,’” Noble laughed Tuesday. It turns out Mongolia proved to be an exotic destination and a most hospitable place to share her passion for early childhood education.
Noble has connected professors at Columbia College with professors at the Mongolian State University, who now share information over the internet and Skype. Several Columbia College students have completed their student teaching in the American school in the capitol of Ulaanbaatar.
Former Columbia College President Caroline Whitson came for a visit and Noble is working to persuade the college’s new president, Elizabeth A. “Beth” Dinndorf, to make a trip as well.
“October is a great time,” Noble told Dinndorf, who officially began her duties July 1.
Noble said the four educators visited the Columbia Museum of Art, the Richland County Public Library and other organizations to help them learn how to tap into community resources to enhance learning.
After watching a children’s art class at the museum, Amartuvshin said, “Maybe we can start that.”
Traditionally, museums in Mongolia focus on Mongolian culture, including its nomadic traditions, and the educators began to envision how partnerships could enhance children’s understanding about their own country and history.
The four, who leave for their 27-hour flight home today, said they plan to make presentations to fellow instructors and administrators when they return. But they also will carry with them the friendships they’ve made here, and more importantly, convey their impressions of their time here in one-word exclamations: “Amazing.” “Fantastic.” “Wonderful.”