Ragchaa Byambadorj was born in Mongolia, the country which is still mostly covered by unpopulated deserts and steppes and where about a third of inhabitants continue practicing a nomadic lifestyle. In this interview, Ragchaa explains why he decided to study in Russia and why he wants to move back home after graduating.
Ragchaa Byambadorj, a student at St. Petersburg Mining University: “My parents sent me to study in a Russian school because they generally provide a better study environment. For instance, there were only 20 students in my school class, while there are typically up to 40 students on average in a Mongolian school class. The good point is that even with overcrowding of local educational institutions and low-quality infrastructure, teaching quality of mathematics, physics, chemistry is very high. It is mostly true for all schools – both for local and Russian ones. As for higher education, a technical background is valued the most in my country – over 60% of school graduates enroll in engineering studies. Mongolia is in dire need of energy workers, civil engineers, miners — across all economic sectors”.
Studying abroad is a popular choice for Mongolian youth. Top study destinations include the US, Japan, Russia, and China. Ragchaa wanted to go see the world, and thus foreign universities were a priority option for him. American universities were, however, too expensive. Chinese schools seemed a better choice – foreigners are allowed to study for free – but those who are admitted to them are usually required to speak Chinese fluently. Besides, Ragchaa’s family was against their son moving to China. Then there were only Russia and Japan left.
Ragchaa recalls: “My golden ticket came through participation in the International Academic Olympics. I was a winner of the contest in computer sciences and mathematics and was granted the right for tuition-free education in any of the Russian universities. I was limited to engineering specialties in my choice, and when I was filling out the papers, I wrote a ‘Mining engineer’ in the corresponding field. Mongolian economy, for the most part, is based on either agriculture or development of mineral resources – not many choices for the future profession then! Mining is one of the very few alternatives. My father works in my home city as a mining engineer, and I always thought I would work in this industry as well. Why did I prefer St. Petersburg Mining University to other universities? First, many of its graduates are employed in Mongolia. Even Ochirbat Punsalmaagiin, the 1st President of our country, graduated from the Mining University. And second, a diploma certificate obtained from the Russian university is valued a lot higher than from the local one, meaning there are more decent work opportunities”.
The difficult part for Ragchaa was to get used to living in Russia since the Mongolian lifestyle differs from the one in St. Petersburg significantly.
“We are provided here, in the university, with everything we need for studying and living. Now that we have been forced into distance learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, the university helps us by offering free meals, brought daily to the dorms. It is all organized here in such a way that we would not have to worry about anything but our studies. When I was in my first year, I had a hard time adapting to the busy schedule. I wanted to meet friends, watch a movie, see the sights; but there was no time for it. Of course, I have already settled in now and manage to do a lot more”.
Talking about the future, Ragchaa says he wants to continue education and pursue a Master’s degree. Still, this time he would instead apply to an engineering university in some European country. This way, he wants to get familiar with different scientific schools. Upon completion of their Master’s studies, Ragchaa would return to his homeland and start working at the same company where his father is working. He believes he will hardly encounter any problems with building a career at home because there are supposedly enough mineral reserves in Erdenet, the city he is from, to keep the extraction viable until at least 2060.