First-year passionate about environment
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First-year student Ariunjargal Bat-Erdene traveled the long way from Mongolia to get to the Hill. From her home city, the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, she flew first to Beijing, China, then to Chicago—where she was delayed two days because of Hurricane Irene—and finally to Portland before travelling northbound on I-295 to Waterville.
She’s a long way from home—over 6000 miles, actually—but it was home that brought her here. Bat-Erdene hopes that her Colby education will help her combat the environmental issues her country is currently facing: the effects of climate change, mass migration and desertification. Currently undecided upon her major, she said she will study the traditional sciences and the environment during her time on the Hill.
Although Bat-Erdene is from a city, she has a deep connection with nature, which she has been building her whole life. Growing up, she spent her summers living in the countryside with her grandmother, where she would help care for the land and became “very connected to the environment.” With her mother, she would take 10 to 20 days each summer to travel to different parts of her country in order to take in the different Mongolian landscapes. She described one of her favorite memories from these trips: a vast open field of “limitless grass” in central Mongolia. “When you’re there, you feel like you’re the only one,” she said.
But over the course of these trips, she noticed a disturbing pattern developing “very quickly in my country.” She has seen desertification—a process where fertile land becomes desert—take hold in southern Mongolia, coupled with unsustainable human practices such as mining and the effects of global warming, which her country feels acutely.
Even still, Bat-Erdene emphasized the splendor and beauty of her homeland, saying that many of the country’s visitors come just to see the landscapes.
This is not the 18-year old’s first time away from home, nor is it her first time thinking academically about Mongolia’s environmental issues. Before Colby, Bat-Erdene spent her final two years at high school at the Mahindra United World College in India. For her extended essay—a deep research project—she looked into the desertification of her country; she found that in Mongolia, the rise in temperature (3.24 degrees Fahrenheit) was three times as much as the average global temperature increase (1.08 degrees Fahrenheit). Also contributing to the process are some 40 million livestock as of 2009—many of them goats—which take a large toll on the land’s sustainability through overgrazing. In addition, as the land turns to desert, many Mongolians have been moving northward in order to move away. Yet the large increase in the human and livestock populations are actually perpetuating the same problems they hope to escape.
So she has made it her mission to search for the solution. “We are human beings. We are part of nature. We cannot live without our environment; we have to protect it,” she said.
Here on the Hill, she has already started to fall in love with the nature around her. The trees and weather “are a lot like home,” she said. And, come winter, she’ll be prepared; in Mongolia the temperature gets down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.