M.Saranzaya: “Perhaps I am a modern nomad.”


By Allyson Seaborn

Columnist Allyson Seaborn has a new and intimate series of questions she’ll be asking interesting Mongolian nationals each week. This new feature exposes their passions and memories about the land of eternal blue skies and sheds light on their past and future hopes. We look forward to bringing you on a new journey of discovery and hope you enjoy reading what these unique individuals have to share with readers.

This week our fourth installment features talented Essex Business School PhD student, M.Saranzaya.

M.Saranzaya is a woman who you’ll most likely hear more about in years to come. She’s outspoken, highly intelligent and seems to make heads turn wherever she goes.

M.Saranzaya– or Sara as she’s referred to abroad – currently holds the position of Academic Director at the London Graduate School. She also runs a consultancy called Pro Gemini which services the needs of management training in the corporate sector.

For most people that would be enough of a workload, but not for Sara who as part of her PhD, is carrying out symmetric research on “Patterns of nomad culture in cross-cultural businessrelations” and bringing the notion of nomadic cultures and their voice to western business cultures and relations.

I ask her about her education and she explains, “Well, I’ve been educated in Russia, Germany and in the UK and haven’t lived in Mongolia for the last decade. I would never, however, separate myself from my roots and nomadic way of life. Perhaps I am a modern nomad.”

“I’ve been teaching cross and intercultural issues and communication for a few years, as it has always fascinated me. It has also, however, made me worry about how Mongolian nationalism and foreigners’ expectations fail to meet.”

Sara describes how this problem is most likely a result of poor communication, a lack of trust and a small degree of misunderstanding. “This affects many things including personal, business and political situations,” she adds.

“So I am a Mongolian you see, but have been educated and living in western countries. I want to interpret some of the Mongolian social mentality that has deep roots within our nomadic culture. I aim to explain this to foreigners and create some sort of bridge, especially in business management which is the field I’m studying.”

CEO of the London Graduate School, Dr Kenan Bakht, has this to say about Ms Manalsuren, “Sara is one of most intelligent and highly motivated young professionals that I have come across. She is fast developing as a Global Leading Academic.”

No doubt about that. I’d now like to like to introduce you to the beautiful yet brilliant, Ms M.Saranzaya.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in Tosontsengel Soum, Zavkhan Aimag. Like many young couples, my parents were both students and my brother and I grew up with my grandparents. When I was two years old my parents took us to UB to live with them.

Mongolian society is unique in that grandparents have a major role in the upbringing of their grandchildren. Although we moved back to UB, we used to go to countryside every year and spend the whole summer with my beloved grandparents in Zavkhan Aimag, which is in the Northern part of Mongolia. When people talk about this region they say, “Only eyes can measure in between the mountains and the sky.”

Describe your most vivid childhood memory.

A beautiful summer day, looking at the radiant sunlight and blue sky through the crown of a ger (called a yurt here in the UK), warm palms of hands, soft gazes and the encouraging voice of my grandfather. He sat next to me at the most honorable place in the ger, reading the sutra (old books wrapped by silk). I remember the smell of milk tea with dried meat and rice prepared by my grandmother.  I am the only granddaughter in my family and was fortunate enough to have been taught both old Mongolian script and Cyrillic writing. I was home-schooled by grandfather at the age of four – he taught me all of this.

Every summer we used to read the sutra. This was called “dusting the sutra” or “to dust the sutra” – meaning opening the pages, reading and getting rid of the dust. All of the sutras were kept at the most honourable place of the ger – the north side. I used sit here where only men and guests were traditionally allowed to be.

Whenever we read the sutras and write down notes, my granddad would say, “My daughter engraves the writing.” Soon after, I mastered the old script and Cyrillic script. My granddad also taught me Tibetan and Manchurian, which were used between the 14th and 17th centuries to record official Mongolian notes, history, literature and other scholarly material.

All of these beautiful memories feel like they happened only yesterday. I can still feel the warmth of the hot stove.

What do you like most about Mongolia today?

Mongolia was a country many people could not properly point out on the world map. Then, if people could find the nation on the map, their knowledge was limited only to the notion of Chinggis Khaan and barbarians of the 13th century – or they thought of us as part of Russia or China.

Today I see many articles about Mongolian politics, economic growth and our growing population in international journals. In February 2011, Citigroup Analysts William Butler and Ebrahim Rahbari listed Mongolia at 7th place in terms of 3G countries (Global Growth Generators). These are economies that have been identified as sources of potential growth and profitable investment opportunities – and leading world economies by 2050. There issome good and bad publicity about Mongolia, but at the end of the day, attracting international media means the country is growing and developing and that the world is interested in us.

The more attention we get, the better – so we should perform by creating a more  “welcoming” culture. A good analogy is to look at the old Mongol Empire capital of Karakorum which was established by Chinggis Khan’s third son Ogedei. This walled city is located in the Orkon Valley and it endured for four decades earning world attention from Western visitors, Roman Catholic missionaries and from traders.

What do you miss most about the Mongolia of yesterday?

Although I’m a child of the mid 1980s, I was fortunate enough to get the taste of reading about Mongolian history, tradition and culture from a very early age. I owe this to my grandfather. As nomads, there are many fascinating traditions, cultural features and a unique heritage. For example, we know our own history and family tree names up to nine generations back.

We know to respect others, never throw trash into nature and not to be seduced by material wealth – this is an integral part of our indigenous knowledge. These traditions, however, have been lost. This is due to the socialist era. We have lost many scholars and monks. Monasteries and statues of Buddha have been burned or destroyed. These were precious historic masterpieces.

Having said this, we should not blame the past. What we need to do first is re-learn about ourselves, read about our history, traditions, culture and about how welcoming our ancestors were towards guests and about how hungry they were to gain knowledge. At the same time, Mongolians were able to retain their unique individuality and developed many trade, cultural and political links with overseas countries.

What’s your favorite holiday destination either overseas or within Mongolia?

I have to admit that I’ve not yet visited Mongolia’s “Dark Blue Pearl”- Khuvsgul Lake or UNESCO’s World Heritage Orkhon River – nor have I been to Ulaan Tsutgalan Waterfall. I have however, been to Europe’s largest pain waterfall – the “Rheinfall” in Zurich.

It is still my plan to be a tourist in my own country one day soon. Nothing would beat the mesmerizing views of my birthplace – the sacred mountain Otgontenger and Badar Khundaga Lake.

Overseas, I have been to many picturesque, beautiful places. I would have to say Bad Gastein, Austria is one of my favourite destinations. Simply going to Salzburg, where one of my favourite composers – W A Mozart was born and where the film “The Sound of Music” was filmed is wonderful. The Alps are truly splendid.

Can you explain in English your favorite Mongolian expression or saying?

Do you know the expression: “We know Mongols by their good intentions, the Chinese by their money and Tanguts by their tricks”? We are indeed a nation of symbolism and good-will and there are many idioms, proverbs and expressions related to it.

A single Mongolian proverb can have multiple meanings. Perhaps this is because we are an “on the move” culture. Our traditional lifestyle required oral traditions to pass on indigenous knowledge and it has been used for generations. I am planning to write a chapter about using proverbs as one of my ethnography research methods for my PhD thesis. We also believe in karma and good intentions. I have many favourite expressions, but mostly I use, “Have good intentions towards others and good fate will come in return.” A similar English expression would be, “What goes around comes around” or “You make your own bed and lie in it.”

What hopes do you have for the future of Mongolia?

I want to see a country that has political and economic stability; healthy, happy and an educated population of ten million people. I want Mongolia to earn the world’s attention and attract visitors, students and people who wish to work and live in Mongolia.

Who inspires you?

My grandfather inspires me, as do those who are near and dear to me. I am inspired by my nomadic roots. I am a modern nomad and I will contribute to the best of my ability and carry myself to places where I can best serve, where my nature, qualities and gifts find the best soil and the wildest scope.

What’s your favorite pastime?

I love reading. I’m a strong believer that people, books and places are deliberately brought to you when you need to grow. It is important not to grow in isolation, but together with the world, with people and with and the creator. Growing is also giving, receiving and respecting. When you look at life like this, the world can be wonderful.

What do you find most interesting about foreigners living in Mongolia? 

It is great to see modern “nomad managers” and nomads living together in Mongolia. Aren’t we all nomads after all who travel from one place to another, always on the move? We all carry our own knowledge and serve others. We live in a world of uncertainty and it requires us to be fluid and masters of diversified management, adapting to new situations, prepared for unpredictable situations. We need to be self-disciplined, motivated and ready for hands-on experiences. Hence, it is great to see many modern nomads are coming, contributing to and witnessing how Mongolia is developing. I am very grateful to them and we welcome more of you. I would like to repeat that we are living in very interesting times. Expats who are with us today will see and witness a very different Mongolia within the next few years.


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