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International studies grant feeds interest in Mongolia

Visiting instructors will travel from Mongolia

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WWU Professor Ed Vajda teaches some of the largest Mongolian language courses in the country. | Photo by Jon Bergman
The Mongolia Collection at WWU is among the largest in the country. | Photo by Jon Bergman

WWU, already home to one of the country’s biggest collection of writings on Mongolia, is seeing a surge of academic interest in the inner- Asian nation.

Funded by a federal grant to boost international studies at WWU, Professor Ed Vajda’s winter quarter class on the Mongolian language might have been the largest ever offered in the U.S., with 35 students.

And this fall, Vajda plans to launch two large survey courses on the cultures of Mongolia and Russia respectively, which he expects will serve more than 100 students in each class.

The grant will also help make Russian and Mongolian language courses more accessible to students who need General University Requirement courses.

“Even though we’re doing something exotic, we’re doing it in a way that increases students’ ability to graduate in four years,” Vajda says.

The two-year, $175,000 grant, awarded to Western’s Center for International Studies, will also pay for study abroad and exchange programs. WWU is partnering with three Mongolian universities, and upcoming Mongolian courses will be taught by visiting instructors from that country.

The Mongols, who once made up the world’s largest empire, are critical to understanding the world, Vajda says.

“There’s no possible way to understand the modern Middle East, Russia or East Asia, without understanding the Mongols,” he says.