Anudari Batjargal is only 16, but she knows exactly what she wants to do in the future.
Her aspiration is to manage the airport that is being constructed in her hometown, Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia.
The new airport is scheduled for completion in 2013, which is when Anu, as she is known, hopes to graduate from Rocky Mountain College with a degree in aviation management. Not that she expects to be handed the job straight out of college, at the age of 20.
“It might take a while, but I’ll get there,” she said.
Anu attended private schools in Ulan Bator, sometimes spelled Ulaanbaatar and referred to by Anu simply as U.B. Schools in Mongolia are in the process of changing over to the 12-year system common elsewhere, but Anu graduated from the equivalent of high school last spring after just 10 years of schooling.
Mongolia, which sits atop the plateau of central Asia between Russia and China, was in the Russian sphere of influence for many decades, and Russian was traditionally the second language of choice.
Anu’s generation, however, was taught English, and she studied it all through elementary and high school. Her instructors were from the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain, which may explain why her command of English is nearly flawless.
Dan Hargrove, director of the aviation program at Rocky, said Anu writes better than many of his American students. In the introductory aviation class this fall, a large part of each student’s grade was based on a weekly one-page paper and a longer paper at the end of the semester, Hargrove said. Anu finished in the top 20 percent of the class.
“She is quiet, but she clearly had a great education and a great family,” Hargrove said.
Anu said she and her parents — her father manages a construction company, her mother works for the World Health Organization — talked for years about Anu’s hopes of attending college in the United States. She received assistance from the U.S. Achievers Program, which helps students from Africa and Asia find schools, scholarships and grants.
Anu applied to 12 schools and was accepted at six of them. Some wouldn’t even consider her because of her age. She said she chose Rocky because both the campus and the city were relatively small.
“It’s not a huge city, so my parents wouldn’t have to worry about me,” she said.
She also chose Rocky because of its aviation management program. She admitted, with a little embarrassment, that her career choice was inspired by a South Korean sitcom she used to watch in Mongolia.
“The hero is an airport manager, and she saves the day,” Anu said.
It was with thoughts of the heroic airport manager in her head that Anu began to hear, some years ago, of plans to rebuild and expand the small, outdated airport in Ulan Bator. She knew it would eventually need a new manager.
“I gradually thought I could be the one to do that,” she said.
In addition to her classes, Anu works for an hour or two a day at Rocky’s Institute for Peace Studies, along with several other international students.
Cindy Kunz, administrator of the institute, has with worked students from all over the world, but never with one from Mongolia.
“This is our first exposure to her country and her culture and we’re loving it,” she said.
Anu said she hasn’t gotten a chance to see much of Montana yet, though she did carve pumpkins in Bridger on Halloween, but she likes the climate, which is similar to Mongolia’s, and she likes Billings.
“Our city is not as pretty as this,” she said.
Kunz said Anu is fitting in well on campus, despite her age, an assessment Anu would agree with.
“I’ve made lots of friends and I am having fun and I’m getting educated, too,” she said.