At the recent 2017 Mongolia Update held at ANU, Professor Li Narangoa was awarded the Mongolian State Medal of Friendship, the second highest medal issued by the Mongolian President.
Professor Narangoa received the Medal for her cumulative work in building cultural exchanges between Mongolia and Australia through projects such as establishing the Mongolia Institute and setting up Mongolian Studies.
“I’m humbled, honoured and embarrassed. I had no idea the Mongolian President or anyone for that matter took me so seriously. I’ve just been doing what I thought was important to Australia, Mongolia and ANU,” says Professor Narangoa.
Professor Narangoa was the first person to establish Mongolian language studies in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere.
“When I arrived at ANU, Central Asian Studies focused only on Russia. East Asian Studies focused mainly on Japan and China. The huge Mongolian plateau that linked Central and East Asia was missing,” says Professor Narangoa.
She says while milestones have been made, there is an urgent need to build connections between the two countries.
“The relationship between Australia and Mongolia has been going well for the last ten to fifteen years. Mongolia is rich in coal and heavy metals, so many Australian companies are investing in Mongolia. Australian Embassies are closing down elsewhere in the world but about one and half years ago they actually opened up an embassy in the capital, Ulaanbaatar."
To encourage the next generation of Australia-Mongolia scholars, Professor Narangoa is setting out with 13 undergraduate students on the first-ever in-country Mongolian study program “Modern Mongolia: Challenges to the Environment, Economy and Empire”. The course will travel around Mongolia visiting archaeological sites and mining areas while meeting with local villagers, village administrators, government officials and NGOs.
She hopes the students will see the differences and similarities that unite the two countries.
“For many Australians, Mongolia might seem like an exotic country but there are many factors that unite Australia and Mongolia – open spaces, a strong culture of mining and agriculture.
Nevertheless, Mongolia has a much older history than Australia and people are very proud of that history and strong identity. Another key difference is that Mongolia is shaped by nomadic and pastoralist lifestyles."
“With the mining boom, there are environmental issues Mongolia will have to face and it’s up to people like my students to be prepared for future challenges and future sustainability,” says Professor Narangoa.