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Graduating senior Lily Tumursukh says growing her own food helped her realize how meaningful life is

Tumursukh looking over the lettuce growing by hydroponics in a styrofoam top, while wearing glasses, a long blue shirt and a hat hanging off her shoulder and a green screen behind her.
Otgontuya Lily Tumursukh said working as a farmer on campus has taught her the value of a single vegetable.

As a former biology teacher in Mongolia, Otgontuya Lily Tumursukh said while growing plants at the Sustainability Center’s garden she has come to value hard work, getting dirty and the joy of eating food she grew herself.

Tumursukh, a senior majoring in TESOL, said, “Working at the Sustainability Center helped me understand how simple life is. There is no need for competition and coveting because it will make you lose [sight of] the meaning of your life,” Tumursukh expressed. “You may not achieve great things in life, such as becoming filthy rich or becoming a president. But when you realize the true worth of a single apple on the store shelf, you will realize how rich life is and how meaningful your existence is.”

Since becoming a farmer on campus, she said she realized how much work and effort it requires to plant just one vegetable. “I understand why we are not supposed to waste food. Every single veggie and fruit we buy from the store is a result of someone’s hard work of many hours.”

She explained she didn’t like to get dirty before, but now understands being dirty is not shameful. It is a sign of hard work. “When you work at a farm, it is hard to be clean all the time. But now, when I go to the cafeteria in my dirty clothes, I am not embarrassed. But I am proud of it.”

Tumursukh said she studied at the Mongolian University of Education for four years to become a biology and geography teacher and taught for five years in Mongolia.

Teacher to farmer

“I never planted anything before, even though I teach biology. But when I started to work for the Sustainability Center, I saw how hard it is to grow things in real life,” she shared. Planting something and watching it growing, she added, is edifying because eating food you’ve grown yourself is more satisfying than eating food bought from a store.

Leslie Harper, manager of the Sustainability Center, said, “Lily is forever the teacher. I am sure she was a great science teacher in Mongolia. However, with the new skills and knowledge she has gained at BYUH, she will be amazing. I am confident she will change lives.”

Tumursukh, wearing a pink dress and glasses smiles while folder her arms standing underneath an arch with plants behind her.

Tumursukh said BYU–Hawaii’s Sustainability Center’s farm is called the Temple View Learning Garden, and is where students can learn useful skills. “My manager, Brother Harper, always tells us this is the time to make mistakes and learn from them. But in real life, we won’t have the time and budget to make mistakes,” she shared.

Besides learning skills, Tumursukh said she also learned gospel principles. “When Adam left the Garden of Eden, God told him to labor to feed his family. I thought it was a curse, but while working in the garden, I realized it was not a curse at all, but it was a blessing. Working and growing your own food gives much more meaning to your life,” she explained.

Additionally, Tumursukh learned to build and paint picnic tables. She said she wants to utilize these skills to design her future backyard. “I see how important it is to work physically. I release my mental stress through my physical labor. I struggled to learn all these skills, but I am going forward with confidence and skills. Being close to nature and planting vegetables is my new hobby.”

Munkhzul Galbadrakh, a senior from Mongolia majoring in hospitality and tourism management, said she became fast friends with Tumursukh because of their shared love of animals and Harry Potter. “She is very knowledgeable about lots of things, especially animals and plants. I learned a lot from her about animals and many other things,” Galbadrakh said.

Learning and teaching

While studying at BYUH, Tumursukh also worked as a security guard where she became first aid certified and as a pastry chef at Pounders Restaurant. As a pastry chef, she learned to cook different foods. “I used to hate cooking, but when I was working at Pounders, I had to prepare a plate within a couple of minutes. As a kitchen team, we cooked 50 to 100 plates within an hour. It was a very tough job, but the cooking skills I learned there will bless me for the rest of my life.”

Ganchimeg Gantulga, a sophomore from Mongolia majoring in hospitality and tourism management, said she has been roommates with Tumursukh for more than two years. “I have prayed a lot to be a roommate with someone who can teach me and help me to be a better person. Lily was the answer to my prayers, and she taught me a lot.

Otgontuya Lily Tumursukh smiling wearing glasses, a white shirt and a black graduation gown with a glass door behind her.
Otgontuya Lily Tumursukh expressed gratitude for IWORK donors and said she hopes to pass on their generosity in the future.

“She is a very intelligent person who knows everything and can do everything. I always ask questions from her, so she jokes that she is my personal Google,” Gantulga shared. “Her enthusiastic spirit always lifts up people around her. Her humor makes me laugh all the time.”

Tumursukh said she tried to use all the resources BYUH offers, including an internship funded by the Yamagata fund. She also participated in the Empower Your Dream business competition and reached the semifinal.

Coming to BYUH has also given her opportunities to travel, she explained. She’s been to Japan, Korea, Utah, California, and around Oahu. “Since I was young, it has been my dream to visit Disneyland and Universal Studios. I was able to do so during my student years,” she explained.

Galbadrakh shared, “We both like traveling, so we traveled around the U.S. together. Lily is funny and reliable to travel with. She is a very enthusiastic person and has a talent to build an exciting atmosphere.”

Tumursukh also loves dancing, so she took several BYUH dance classes, including hula, ballroom and modern dance. She also performed at Culture Night every year to represent her culture, which she said is one of her favorite memories.

As an IWORK student, she said she couldn’t thank the IWORK donors enough. “They are the people who enabled me to learn many life lessons, skills and made my dreams come true. Following their examples, I will do my best to bless others’ lives in the future.”

She advised new and prospective students to never give up. “You will learn many life lessons from your student experience at BYUH. It won’t be easy, but never give up. Please never suffer alone. Open up and get help from others if you struggle,” she advised.

Tumursukh said she will miss the people she met at BYUH and the aloha spirit of the Laie community and the University. “Everyone is so nice and polite to each other here. I will definitely miss that sweet atmosphere.”