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U.S. Mongolian ambassador encourages Mongolian BYUH students to share their stories

United States Mongolian Ambassador Richard Buangan speaking.
United States Mongolian Ambassador, Richard Buangan, speaking to the Mongolian BYUH students.

While speaking to BYU–Hawaii’s Mongolian students, the United States ambassador to Mongolia advised them to “Tell your stories.” Ambassador Richard Buangan said, “Right now, all Americans know of Mongolia is Genghis Khan, but there is a Mongolia of today and that story needs to be told.” Buangan is from California, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Saint Edwards University in Austin, Texas. He speaks French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.

During the discussion hosted by the Mongolia Club on Jan. 20 and held in the Heber J. Grant Building, Buangan said during his work in Mongolia, he observed Mongolian people are incredibly self-aware of their place in history. As a democratic country sandwiched between two authoritarian powers, Russia and China, they are in a very unique position, he said.

Tsetsgee Enkhbold, an alumnus who graduated in business management and psychology, said she has heard rumors of their Mongolian democracy struggling through the years. “It is very hard to be entirely independent from the two countries around us.” She continued, “So as an ambassador from one of the leading democracies in the world, what can we do to fortify our democracy?”

The rumors and expressions of criticism against the government that Enkhbold has seen are a strength in Buangan’s eyes, he said. “Democracy is not perfect. It’s not clean,” he stated, “but it’s the best system of government to allow voices to influence the direction it goes.” In his opinion, he said the more transparent democracies allow their systems to be, the stronger they are. “Embrace your democracy,” he advised. “Vote. Hold your elected officials accountable. Don’t be afraid to express your thoughts and ideas no matter how critical they are of the government.”

“People like me,” said Buangan, “Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, [the first male and female African-American Secretary of State] we were considered three-fifths of a person when the United States Constitution was written. That’s not something to be embarrassed by, that’s something to learn from.” Buangan explained the many civil rights movements and additional constitutional amendments that got America to where it is today create an incredible story to tell, warts and all. He encouraged the Mongolian students to be proud of their identity, not because it is perfect or clean, but because it is strong.

Striving for peace

While admiring the beauty in democracy, Buangan also recognized the need for other countries. He said he was in China for work in 2008. “It was a country I had long admired, but one that my country’s government is deeply suspicious of,” he said. While there, he said he realized he loved Chinese people and culture.

“I hope and pray that someday our two countries can learn to work together, because there are a lot of problems that cannot be solved without the U.S. and China working together,” he said. That is not a popular thing to say in his profession, acknowledged Buangan, but he said those who are able and willing to travel and interact with others can build bridges.

President John S. K. Kauwe III said one of the founding ideas of BYUH is to learn how to be an example to the world and build peace internationally. “That’s a grand experiment in a world that’s really struggling to have peace. We’re not perfect at it,” Kauwe said, then added with a grin, “But we are really good.”

Reaching the world

Mongolia’s economy is based on commodities, said Baska Purev-ochir, an alumnus who graduated in business management with a concentration in finance. He asked the ambassador how Mongolia could improve its tourism and bring more visitors from the United States.

“I think a reason why Mongolia is not very high on the list of places to visit is there aren’t any direct flights,” said Buangan. With a more developed tourist industry focused on marketing what Mongolia has to offer, such as fly fishing and other outdoor experiences, Buangan said he thinks there will be more of a demand to visit Mongolia.

Another way to increase that demand, said Buangan, is for Mongolians to tell their stories. “When you interact with an American, whether that’s shopping or walking down the street or meeting someone on the bus, you are establishing a connection and you are telling a story. Exhibit the values that make Mongolia shine.”