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Morrisville State College Faculty, Friends, Morrisville Community Donate Money to Send Student Home to Mongolia During Break

MORRISVILLE, N.Y.—It’s the greatest gift Otgonjargal “Otgoo” Sanjaa has ever received—just thinking about it makes her eyes well with tears.

The emotion stems from overwhelming joy and gratitude toward friends and strangers at Morrisville State College and in the Morrisville community who raised more than $2,500 to send Sanjaa home during the college’s winter break.

On Dec. 11, Sanjaa, 25, will begin a two-day journey to Mongolia, some 10,000 miles, to see the family she left behind to study business administration at Morrisville State College.

It’s been nearly one and a half years since she has seen her husband, Nyamdorj, and her 2 ½-year-old daughter, Purevbadam. She can already tell by pictures how much her daughter has grown.

She’s bringing home toys she bought in the United States. Some are replacements for the ones intended for her daughter’s second birthday that were lost in the mail.

A chance to go home means the world to Sanjaa.

“I am really excited,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “I don’t know how to thank everyone who made it possible, especially my professor, Mrs. (Phyllis) Tucker.”

Tucker, assistant professor of business administration, spearheaded the effort.

“I heard that she had a husband and daughter at home who were denied visas to visit in May and my heart reached out to her,” Tucker said. “I wanted to find a way to raise money to send her home.”

When the campus and community heard that Tucker was accepting donations, the response was overwhelming.

“I was surprised at everyone’s generosity,” Tucker said. “There are so many good people out there.”

The Morrisville Rotary Club donated proceeds from a turkey raffle and other organizations stepped in to help. The Sheila Johnson Institute at Morrisville State College donated the $1,700 for Sanjaa’s flight, and Morrisville’s Gaming Club, the Morrisville State College Entrepreneurship Institute (MSCEI) and various faculty and staff all provided generous donations.

It wasn’t the first act of kindness Sanjaa witnessed in the United States. Tucker took Sanjaa home with her during college breaks.

“Mrs. Tucker is more than a professor,” Sanjaa said. “She is a kind and encouraging person who does so much for students.”

Professors are letting Sanjaa take her mid-term exams early to accommodate her flight plans, which were arranged through Brenda Coogan of the Morrisville Travel Agency. Finding flights wasn’t easy due to U.S. airline affiliations, so Coogan had to try several different routes through Korea and Beijing before finally finding one through Moscow to get her home.

Although Sanjaa already has a law degree from the Ulaanbaatar-Erdem University of Mongolia, she was never able to pursue work in her field due to job limitations and corruption.

She became an English teacher instead, but her heart longed for something more.

“I always dreamed of studying in the United States,” she said.

Sanjaa, who also speaks Russian, learned English when she was 12 years old, anticipating that she would need it some day.

That opportunity started to unfold when she was looking through college catalogs and surfing for colleges on the Web at a nearby Internet café and Morrisville caught her eye.

“I liked the small campus population and it seemed economical,” she said.

On a sunny, warm August day in Mongolia in 2005, Sanjaa kissed her husband and daughter goodbye and boarded a plane heading to Morrisville. She wouldn’t let anything interfere with her plans, not even her fear of flying.

After she graduates from Morrisville State College in May 2007, Sanjaa would like to remain in the United States to get her master’s degree then eventually return to Mongolia to become a member of parliament. She’d like to share her knowledge to help with government reform.

She knows continuing her education will involve more sacrifices—ones she is willing to make so her daughter can have a better life in Mongolia some day.

“I have a lot of ideas about what I can do for my country and I want to help my country thrive,” Sanjaa said. “I want to try to reduce poverty, develop rural areas, allocate foreign donations properly and make Mongolia a better place for families.”

Tucker doesn’t doubt her ambition.

“She’s a person filled with quiet determination and she’s focused on her long-term goals,” she said of her soft-spoken student.

That determination was put to the test during her first two weeks at college when Sanjaa missed her family so much she was ready to pack up and go home. 

Faculty and staff encouraged her to stay.

Part of her uncertainty was adapting to an entirely new culture. It wasn’t easy for Sanjaa to adjust to the 12-hour time difference and it took some time for her to get accustomed to American cuisine, something she now enjoys.

Sanjaa keeps a detailed journal so she’ll remember everything she’s learning in the United States, including classroom lessons about macroeconomics, American national government, business mathematics and other things that might benefit her country some day.

She stays in touch with her husband via e-mail on a regular basis and keeps herself busy working two jobs on campus to distract her from missing her family.

When she gets home, Sanjaa plans on making up for some lost time, spending every possible moment with her husband and daughter and visiting her parents who live nearby. She’s also excited to make “an American dinner—the kind where everyone sits around a table and eats together,” she said.

Even though Sanjaa and her family won’t be celebrating the same holidays as families in the United States this winter break, the true spirit of the holiday season is being passed halfway around the world in the form of the greatest gift—giving.

“I am grateful,” Sanjaa said. “I like everything in the United States and I hope to spread American culture, ethics and justice in Mongolia.”

Morrisville State College offers 13 bachelor degrees and a wide variety of associate degrees and options. Considered to be one of the most technologically advanced colleges in the nation for its ThinkPad University program and wireless technology initiative, the college recently became the first in the nation to comprehensively replace landlines in residence halls with individual cellular phones.

The Norwich Campus recently announced its first standalone degree in early childhood and also offers associate degree programs in business, computer technology, office administration, liberal arts transfer and nursing to Chenango County area residents and employers. Students may also apply coursework to other associate or bachelor degrees at the main campus.