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Have fellowship, will travel

Grad student from the Department of Anthropology receives fellowship to conduct research in Mongolia

By Haley Venglar ‘19

It’s safe to say that Byeibitgul Khaumyen’s upbringing was different than most of ours. While many of us grew up getting around in vehicles, she rode camels; while we threw out our old footwear, she repurposed them into protective shoes for her cows. Along with her nine sisters and parents, Khaumyen was raised in a remote region of western Mongolia in a nomadic herding setting. Now as a Ph.D. student in anthropology, she will bridge her past and future with the help of a $20,000 International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) for her work “Kazakh Women in Mongolia: Negotiating Religious and Ethnic Identity in a Post-Socialist Context.”

“My research focuses on the rise of the Islamic revival in post-socialist Mongolia, and I am particularly focused on young women who actively practice Islamic piety,” Khaumyen said.

Khaumyen said when she worked in a local teaching college in western Mongolia, she had the chance to work with Kazakh girls who were active in Islamic traditional behaviors, such as wearing the hijab. Because Mongolia is a predominantly Buddhist state, she was curious to find out how being an ethnic and religious minority affected the identities of these young women.

“As a person from an ethnic minority background, I grew up with a sense of community belonging and cultural behaviors that distinguished me from other people,” said Khaumyen. “I often heard compliments that focused on the ideals of the Kazakh woman and culture and whether or not I fit them. This was the first inquiry that led me to anthropology.”

Khaumyen, who is also earning a graduate certificate in women’s and gender studies, will use the fellowship to support the completion of her doctorate program at Texas A&M. While here, she will stay with relatives and participate in local community activities, celebrations, and other events related to the religious participation of women. She will also conduct interviews with community members, women and girls, their parents, and Muslim clerks in the community.

She is a natural fit for the AAUW fellowship, which supports international female doctoral students at U.S. institutions who whose research focuses on women and gender issues in their home countries.

“I first heard about this fellowship from AAUW long before I came to Texas A&M from a former recipient who was also from Mongolia,” said Khaumyen. “She shared about her experience on her social media page and I decided to apply as well after I enrolled at Texas A&M.”

With an undergraduate degree in education from the State University of Education in Mongolia, one master’s degree in linguistics from Khovd University in Mongolia, as well as another master’s in human science from Osaka University in Japan, it is evident that Khaumyen has a passion for learning. However, her pursuit of a Ph.D. in anthropology hits a little closer to home, literally.

“I hope my research will contribute to understand how women from an ethnic and religious minority group in Mongolia navigate their lives in a post-socialist context,” said Khaumyen. “Upon completion of my research, I will work to advocate for women and girls in my community of Kazakhs in western Mongolia.”