Undarmaa Pirenlei writes down verses immediately whenever they come to mind. Her poems emerge from her encounters with people, the events of everyday life and her emotions. But Pirenlei’s poems capture something else: her inner struggle of her new life in the U.S.
Pirenlei came to the U.S. from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in 2002. She was a high school exchange student in Phenix City, Ala. She enrolled at Johnson County Community College right after the exchange program.
She transferred to the University in 2007 and is a senior this semester. She is one of five Mongolian international students at the University.
In one poem, “Soliorol,” which means “madness” in Mongolian, Pirenlei expressed her trials with life in a new country.
“I was a talkative girl in Mongolia,” Pirenlei said. “I felt like I was a little baby here. When I tried to say something, people sometimes didn’t understand me.”
She said writing poems allowed her to release emotion.
Stephanie Russel, graduate teaching assistant in Humanities and Western Civilization, said Pirenlei brought a different perspective to class discussions, talking about her experience overseas.
“She’s a very articulate woman with a great perspective,” said Russel, who taught Pirenlei in spring 2008.
She said Pirenlei’s emphasis on community sometimes shocked her students who took individualism for granted.
Pirenlei said she has faced fewer problems as her English improved. However, she said people’s lack of understanding about Mongolia sometimes bothered her.
She said one of her instructors at JCCC laughed at her name. Also, she said some Americans thought all Mongolians were nomadic and barbaric.
“I cannot ride a horse. I’m from a city,” Pirenlei said. “Some people just don’t get what other people are like and live outside of their world.”
Pirenlei has returned to Mongolia twice since 2002. She said she experienced counter-culture shock when she went back to Mongolia last winter. She saw many poor people living in her city. She said she felt guilty at her comfortable life in the U.S. The trip made her determined to eventually pursue a government job in Mongolia and improve lives of the poor.
Ider-Od Bat-Erdene, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, junior and Pirenlei’s friend at the University, said she had a strong sense of justice. He said he always enjoyed discussing everything from politics to things happening at the University with her.
He said she had strong opinions, which Pirenlei said was different than girls in Mongolia.
There, she said, girls cared more about harmony than causing trouble by being opinionated.
Pirenlei is majoring in political science and economics at the University. She said she planned to attend graduate school.
Pirenlei said an American college degree would bring her to better job opportunities when she returned to Mongolia, which she plans to do after graduate school.
Coming to the U.S. helped her prepare for a life on her own after school. She said in her hometown of Ulaanbaatar, capital city of Mongolia, many college students lived with their parents. Living away from her parents in another country prepared her to be a more independent person, she said.
“She’s younger than me, but she seems more mature,” said Meng Li, Shijiazhuang, China, graduate student and Pirenlei’s roommate.
Li said she always enjoyed Pirenlei’s quick humor and said she always made her feel better when she didn’t do well in school.
Pirenlei said she made herself feel better by writing. She has written more than 150 poems; many of them are about her home.
She said it was difficult for her not to be able to go back home and spend time with her family whenever she wanted to. She felt that way particularly when her grandfather passed away.
Some of her poems appeared in an American Mongolian newspaper in Columbia, Mo. One of her friends recommended she show her poems to a publisher in Mongolia. Her collective work was published as one book in Mongolia in 2006. The book took the name of her poem, “Soliorol.”
“People who live away from their home will like my poems,” Pirenlei said.
— Edited by Ramsey Cox
SOURCE: The University Daily Kansan