Facing Fear and Finding Courage: The Story of Arigun

Steve Winfrey, NASPA IV-W Asian-Pacific Islander KC Representative

April 28, 2017

In preparation for this months Asian-Pacific Islander (API) month’s blog, I conducted a review of the trending articles related to APIs.  I found several articles featuring the ongoing struggles of Asian-Pacific Islanders in the workplace, specifically related to not being promoted at the same rate as others or not being paid equal to others. 

Still other articles focused on microaggressions towards APIs in the workplace and how to respond in a professional manner.  Obviously, a review of the literature can be overwhelming and even negative at times due to what the media chooses to cover or simply because information needs to be shared as to the needs and concerns of API’s.  For this month’s blog, I chose instead to feature a, “feel good” story of a young college woman who traversed half the globe with only a suitcase and a dream to discover herself.

So, in celebration of Asian-Pacific Islander month and the courage of a young woman, I want to introduce NASPA IV-West Blog readers to Arigun Ganbat, sometimes known as Amy.   I have come to know her as Arigun (Ah ree goon).  Arigun is originally from Mongolia, China.  As a young woman, Arigun grew up with miles and miles of countryside full of wheat fields, flowers, and endless mountain ranges.    Though summers were pleasant and filled with clear blue skies and reverant nomadic culture, winter in Mongolia averaged -30 degrees. 

As a young child, Arigun would be bundled up in layers and layers of clothing just to stay warm.  The weight of her clothes often impeded her balance as she played outside in the nail biting cold.  It was customary, and probably a necessity, that people in Mongolia would invite strangers into their homes just to warm up and provide passerbys with warm tea.  The people of Mongolia are friendly, hardworking, and full of a rich history most never get to experience. 

As Arigun grew older, she developed a desire to attend college in the United States.  After months and months of planning and preparation, Arigun decided that North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo, North Dakota would be the setting for her next stage in her life.

Listening to Arigun tell her story, it would seem that she never knew the courage she needed to undertake her journey from Mongolia to Fargo, North Dakota.  As she tells her story now, from her decision to come to Fargo to her journey across the globe, it was a journey of complete uncertainty. 

Of course Arigun began to worry about what life would be like in the United States.  She had no idea about the culture in Fargo.  She didn’t know what she would be eating each day.  She had no idea if she would even like living in the United States.  She knew winters would be comparable and summers mild enough, but what she didn’t know was how Fargo would ultimately end up rekindling the fire of one of her favorite past times. 

As Arigun began her studies at NDSU, like most international students she began to feel alone.  She made a few friends after a while, but often felt that something was missing.  Walking around the student union one quiet evening, she noticed a group of students practicing some form of group dance.  Arigun was mesmerized by the group’s hypnotic movements and rhythm-bound synchronicity.  The group’s dancing reminded Arigun of her own country’s cultural dance and how the different styles compared.

At first, Arigun admitted that she did not want to introduce herself to the group.  She was too scared and shy.  Feeling alone night after night in a strange country finally gave way to Arigun’s shyness and she finally introduced herself.  The group was kind to her and invited her to learn their style of hip-hop dancing, something that Arigun had never done before.  Arigun also shared her cultural dance with the group and a bond began to form.  Arigun began to use hip-hop to overcome her shyness, create new friends and provide a rebirth to her love of dancing.  Her personality soon blossomed and a smile soon carved a nice niche out of her once quiet personality.

Arigun’s growing love of hip-hop was so great she began to draw other members into the group and the group’s size began to quadruple.  She quickly became one of the group’s lead dancers and choreographers. As the team developed their dance skills, the group decided it was time to perform live. The NDSU Hip Hop Dance Team, as they are affectionately known, now performs at major events all throughout Fargo, thanks in part to Arigun.  When asked, Arigun still performs her Mongolian Cultural Dances in her traditional Mongolian clothing much to the delight of the audience. 

Today, Arigun is a senior majoring in Psychology and is about ready to graduate and take on the rest of the world.   Like others before her, it took a great deal of courage and tenacity to succeed in a culture unlike your own.  Arigun somehow found the courage needed to traverse the globe and start a new life in Fargo using dance as a way to bridge the divide and create a new home and family.  Congratulations, Arigun.  Your courage and tenacity are a wonder to behold and can serve as an inspiration for others to follow.  

Steve Winfrey is the Director of the Memorial Union at North Dakota State University.  He serves NASPA IV-W as the Asian-Pacific Islander Knowledge Community Representative.  Steve may be reached at [email protected].   

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