June 20, 2018

A musical mission in Mongolia

Alumni Mike Lueck '16 and Haley Lawson '15 in the mountains of Mongolia, which have become their home.

Alumni Mike Lueck '16 and Haley Lawson '15 in the mountains of Mongolia, which have become their home.

Music majors, Mike Lueck and Haley Lawson, found a shared purpose while at UW-Superior

Mike Lueck (’16 music major and anthropology minor) became fascinated with Mongolian culture when he took a Music and World Culture class from Dr. Brett Jones at the University of Wisconsin-Superior in 2012. That’s when he learned about the morin khuur, a traditional Mongolian stringed instrument, and Mongolian throat singing, and began to dream of visiting the country one day. He shared this dream with another UW-Superior music major, Haley Lawson (‘15 music major and business minor).

Fast-forward six years and Mike and Haley are now married and have just completed their first year in the Peace Corps, serving in the western Mongolian province of Zavkhan. The remote region, located 18 hours west of Ulanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, is home to just 65,000 people and connected only by a dirt road.

“The Peace Corps took our music background into account and placed Haley at a music and dance school (6-12 grade) where she teaches English to 6th-12th grade students and I work in the Department of Education, Culture and Art where I provide training on instructional techniques for teachers,” said Mike. “It’s been a perfect fit for us pairing our interests in music and teaching. I’ve also been thrilled to be able to learn more about Mongolian music and take lessons on the morin khuur from the teachers here.”

Mike Lueck with Mongolian teachers

The English language opens doors

Haley explained that the Mongolia educational system is still developing and instructional methods tend to be quite traditional. “Students are used to a lecture model and are sometimes very shy and reluctant to share their thoughts,” she said. “Yet, most are eager to learn and are very respectful.”

Haley and Mike hope their efforts to help students improve their English will open new opportunities for the aspiring musicians, dancers and performing artists.

Haley Lawson with two of her music students

While the rewards of their work are many, Mike and Haley said it’s important to remember the small victories along the way. “Sometimes it can be hard to see the big picture and you don’t necessarily see the end results of your work while you’re serving,” said Mike. “Recently, though, one of our students went to the capitol to take an English exam to study abroad in the United States. She said the listening portion of the test was much easier for her because of her conversations with us. That’s an example of the small victories that can make a big difference in the long run.”

With many locals living in gers, yurt-like structures with no running water, the Lueck’s say they are fortunate to be living in an apartment with modern conveniences. They also feel privileged to be serving in an area where traditional nomadic culture blends harmoniously with modern-day conveniences.

 “It’s not uncommon to see Mongolian people dressed traditionally and following ancient customs alongside people dressed in business suits, holding smart phones,” said Mike. “It’s a fascinating time in history to be here in Mongolia.”

A sign of acceptance

“This is an area seldom visited by foreigners, so we’re something of an oddity” said Haley. “But, we knew we were accepted when we were invited to several haircutting ceremonies.”

Haley explained that the ceremony is sacred and symbolizes the transition from ‘baby’ to ‘child.’ Guests each cut a piece of the child’s hair, which is eventually shaved after it becomes jagged and uneven. The hair is caught and bound in a ceremonial cloth, which is kept and later presented to the child when he or she reaches adolescence.  It’s an honor and privilege for the Lueck’s to be invited since most foreigners do not get to participate in this coming of age ritual.

Mike and Haley agreed that their education and interaction with professors at UW-Superior uniquely prepared them and has inspired their future aspirations. “I’m hoping to continue my education by studying ethnomusicology in graduate school,” said Mike. As for Haley, she has found her passion in teaching. “I would like to continue teaching English as a second language either here or elsewhere,” she said.

Mike credits his undergraduate experiences as a music major and Dr. Jones not only for introducing him to the field of ethnomusicology, but also for the journey that brought them to Mongolia.

“Mike has an inquisitive mind and a real love for cultures and their musical traditions,” said Dr. Jones. “Needless to say, he kept me on my toes as a professor and we both enjoyed the journey of discovery together. I know that as he and Haley continue their journey through their work in Mongolia, many people will benefit.”

Alumni Mike Lueck '16 and Haley Lawson '15 in the mountains of Mongolia, which have become their home.

Alumni Mike Lueck '16 and Haley Lawson '15 in the mountains of Mongolia, which have become their home.

The Bachelor of Arts in Music degree allows students to learn about music within the context of a broad liberal arts education. Students enhance and perfect their musical talents through one-on-one instruction, in addition to studying music theory and history. A music degree paired with other areas of study, such as Education, Business, English or Science, can open a vast array of career opportunities.

Visit the Music Department website for audition information, performance opportunities and faculty biographies



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