Ochi was not typical of the people who had spoken to the monastic community. For one thing, he was young -- perhaps the youngest who had ever stood at the podium in the monastic chapter house. For another, he was the only one in the room who spoke fluent Mongolian. And third, to his great credit, he showed not a shred of stage fright. Perhaps he had already pushed himself to the limit so many times that a case of the nerves simply wasn't in the cards. In any event, he was there to tell the monks what it was like to grow up in Mongolia. On that topic, Ochirbat Bayanjargal, SJU '15, was the unquestioned expert in the room.
Ochi was born in Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia. Once part of the Soviet Union, Mongolia has gone through an enormous transition, and Ochi's own family scrambled to adapt. So it was that Ochi and his brother spent lots of time with their grandparents, while their parents struggled to make lives in a new economy.
Ochi describes himself as a self-starter, and in the eighth grade he dreamed of college in the U.S. That's what prompted him to enter a competition that tested his athletic, academic and social skills. Of fifty-three entrants, he was the last man standing, he states. That led him to high school at Saint Benedict's Prep in Newark, NJ.
Saint Benedict's stretched him enormously, and there he met several Benedictine Volunteers from Saint John's, including one volunteer who is now Fr. Michael Hahn at Saint John's Abbey. Saint John's became his dream, but it was only nine days before school started when SJU wrestling coach Brandon Novak called to say that all was set.
Ochi's acceptance of challenge continued at Saint John's. He was on the wrestling team for four years, worked hard to make friends, and "gave Saint John's my best shot." He also discovered the importance of learning and his passion for the liberal arts. Despite an earlier interest in math and science, he majored in economics, knowing that it would open the door to whatever career he wanted. He minored in global business, and in 2014 he arranged his own summer internship at a company in China. There he surprised his supervisor when he asked to do a two-week stint on the factory floor, to get to know the workers and hear their dreams.
And what did Ochi learn at Saint John's? First, he learned the importance of being well-rounded. "Do everything you can," he says. He also notes that the liberal arts caused him to ask questions about himself. "It's not just about what kind of job I want, but who I want to be." And it confirmed in him the need to set the direction for his life. "You have to take the initiative, because no one will do it for you."
Ochi pinches himself now that his dream of college in America has come true. So what's next? This summer he begins a year as a Benedictine Volunteer at the Benedictine monastery of Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee in Israel. After that, he's not sure. But for four years he lived his dream at Saint John's, and he looks with enthusiasm to the future.
"At Saint John's I became more grateful, and I now appreciate the experience I had." It's prepared him to be a citizen of the world. "I've sunk deep roots in Minnesota, and for four years Minnesota has been home." Now he's anxious to see where his branches will spread.
[Editor's note: Ochi is one of some thirty-five graduates of Saint Benedict's Prep to attend Saint John's. Included in their number have been two other students from Mongolia. If you would like to help make their dreams come true at Saint John's, contact Fr. Eric or one of the development officers listed at the Contact Us button below.]