A journey under the star of the nomadess - Esuna Dugarova

A journey under the star of the nomadess - Esuna Dugarova

  • Esuna outside the UN headquarters in New York.

Esuna Dugarova (Churchill 2005) tells us her alumni story.

Since childhood I have been driven to learn more and see the world. It is this thirst for knowledge that ultimately motivated me to apply to Cambridge University.

Buryatia: my home and my heart

I was born and grew up in the Republic of Buryatia, a region of indigenous people and a centre of Buddhism in Russia. My hometown – Ulan-Ude – lies along the Trans-Siberian Railway and is a few hours away from Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake. To me, Baikal is a spiritual place where I can contemplate, generate energy and find peace of mind. When I was an undergraduate student at St. Petersburg State University, I used to take a four-day train ride from Moscow to Ulan-Ude every summer, which was the most economical way to get home. 

Since childhood I have been driven to learn more and see the world. It is this thirst for knowledge that ultimately motivated me to apply to Cambridge University after my year abroad in Beijing. My diligence and hard work were rewarded when I received a Chevening TNK-BP Kapitza scholarship from the Cambridge Overseas Trust for my MPhil and then my PhD studies at Cambridge University. 

What struck me when I arrived in Cambridge was that almost everybody had heard of Lake Baikal and yet hardly anybody knew about Buryatia where the lake is located. I remember meeting Prince Charles at a scholars’ reception during my first year at Cambridge. He asked me where I was from and looked somewhat puzzled when he heard my answer. “I never thought that Russia is such a vast country,” – he said humbly, with a gentle smile. 

Cambridge: a game-changing opportunity 

The opportunity to study at Cambridge has transformed my life by opening up new horizons for professional and personal development. One of the activities that had a big impact on me was the Cambridge University International Development Society where I became involved as an external affairs officer. It was then that I realised where my passion lies and what I wanted to do after finishing my studies – that is, to help others achieve better lives. This was a natural decision in which my professional aspirations met the altruistic instincts of my Buddhist upbringing. Subsequently, I became engaged in various development related work, which led me first to the United Nations (UN) in Geneva and more recently to the UN headquarters in New York. 

I currently work at the United Nations Development Programme where I conduct research and analysis on various issues pertaining to sustainable development, including poverty eradication, social inclusion and gender equality. Based on research findings, I provide strategic advice to policymakers on how to improve people's livelihoods. For example, recently I co-authored a report on global trends that will affect the world in the next 15 years, and currently I am leading a new initiative on how women's empowerment in economic, social and political spheres can accelerate the achievement of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. 

Apart from working on policy issues, I enjoy the multicultural environment of the UN where I speak different languages to colleagues and partners from around the world. I am now learning Spanish, which is my seventh language after Buryat, Russian, English, Chinese, French and Burmese. 

  • Sunset Churchill College
    Churchill College by Sir Cam

The star of the nomadess: motivation for girls

While at Cambridge, I kept notes of my daily activities and observations about studying and living in England which I shared with my family back home. By the end of my studies, I had accumulated a large collection of memories, which, after some revisions, was published in a literary journal Baikal in Buryatia and received an award for the best publication in 2016. To make it available more widely, I published it recently as a book titled The Star of the Nomadess (Russian edition). It recounts my perception of English society from the perspective of my Buryat cultural heritage and seeks to achieve a better understanding between the East and the West. I hope this book can motivate girls in Buryatia and other parts of the world to pursue their aspirations while remembering their roots in today's globalised world. 

Expanding opportunities for young people

After publishing the book, I received a lot of questions from young people in different countries who were interested in learning more about my experience and who sought my advice on how to get a scholarship or find a job. This triggered me to launch a website to help young people expand their choices and improve access to opportunities. In particular, I advise on educational, professional and personal development through webinars, masterclasses and workshops which I hope can enable young people to achieve their goals. 

A long-term aspiration

My long-term vision is to make a meaningful contribution to the global society and, by doing so, raise the profile of my homeland, Buryatia. I recognise that I still have a long way to go before reaching this destination and yet I am as determined as ever. In the meantime, I am enjoying the journey and appreciating the opportunities as they arise. Cambridge has been invaluable to me, providing a solid platform for growth and equipping me with knowledge, skills and experience, which I am happy to share along the way.

Esuna has an MPhil and a PhD in Asian & Middle Eastern Studies. She attended Churchill College.

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This article has been written by Esuna Dugarova and the opinions expressed are those of the author.