GSSM’s Dr. Julia Fisher Completes 84-Day Expedition Across Mongolia

January 25, 2023

HARTSVILLE, S.C. (Jan. 25, 2023) – Dr. Julia Fisher will have a lot to tell students this spring about her expedition through Mongolia. The South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics (GSSM) psychology instructor came back to the classroom after a grueling, 84-day horse-back expedition across the Mongolian Steppe.  

The goal of the expedition was to raise funds to finance a children's day care, school and library for the Children of the Peak Sanctuary while exploring Mongolia’s national landscapes vibrant culture. Dr. Fisher and her fellow riding colleagues traveled with a crew of local guides who assisted them throughout the trip. 

After nearly three months of riding local Mongolian horses eight to 12 hours a day in all kinds of weather, Dr. Fisher was able to observe how she learned to cope with discomfort, hypothermia and injury in unfamiliar surroundings. She said that this gave her valuable, practical insight into human psychology that she will bring into her classroom. “It’s impossible to maintain a mask for more than two or three weeks under stress,” Dr. Fisher said. “Your real persona eventually surfaces.”  

The expedition covered more than 2,200 miles through steppe, mountains and wetlands. Dr. Fisher, and others, on the expedition rode local horses known for their toughness. They are a small breed, usually about 48-56 inches tall. They are descended nearly unchanged from the herds that were used by Genghis Kahn and his nomadic army. 

Riders came from all of the world and endured snow, ice storms, extreme wind, thick clouds of insects and tricky terrain. They bathed in lakes, sheltered overnight in traditional yurts, ate local foods and learned to rely on each other as they faced the challenges of the journey. 

“You can travel for days and never see another human being,” Dr. Fisher said. “Which means you do a lot of introspection. You do a lot of observation of nature. You do a lot of communication with the herders when we have no common language but somehow had to find ways to communicate. From that perspective, I would say that it’s very clear, even though we’re on the other side of the planet, and we don’t even speak the same language, we’re all in it together.”  

Dr. Fisher moved by observing how humans will work together in difficult circumstances and take care of each other. She said that when the group ran into challenges, everyone pulled together to help each other through, one person at a time, no matter the circumstance or what one was enduring. 

This was Dr. Fisher’s third journey to Mongolia. A couple of years earlier in 2017, she had started with her expedition and had an accident that seriously injured her, causing her to be packed over land to the nearest town from which she could receive treatment and return home. Throughout her recovery, she dreamed of trying again one day. In 2019, she spent two weeks visiting the Tsaatan tribe, and then recently, she set out on her first expedition since her injury.

Dr. Fisher has taught psychology at GSSM since 2008. An avid rider, she specializes in endurance riding with her horse Ella in competitions around the Southeast. She studied psychology and cognitive science at the University of Colorado at Boulder where she received a Ph.D., did post-doctorate research at University of Colorado at Denver, and studied Russian and French language and literature at the University of Wisconsin.

As Dr. Fisher prepares for her spring classes at GSSM, she is already thinking about the wildness of the Steppe, the quick stride of the small, tough horses and the joys and challenges of being in a community of people committed to discovering themselves as they explore the world. Dr. Fisher plans to return to Mongolia and complete another expedition in June 2023, when she will travel 700 km over the course of 10 days.