Here is a mini-reunion of the CNSP folks in Ithaca (chilly and rainy as usual), so great to see many of you again.
It’s been a month and half since I returned home from Nepal. I spent quite some time thinking about what I have taken away from the entire experience abroad. Also, this post will include borderline unrelated photographs because I’ve always wanted to share them but couldn’t find the right context.
Last winter, before heading off to study abroad, I was told that the place will humble me, that I will need to enter the foreign world with an open mind, ready to learn. And that is completely true—it is not easy to fit the alien culture and people into my own set of understanding and preconceived notions of what the country should be like.
I’m just a student trying to learn (see point 2), but I hope my young 21-year-old insights can give you some inspiration. Here is my list of Things I Have Learned for those interested, especially if you’re looking to study abroad in Nepal through the program too.
1. Find Your Own Sense of Order
What I’m accustomed to in the past, the sense of predictable order and pinpoint punctuality is not how things work in Nepal. The ridiculously narrow, winding streets of Thamel has humbled me. The chaotic (yet miraculously safe) systems of commute has humbled me. The ever-changing cost of each good or service humbled me. Uncertainty humbled me. And I grew to embrace the chaos and strive in it, find excitement in this lack of organization. Holding my breath as I strolled through the street markets in Kathmandu. Accepting that approaching motorcycles will not hit me from behind—that they are simply bats flocking seamlessly through a dark cave armed with ultrasound senses. And this doesn’t just apply to the large cities–I used to heavily rely on the sense of organization engrained in my surrounding environment. Today, I have learned to develop and depend on my own sense of order—in the face of unfamiliar chaos, perhaps you can try to achieve so too.
Rhododendron trees on hiking trial to Pun Hill in the Anna Purna Circuit.
2. Remember Your Role As A Student
It is difficult for anyone to smoothly adapt to a foreign culture without making mistakes. This is especially pertinent when encountering issues as simple as accidentally stepping on a book when making my way across the classroom, casting immediate chaos upon the faces of our horrified Nepali friends and teachers. Or if my broken Nepali isn’t getting us through a conversation and all I can do is laugh at my own stupidity, head-scratching and awkwardly smiling. And then I remember—we are just students, we don’t know everything, we are here to learn, and sometimes we will mess up but that’s okay.
Village kids riding a bike in Bharat Pokhari, Kaski District.
3. Vulnerability Encourages Empathy in Social Situations
Honestly I’m not sure why I have never noticed this before. During my many bargaining sessions with local storekeepers, I learned to make friends in hope for better discounts. This tactic doesn’t really work for me, since I immediately feel guilty for opposing prices proposed by my new acquaintance. What I did learn from my little experiments, is how to quickly establish a friendly relationship with strangers of a different background. In addition to reminding yourself of your role as a student, also remind the stranger that you are still learning—stay humble, and admit to your flaws and mistakes. Don’t be afraid to share your struggles that strangers may relate to (e.g. discrimination). Empathy transcends cultural and language barriers, if you can let the person see that you too are human, he/she will treat you more as a friend.
A 65-year-old Nepali caste villager we spoke to during our research interviews.
4. A Good Sense of Humor Will Carry You a Long Way
And of course, be ready to face the unexpected with a good-humored chuckle. Because unprecedented events will occur and plans will change. I learned to take a deep breath, sit back, and relax. Learned to laugh at myself, pretending it’s the future and I’m already sharing these memorable hilarities to my wide-eyed friends. Plans are constantly changing in field research, and I learned to be grateful that at least the pace of life is half a beat slower to accommodate these discourses. When the aftershocks came, my homestay family spent an (*cough* unnecessary) length of time laughing at my panicked dashes out the house, guaranteed to be running barefoot and slinging a safety backpack with a pair of sneakers dangling from the zippers. It’s this type of humor that kept us going and I have never had so much respect for comedy until that point.
Ajisa (I call her sano baagh, or “little tiger”), the homestay family grandaughter aka my personal nemesis.
Additionally, Nepali time* is not a myth, I don’t know why I ever secretly doubted this phenomenon. To survive as an outsider accustomed to the urban U.S. or Southeast Asian pace, I believe it is important to look for humor in Nepali time.
Taking a walk around Kirtipur beside the program house.
That’s all I have for everyone. Thanks for reading, I talked to a few of you after returning, and it warms my heart to hear that many of you seem to be taking something out of my stories. After all, that’s pretty much why I’ve been writing for the past few months.
*A common phrase used to describe the laid back, flexible concept of time among people in Nepal. It is expected that nothing occurs in time. Possibly related to unpredictable transportation, or simply that people just walk slower there. I don’t know. Be warned, exceptions apply under the roof of the CNSP program house.