Vacation Part 2: Nepal!
One of the perks of having such a long semester break from March-May was having the time to thoroughly travel to other countries as well. I decided to go to Nepal since it was a country that I had really wanted to visit for some time, and I decided now was the time since I was (relatively) so close and because I had enough time off to make the most of my trip.
The ride from the airport to my hotel was a true taste of Nepal – bustling traffic, constant honking (that’s just how people drive there), colorful and busy sidewalks, dust spinning up from the roads, and the occasional cow wandering not far from the main road. I spent the first week in Nepal exploring the capital, Kathmandu, and doing a short 3-day trek through Nagarkot and Chisapani. Kathmandu is the hub for a lot of travelers – many people come to Nepal for trekking through the spectacular mountains, so the streets were filled with shops selling trekking gear, as well as many handmade artisan goods, fresh fruit stands and an array of restaurants. Trekking was a really nice experience. The first day was certainly a challenge, however! I trekked for about 6 hours uphill, and initially I thought, “Oh my, what have I gotten myself into!” Despite the physical challenge, and the slightly cloudy skies, I was able to enjoy the view of the mountains, terraced agricultural hills, and the many goats and villagers with curious smiles along the way. The second and third days of trekking were much easier than the first. With no extreme inclines for long periods, I was able to take in more of the beautiful scenery and feel very peaceful as I hiked. Trekking was a really nice experience that I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in visiting Nepal!
After trekking I made my way to Chitwan. The main reason I came to Nepal was to do volunteer work. I volunteered for two weeks with the Nepal Friendship Society, which was an exciting and fulfilling experience. The Nepal Friendship Society has a purpose of improving the quality of life of people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds through eliminating the disparities of educational outcomes between public and private schools, and it also has a mission to introduce environmental initiatives to improve the environment, and to develop in a sustainable manner. During my stay I worked on an education project, teaching students English both in the Nepal Friendship Society Learning Center and in a local government school.
At the Learning Center I worked with six students aged 13-15 before school each day, to help improve their conversational English skills. These students had already been in the Learning Center program for 2.5 years, so they had a decent command on the English language. Many of our lessons were focused on environmental awareness and conservation. We discussed the importance of the environment, of water, the environmental problems that are faced today on a local and global spectrum, and ways to improve and alleviate these problems. These students were all very bright, fun, and a pleasure to work with.
The government school I worked at is called the Ghanistan School – a small primary school consisting of just 160 students. All of the students that attend this school live humble lives, coming from families with little economic income. The school is run by 6 female teachers and one headmistress, and despite our language barriers, we were able to share some of our cultural, educational and teaching backgrounds with each other. Working at this school was quite an experience. Each day I was greeted by eager smiles and ‘hellos’ from the children. Being the beginning of school, and also the first foreign volunteer at this school, things were somewhat disorganized and still falling into place, which kept me on my toes! Being an ESL teacher in a foreign country, flexibility is always key. I was usually told at the last minute what grade I should teach, or if there was a specific subject they wanted me to teach for that period. Sometimes I had to come up with lessons on the spot, adapt lessons for different age groups and abilities, or manage a young group of students with boundless energy, barely any English skills, and who never ceased to believe that I could actually understand them when they rambled at me in Nepali!
I have a great anecdote from working with the 1st grade class. One day, when introducing some vocabulary, I was honestly just shocked and also amused
by the myriad of activities going on in the classroom. Some of the students were looking at the words and pictures I had drawn on the board, and copying into their notebooks; some decided that they were hungry and pulled out snacks and giggled amongst each other; one little girl finished copying from the board quickly and ran up and hugged my legs so that it was difficult for me to move; and one crazy boy decided that he wanted to run around me in circles and throw paper airplanes. Thankfully, I got them to all settle down in a timely manner, and then proceeded to do some active activities and singing with them to keep everyone engaged!
Overall, I really enjoyed volunteering with the NFS. I stayed with Birendra Poudel, the founder of the NFS, and his kind family. I enjoyed not only teaching, but also spending time with my host-family and meeting so many friendly strangers on my daily walks through the neighborhood. I cannot say that I had a huge impact on the students and their English, since I volunteered for such a short period of time. However, I know that with the continuance of dedicated English-speaking volunteers, the English of the students and teachers will continue to improve, and through this the volunteers and local teachers will be better able to share their ideas, and continue providing quality education to students.
The end of my stay in Nepal was spent in Pokhara, which was so pleasant! Pokhara is a beautiful place, and there I did many activities like hiking, visiting temples and caves, canoeing, and paragliding! Overall, my trip to Nepal was really just lovely!