June 24, 2000
Well, I had to start somewhere, and for me that place was Nepal. While I was a junior in college I decided to study abroad there. I knew it would be a challenging new experience for me, but I had no idea what a huge impact it would have on the person I am today. One semester I was living in a stylish apartment with five of my best friends, partying and going to classes on campus, and the next semester I was living in a home with no electricity or running water with a family who didn't speak any English! Talk about a change!
My most vivid memory, though, was my last day in Beni. The family's mom, whom I called Bhauju (sister-in-law) sat down on the bed next to me and started crying. To this day, nobody in my life has ever cried for me the way Bhauju did. Not my friends, not my parents, not my boyfriend. Nobody. All of a sudden it hit me - for us college students from America, it was no big deal to pick up and leave. We were so privileged that we were curious about another way of life and were able to drop in on it and experience it for awhile. After a few weeks, when it was time to move, we packed up and said goodbye. For the students from America, good-byes were no big deal. In America, we are constantly saying goodbye to friends and family, whether it's going away for the summer for camp, or moving out to college, or living on our own. For the people of Beni though, goodbyes are not a part of their normal lives. Most people in Beni live their entire lives within that small village. They grow up there, get married to someone within the village and continue to live close to their parents and grandparents forever. These families opened their hearts and homes to us so completely, and now we were leaving. All of a sudden I felt so guilty. It's so easy for us to move on to other new exciting adventures, but for them to return to their everyday lives is not so easy.
I loved spending the days with Bhauju. I found her life to be so interesting and beautiful. She was always telling me to go with her husband to work, that his job as a doctor was much more interesting than her menial work in the home, but I loved learning how to cook from her and playing with the babies with her. I was sad to leave her, but happy that she will always remember how students from America came all the way to her village, and actually found her life and her home beautiful and enriching.
When I finally did go back to Maryland, it was very hard for me. I didn't want the electricity or the running water or the air-conditioned cars. I'd trade all the comfort in the world for the mountains and the open people. I was experiencing what is commonly called "reverse-culture shock." As shocking as village life in Nepal was to me when I first arrived, returning to America was just as shocking. I had a different view of my own culture. I was able to see things from a new perspective. I realized things that I had always taken for granted, things I once thought were necessities, were actually privileges. But as critical as I was about the over-consumptive and wasteful aspects of American culture, I was also extremely thankful for the freedom and individuality the culture offered too.
I strongly urge all of you to study abroad or live abroad if you ever have the opportunity. Not only to see another part of the world and learn about a rich new culture, but perhaps more importantly, to learn more about yourself and your own culture too.
Now after five long years since my semester abroad, I have finally had the chance to come back to Nepal. I have missed Nepal and the close relations I made while I was there, and I've dreamed about coming back here for so long, and now after five long years I finally am doing so. It's good to be back but I must admit my return here has been bittersweet. Find out why in my next dispatch.
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
Abeja - The Road to Auroville - An Experiment in International Community Living
Abeja - What I learned from Gandhi
Andrew - Fistful of Bananas
Kavitha - Return to Nepal
Team - Making a Difference - Do As I Say, Not As I Do, And No, You Can't Have Any of My Weapons: Getting MAD About Nuclear Proliferation
Time Machine | Multimedia and Special Guests
Home | Search | Teacher Zone | Odyssey Info