Before I arrived in Nepal I expected that there would be a big culture shock. Maybe it was the jet lag making me too dazed to fully process the situation I found myself in when I stepped off the plane, but there wasn’t as much of a shock as I had anticipated. Sure, when I talk about Nepal it couldn’t be more different from any other place I have traveled. People use their horns non-stop while driving, seat belts and road safety measures don’t seem to exist, you see cows in the street and goats on top of buses. Looking back, it is totally different and it all sounds crazy, but there, it made total sense. The thing about traveling, in Nepal especially, is that some things that might be strange back home are just a normal part of life. I quickly grew to love Nepal in my short time there. Part of what made the experience so incredible for me was being able to remove myself from my comfort zone and “just go with it”. Adaptability was essential in being a successful teacher, it also helped me make the most of my time experiencing Nepal’s culture.
Prior to my departure I was a nervous wreck. The anxiety really only went away when I was on the airplane. Once on the airplane there really wasn’t anywhere to go but to my destination, so I sort of had to accept that I was actually doing this crazy adventure of visiting another country and teaching English to kids who may or may not understand me. My first night in Nepal was a jet-lagged blur of honking cars and being baffled by how big portions of dhal bhat were. Also, Kathmandu is dusty, asthmatics beware! Between the dust of Kathmandu and the trek, my inhaler got more action than it’s had in years. After a few days of orientation, we went on a seven hour bus ride to Pokhara, which was an adventure in itself. Pokhara is Nepal’s second largest city, it is still chaotic but seems like a tranquil paradise compared to Kathmandu. As tranquil as Pokhara seemed it was nothing compared to the villages in the Himalayas. When you have a stunning panorama of the mountains every day, you can’t be entirely stressed out.
That’s not to say that everything was entirely stress free in my time teaching in the village. Aside from my initial anxiety at the start of my trip, I only had a real sense of “what the hell am I doing?” when I finished my first day teaching. You go from having a fun carefree time trekking with your new friends to being bombarded by a bunch of small children shouting “Miss! Miss! Miss!” at you constantly. Once in the classroom you have to adapt quickly. Most of the lessons I thought I was going to do fell apart in my vain attempts to control the kids. When all else failed I had them draw pictures. It is hard at first, but that is where adaptability comes in. When you have to control a room full of small children, there will be some times where your patience is tested. As much as I loved them, there were days where I left school feeling pretty fed up. For every bad day, however, there were two good days.
While it wasn’t a breeze every single day, teaching did gradually became easier. The more time I spent with the kids, the more I figured out what worked for them and what didn’t. An activity that required more individualized attention from me might have worked for my group of eleven Class 5 students, but was not going to work for my group of sixteen Class 4 students. The time I spent talking with kids outside of class while walking to school or having them try to teach me the games they played was just as valuable for their English language skills as the activities I would try in the classroom. One thing I know for sure they improved on while I was there was when to use “morning” and “afternoon”. At first, they would greet me in the morning by saying, “Good morning Miss”. They then would say that same greeting every time they saw me, even if it was 2:00 PM. I would just reply with “Good afternoon”. By the end of my time teaching they would say, “Good morning Miss” only in the mornings and “Good afternoon Miss” in the afternoon. Even though I felt at times like I wasn’t making an impact, I was, even if it was something small. Kids are perceptive, they learn by watching and imitating. Now, there may be a generation of Nepali children who say, “Thank you” in a weird sing-song voice because for some reason that’s how I said it whenever they would hand their papers to me.
Flexibility was essential to not going insane in the classroom, and it made for great memories outside of it. Some of the best experiences I had in Nepal came from when I decided to go with the flow. I ended up doing things that I never would have done back home. Dancing in public where there most certainly is a cell phone recording your every uncoordinated move? Yeah! Tip: If you dance once in public, word will get around and your students will bring it up often and frequently ask you to dance in class. Walking through the jungle for three hours to visit my friend, Nicole in her village? Sure. Eating a bowl of soup with an obvious goat jaw bone in it? Why not? It was delicious. Ride on the back of a scooter? Cool. Ride a horse? Even cooler! Have to kill a huge spider in the squat toilet? No, someone else can deal with that one. The most memorable experiences I had in Nepal came from leaving my comfort zone a little bit.
My amazing family I stayed with was kind enough to among other things invite me to their family gatherings, take me to Pokhara with them, and go on walks with me around the village that usually ended up in visiting someone’s house for tea. Every person who was gracious enough to let me into their home and catch a glimpse of their life helped me gain a better understanding of Nepal beyond the parts that tourists see. One highlight involved me getting dressed up in a sari and attending a celebration of International Women’s Day hosted by the women’s organization in Dhampus. When there are games, a dance party, food, and laughter, things like language barrier are overlooked. Every day I am grateful to my family and the people of Dhampus who treated me like one of their own, who let me see Nepal and its people. Through these activities I was able to have a better understanding of Nepali culture, or at least a small segment of Nepali culture. In a country with over 100 ethnic groups, there isn’t really a definitive “Nepali” culture.
As I am writing this, I have been away from Nepal for a couple weeks. I think I had more of a culture shock coming home than I did when I while in Nepal. People eat curry with forks here and driving is so quiet (and somehow more nerve-wracking?) It was a great experience that was unlike anything I have ever done and probably ever will do. I met so many great people out there and saw a unique part of the world. Nepal now has a special place in my heart and I hope to return there as soon as I possibly can. If plane tickets weren’t so expensive, I probably would go back right now.