Anu Aryal, 2015-2017, Nepal, showing some husky spirit during University of Washington Day in Seattle
“I will show my culture during cultural events in school, from our national heritage, to festivals and foods.” When I was answering questions during my Fulbright selection interview back in Nepal two years ago, I was aware that one of the expectations of participating in the Fulbright Foreign Student Program is to fulfill the role of cultural ambassador. But little did I know that the role is not limited to festivals and events, but includes my day-to-day interactions with people in the United States.
Whenever I speak with people within my host institution, the University of Washington, or outside, I realize that not only do I represent myself, but my country as well. During dinners I would say “Sorry, I don’t eat meat, I am a vegetarian”, and the next question would be “Are most people in Nepal vegetarian?” Sometimes, even with strangers, when I am not talking about myself, I would get questions such as “Do people in Nepal speak English well like you?” I appreciated these curiosities and clarified, in my response, that many people in Nepal do eat meat, and not all Nepali speak English. Initially, I didn’t notice this much, but the pattern continued. I would say something about myself and then get asked if I represented a “typical Nepali,” and in most cases my answer was no.
Michelle Grocke, 2014-2015, Nepal, harvesting bitter buckwheat crops between September and October. While at first she had to beg her host family to help, after a few days, every family in the village wanted her assistance as they quickly realized she was actually quite helpful!
For my Fulbright U.S. Student grant, I travelled to an area of Nepal that many locals and scholars alike call “the most remote district of Nepal.” Nestled high in the Himalaya, the villages in Humla District lie between 9,000 – 12,500 feet, and are not connected to the rest of the country by any roads. Humla is both ethnically and linguistically split as Nepali-speaking Hindus live in the south, while Tibetan-speaking Buddhists live in the north. The traditional diet of the ethnic Tibetans in Humla consists of local grains such as barley and buckwheat, a few roots and tubers such as the potato and daikon radish, and a high volume of yak butter tea. Given their nutrient-dense diet, Humlis have never suffered from diet-related disease such as diabetes and hypertension.
All of this is changing. The first “dirt” road in Humla is currently under construction, and is providing easy access to a market in China (formerly Tibet) where Humlis are now purchasing enriched, processed foods such as ramen noodles, white flour, and soda. The goal of my research was to assess how this new market access is impacting villagers’ health, specifically in terms of their food security, diet and nutrition, and subjective well-being.
Always accompanied by my local research assistant, who now has become like a younger brother to me, I walked five days from the District capital to reach my first field site village.
Richa Narula, 2015-2016, Nepal (center), with her fellow “Unity” Millennial Train Project Fulbright participants Christian Mpody, 2015-2017, Togo(left), and Laura Jimenez Morales, 2015-2017, Mexico (right)
Upon receiving an email about applying to this year’s Millennial Train Project (MTP), I knew that it could potentially be an opportunity of a lifetime. Exploring the United States with Americans while on a train seemed like an amazing idea, and I was so fascinated about the concept. But it took me quite a long time to finalize what project I actually wanted to do during the ten day journey. The idea for my current MTP project came from a recent conference (which I was able to attend, thanks to Fulbright ) I attended and presented on organizational preferences towards particular natural resources versus others. I had observed this kind of bias back in my home country, Nepal, but dismissed after coming to the United States. I thought that the biases would just be understood as another “developing country” issue. But that was not the case. I felt challenged after this conference to research the causes of such preferences and their effects on sustainability. I was looking for an appropriate opportunity for pursuing this research, but even when the application for the MTP was announced, the idea did not strike me immediately. I took some time to think and decided that this was the appropriate opportunity to pursue this research, and the project “Perception Differences and Effects in Sustainability” was thus initiated.
The MTP journey has been the perfect way to enhance my one year in the States. Because of MTP, I have explored many places that I never would have seen.
Throughout this year, I have generally been surrounded by other fellow Fulbright friends, and it was my keen desire to see how Americans perceive different national and international issues that we talk about amongst ourselves. During this trip, I am surrounded by amazing Americans from all walks of life with their own fascinating stories of hard work, success and failure. Listening to them passionately talk about the positive changes that they want to make in the world through their projects — words are not enough to explain that experience. It feels good to know that there are many Millennials who are trying to make the world a better place, in all the ways they can. I already know, within only five days of my trip, that I have made friends for life!
Joseph Todd La Torre, 2015-2016 Fulbright ETA to Nepal, teaching with his co-teacher, Ms. Maiya
My interest in culture and religious studies began during my early years of high school when I started exploring Eastern philosophies. Determined to find answers to my many questions, I went on to study psychology and religious studies in college. Once there, one of my favorite experiences took place in the spring of 2014, when I helped organize my campus’s first Holi celebration. Exposing students to traditional South Asian culture while having an overall great time, made it a huge success. Later that year, Professor Meetu Khosla from University of Delhi, a cultural psychologist on a Fulbright-Nehru grant in the United States, gave a lecture at my school. Fascinated by her research, it was at that moment that I decided to go to South Asia. Knowing Nepal as Siddhartha Gautama’s birthplace inspired me to begin here.
When I applied to be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Nepal, I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t entirely sure about what my assignments would entail, but I was eager to live in Nepal. The eagerness was twofold: I was ready to feel my way around a proper classroom and was also excited to immerse myself in the country’s religious communities.
By early March, I had arrived. In hindsight, the first month in Nepal was a particularly special time for me. During this time, I was adjusting to my routine, and everything felt new. It also coincided with some of the most important religious holidays of the year in the region: Shivaratri (the Day of Lord Shiva), Holi (The Spring Festival of Color), and Nepali New Year.
Danielle Preiss, 2008-2009, Nepal, manning a table at a rehab center flea market, during her Fulbright U.S. Student grant
The first thing I remember about preparing to travel to Nepal on a Fulbright U.S. Student grant to study Kathmandu’s drug rehabilitation system was the Nepal Fulbright Commission’s manual. The inch thick book devoted about half of its space to earthquake preparedness. This seemed excessive. I know now of course that it wasn’t.
I began my Fulbright grant in the fall of 2008. According to the manual, Nepal’s earthquake cycle lasts about 75 years, with the last massive quake in 1934. That put my year smack in the middle of when the big one should come. I also now know how agonizingly imprecise earthquake science can be.
Since 2009, I’ve returned to Nepal often. Once you’ve lived in and loved Nepal, the habit is hard to quit. The threat of a massive earthquake hitting was always in the back of my mind, like it undoubtedly was for most Nepalis. I’d walk through Kathmandu’s gorgeous brick alleys in the shadow of concrete high rises wondering which would hold up better (surprisingly it was the high rises), and peer out from viewpoints over the city already heartbroken for the day when buildings would crumble with lives inside.
Daniel Trusilo, 2013-2014, J. William Fulbright – Hillary Rodham Clinton Fellow to Nepal (and West Point alumnus), giving a talk on disaster preparedness at the Rotary Club of Kantipur
Kyanjin Gompa is a small, remote village North of Kathmandu at the far end of Langtang Valley. Only now, weeks after the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25th has the level of destruction in Langtang become known. I spent several weeks of October last year in Langtang, staying with a Nepali family of five. Every morning Gyalbu, the father, would put a chair in the sun for me to sit on while I scribbled notes in a journal. Gyalbu’s wife, who I called DiDi, meaning older sister, would make delicious yak cheese and vegetable omelets for breakfast while their two daughters would sit on a bench playing with their Barbie dolls and their son would help with chores. Gyalbu and his wife were always generous with their smiles as the sun melted away the mountain chill and their children played happily in puffy down jackets.
I was repeatedly moved by the kindness of Gyalbu’s family who faced adversity without complaint. The remarkable thing is that the generosity and sense of community that I felt with this family was not an isolated event. Having spent the last year in Nepal as a J. William Fulbright – Hillary Rodham Clinton Public Policy Fellow, I witnessed the strong sense of community and boundless generosity of the Nepali people over and over again. When I was not working in an official capacity, I used the time to meet with community leaders via the extensive Rotary Club network across Kathmandu Valley. Discussions on disaster preparedness were an opportunity to meet leaders outside of work and advance disaster mitigation efforts. Community members from the Rotary network were always enthusiastic about improving Nepal in any small way that they could.