Reflections

Working at OLE and living in Nepal was one of my all-time favorite experiences. I went bungee jumping, biked a 50K with my coworkers, went ziplining, and ate the lung of a buffalo. I never thought I would do any of those things and I did all of them in just one summer. I was out of my comfort zone upon arrival in Kathmandu and I stayed in that area of discomfort the entire summer. Not only did I learn to have a sense of adventure, I also learned how to take better care of myself and to not plan every minute detail of my life. I learned how to listen to my body and give it time to relax and heal, which is something I had been severely neglecting at Davidson and during my time abroad. My time at Davidson was spent eating too much junk food, not sleeping enough, and crying (a lot). I put my work and extracurricular activities above my mental and physical well-being and I learned in Nepal that taking care of yourself makes life so much better. Not only was I able to be more productive, but I began enjoying myself doing the simplest things. I was much happier and I’m already applying what I learned about myself in Nepal to this semester in Beirut. I take time out of my day to be myself (I even started training for a half marathon) and make sure I get enough sleep every night–even if I don’t finish all of my work. Doing this has already made me a better student, friend, and person and I really hope I continue this back at Davidson. I also hope that I don’t lose my renewed sense of adventure when I return to Davidson. Keeping it up in Beirut has been easy because there are so many places I have yet to visit in Lebanon and so many dishes I haven’t tried yet, but it will definitely be more difficult to do at Davidson. I fear I’ll get back into a monotonous, stressed out routine, but I’m using what I’ve learned from my time in Nepal and Lebanon to make sure this doesn’t happen.

 

OLE Nepal gave me an opportunity to work in a field of education that I hadn’t had before. I’ve worked (and am currently working) for education-based NGOs and have been teaching small classes for the last four years, but OLE was completely different. Working there reaffirmed my dedication to education access and showed me that I could enjoy education-based work that wasn’t teaching. I originally feared that working in an office setting would bore me, but it made me appreciate teaching in a classroom even more. I am very grateful for the lessons I learned in online education, lesson planning, and curriculum work but I don’t think I will stop teaching in the traditional sense anytime soon. I was also able to make time to teach a weekly English class and run a self-defense workshop while I was in Kathmandu. This is especially reassuring as I start looking for non-teaching jobs. No matter what type of job I have in the future, I know that I will make time to teach and spend time with students. After almost a year of living abroad, I’m ready to go home. I’m nervous to return to Davidson, but I know having these lessons under my belt will definitely make it a more enjoyable and rewarding experience the second time around.

 

These are pictures of the students in my English class. These girls are part of a program, Sikaai, run by the organization I volunteered with called Powerful Hands. Sikaai provides these students with housing, free classes, and meals.

This was taken after we finished learning some of the lyrics to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”.

Virtual Teaching

This summer, I worked at Open Learning Exchange (OLE) Nepal. I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d be doing at OLE before arriving in Kathmandu. I knew it had something to do with education and possibly involved lesson planning. At my first meeting with my boss for the summer, I found out this wasn’t completely incorrect. Their mission, as a social benefit organization, is to enhance education quality and access for underserved children through the integration of technology in classrooms. When my boss showed me their software and online lessons, I was intimidated. It would be an understatement to say I was horrible at technology–it took me over a year to figure out how to change my icon photo on my Macbook. Not only were my technological skills limited to Microsoft programs, but I had never used more than a powerpoint while teaching. All of the lesson planning I had done in the past was for classes I’d be meeting with face-to-face and in areas where I could not use a projector or laptop. This job was different than any I’d had in the past. I’d be creating English and math lessons which would be used by thousands of students in and outside of Nepal. I’d have to consult Nepali curriculum guides and textbooks to create the material and make sure it was understandable for all the students who would be using it. Usually, I can see how the students learn and determine my lesson plan from there, but I couldn’t be there in person to see what was working and what wasn’t. This was one of the biggest challenges of the summer–not having students to actually talk to about what helped them learn or what they wanted to do. I could only communicate through the computer and I couldn’t explain what my ideas were to the teachers who would be using my lessons. Everything needed to be explicitly clear and understandable. Although this was really challenging, it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had and I learned a lot about how to be clearer when teaching–whether it be online or in person. My ability to communicate complex ideas improved and I also learned a few cool new tricks on Google slides! Working for OLE was a really incredible experience and I hope to return there soon. 

Below is an excerpt from a blurb I wrote about OLE to recruit new video game developers from universities. I think it aptly describes their work for those who are reading this and are interested in donating or working with them:

We create and design educational software and distribute them for free to schools in Nepal. All of our software is culturally specific and meets the national curriculum requirements. E-Paath, our interactive digital software, covers grades 2-8 and the subjects of math, Nepali, English, and science. Our software is translated into English, Nepali, and Chepang. We are currently operating in 230 schools across 34 districts in Nepal. In addition to providing free educational software for these schools, we provide teacher training so that educators can incorporate our materials into their lesson plans. Our in-staff teachers go to schools in Nepal and facilitate trainings for the schools’ staff. Our teaching team periodically checks in with the trained educators to receive feedback on the materials and fix any technical/logistical problems they may have. We also collaborate with other organizations to rebuild schools affected by the 2015 earthquake and to also provide laptops to schools in remote areas. All of the laptops are equipped with our educational software and e-library. Our extensive online library, E-Pustakalaya, holds PDFs, short stories, audio clips, videos, and other educational resources in both Nepali and English. These materials can be viewed for free directly from a web browser or downloaded to use later.

 

My coworkers showing Melech and me around Kathmandu! All of our coworkers were really kind and basically took us under their wings during our time in Kathmandu. They took us out to their favorite restaurants, cafes, and places to hang out. It was so nice having them show us more than the tourist-y parts of Nepal.

Crushed Goldfish and A Semi-Crushed Ego

On my flight from London to Doha, I sat behind a very active (read: rambunctious) five-year-old Qatari boy. His mother and I chatted in broken Arabic as he loudly chomped on Goldfish crackers. During our conversation, I realized that Kathmandu was going to be way out of my comfort zone. This would be the first time since starting school at Davidson that I would not actively be studying Arabic and the first time I would live in a country outside of the U.S. that wasn’t in the Middle East. I had spent the previous summer learning Arabic in Amman, Jordan and the spring semester of my sophomore year in Beirut, Lebanon, where I would return after my time in Nepal. It feels strange to write that my comfort zone is the Middle East, but it’s true. Living in Nepal was going to be hard. I didn’t know Nepali and barely knew anything about Nepal’s history–I was going in as ignorant as the foreigners I had made fun of in Lebanon a few weeks earlier. “Why would you bother coming to a country without learning the native language first?” I had learned my first lesson of the summer without even stepping foot in Nepal: I was a huge hypocrite. Despite my mediocre efforts, I could not memorize all of the basic Nepali sayings provided by a quick Google search during my flight to Kathmandu (I did, however, learn how to say “Hello, my name is…” and “thank you” which did earn me some ~cool girl~ points in the office). With crushed goldfish in my shoes, I made my way through the Tribhuvan International Airport. I was greeted by a familiar face, Melech, and a girl in a red shirt. Melech, a Davidson student on the same program, had arrived a few days prior and came with Eve, our program director, to pick me up. We put my bags in the back of the taxi and headed towards my home for the next two months. On the way back from the airport, Eve explained the layout of Kathmandu and gave a brief overview of what the next two months would look like. We’d have a seminar every week to talk about Nepali history, the current political climate, voluntourism, and our roles as foreign interns in Nepal. In addition to our seminars, we’d be working a full-time internship at Open Learning Exchange (OLE) Nepal. Upon arrival at the apartment, Eve let Melech and I know that we’d have our first seminar over dinner in a few hours. I walked into the apartment feeling a little bit overwhelmed, I put my bags down, emptied the goldfish out of my shoes, and took a deep breath–this was home now.

Fueled by an incurable jetlag and a recent obsession with fitness Instagrams, I decided I was going to run my way around Sanepa, the area in Kathmandu where I was living. I noticed a few things on my morning runs:

1) everyone in Sanepa seemed to be awake and fully functioning by 4:30 am

2) there were dogs everywhere

3) a thick layer of dust and car exhaust covers the city around 7:30 am

4) I was very out of shape

Running gave me the ability to explore Kathmandu in ways I wouldn’t be able to since I was working full-time. The weekends were reserved for tourist-y activities and outings with friends at their favorite restaurants, bars, and cafes. On my morning runs, I could zigzag in and out of the back roads–seeing hidden street art, passing by people walking to the temple, and saying hello to the kids outside of their parents’ corner stores. I became a familiar face to my new neighbors and learned how kind-hearted they were—shooing away dogs who had started chasing after me and offering me water and food when I was red, tired, and sweaty. I would soon come to learn that openness and generosity were not characteristics exclusive to my neighbors, but rather that this was the Nepali way. Within my first few weeks here, I already feel loved, welcomed, and at home. I can’t wait for the rest of the summer and I’m so incredibly lucky to be living here.

 

Street art (1/3)

 

Street art (2/3)

 

Street art (3/3)

In an attempt to practice my Arabic over the summer, I frequented the only Syrian-owned restaurant in Kathmandu (and I believe Nepal). My coworkers came with me to try Middle Eastern food for the first time. Here they are enjoying zaatar w jebneh and chicken shawarma!

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