Why I Joined USEF Nepal, 2017
Earlier this year I did the unthinkable for an academic: I walked away from my cozy position as a tenured professor of history at a well-regarded US college.
I said goodbye to this prestigious professorship for several reasons:
- to work alongside Fulbright researchers -- Nepali and American -- looking to discover the undiscovered and tread paths rarely walked before
- to share with our Fulbright English Teaching Assistants, many of whom are here today, some hard-earned teaching tips from my Peace Corps days (arko jamana ma)
- to help, through our Education Advising Center, talented, hardworking Nepalis find a US college that stresses not life-less memorization but vibrant, creative analysis
- Overall, to support (our main work at USEF) probing education; rigorous, relevant research; mutual understanding, and equal opportunity
There were a few personal reasons as well:
- to be closer to the eastern hill communities and schools that I have worked with on and off for over two decades
- to be closer to the people and landscapes of my research over the last decade on the social and environmental dimensions of development projects
- and finally, and perhaps most important, to be closer to one of my favorite Nepali foods: sukuti bhaeko golbera ko achar
This country stands at a pivotal moment. In 1988, when I first came, Nepalis lived under an autocracy. In 1992, back with Peace Corps, I witnessed the exciting but shaky first few steps of democracy. "Aba, Nepal jillimili huncha," a friend predicted.
Instead, we got bloody, heartbreaking fighting between brother and brother, sister and sister. On return visits, I walked the stone paths of my PC village, first under gov't control and government guns, and later, on another trip, under Maoist control and Maoist guns.
I have no doubt that Fulbright and its associated programs have an important role to play as Nepal pushes to solve its challenges.
Arriving in Nepal a few months back came as a bit of a shock. I was a hill-wala because of PC and a terai-wala because of my research, but not much of a Kathmandu-wala, much less a Dustmandu-wala. Would I regret leaving the job-for-life that I had in the US?
So far, the answer is no. Several things have affirmed my decision to join this ambitious, ever-needed joint project between the US and Nepal:
- seeing firsthand the hard work of our new Fulbright English teachers during their practice teaching and now in their rural schools
- reading through the inspiring applications for our master's fellowships, most of which were from amazing Nepali women doing amazing work
- speaking with an Opportunity Fund student a couple days ago who told me: "I will never forget the chance this program has given me." That statement I don’t think I will ever forget.
- And then there’s talking to my friend Dr Mukta Tamang, an anthropologist bringing new ideas to TU and running a multi year USAID study on social inclusion. I knew Mukta-sir had studied at Cornell, but I had no idea until a couple of days ago that he, too, was Fulbright. "If not for Fulbright," he told me, "none of the rest would have followed."
The USEF Fulbright program in Nepal, and its dedicated staff, Board, and alumni, have a lot to be proud of. And I'm proud to be joining the team.