February 20, 2017

Through the Participant's Eyes: Americans in Nepal

From November 18 to December 8, 2016, Monica from Arizona and Marianne from Ohio participated in a professional exchange program hosted by CIF Nepal!  Read on to find out what their experience was like on the other side of the world…



Monica's Experience

Hometown:  Phoenix, Arizona USA
Occupation:  Social Worker
Why did you decide to participate in an international professional exchange program and why Nepal in particular?
I believe in the values and mission of the CIF exchange program. I had hosted a CIPUSA delegate in February of 2016 and had enjoyed that experience. As a next step in fostering greater multicultural understanding, appreciation and building friendships through the international exchange program, I wanted to be a participant in traveling to an international location, address challenges, and grow from the experience. My first choice was Nepal as I have an interest in their history, culture and had always heard what friendly people the Nepalese are. I also have a high interest and appreciation for the natural aspects of the country and high interest in outdoor activity.
What were your thoughts leading up to your trip?
I purposefully avoided expectations, realizing that I would be entirely outside of anything familiar to my daily life experience. I chose Nepal because it was so unfamiliar and looked forward to observing how I responded to the challenges and what strengths I had and how I could grow throughout the experience. A couple of concerns beforehand were, what do I most need to bring and I hope to have alone time each day to journal and process the experience. I was so excited and so happy that I took this opportunity!!!

What organizations/agencies did you visit/observe during your stay?
We visited: Nepal Disabled Association Khagendra New Life Center, Nepal Orthopedic Hospital,  A Mental Health Ward in a General Hospital, The Nepal Cancer Hospital,  Home for Children Whose Parents are in Prison- A CNN Hero award Recipient, and a  Rehabilitation Center for Children with Disabilities. We presented to the BSW students at the K & K International college and enjoyed a wonderful presentation by the Director of the Social Work program.
What was your biggest “takeaway” from the sharing of knowledge and your discussions on social work systems in Nepal v. the United States?
Social work systems are designed in each country reflecting respective cultural norms, attitudes, values and priorities.

What was your experience like living with a Host Family? 
It was mind and heart expanding!  There were distinct differences from what was familiar to me and what I was used to. I enjoyed getting to know the entire family and seeing how they went about their daily lives. I enjoyed going shopping for food and household goods, learning to cook some delicious dishes and even had had the opportunity to select fabric, and have a Nepalese outfit sewn for me at the host mother's tailor. My host family was very accommodating and were excellent hosts!
What cultural activities did you participate in? 
CIF Nepal Board members were wonderful in taking us to the main historic and cultural sites of the three main cities within the Kathmandu area. They also took us out of the city to see the sunrise on Mt. Everest and to a small rural village, Baddekhel, where we were able to stay in the guest house of the local community organizer.  While there we took part in a Hindu blessing ceremony and also celebrated the two year wedding anniversary of the host couple. We were also guests at the engagement party of a CIF board member's son and future daughter-in-law.

Any favorite memories from your trip?
The World Heritage sites, sunrise on Mt. Everest, eating Momo's, egg curry, homemade yoghurt and rice pudding, a stray dog that came up to me and sat down next to me like he was saying,"I belong to you!" The terrible air pollution in Kathmandu and getting out of the city into the most beautiful countryside, seeing rhino, crocodiles, 75 different species of birds, fresh tiger tracks, getting a ½ day ride on an elephant!  Seeing that they have at least 1 good cancer hospital with up to date equipment!  Fun times with Marianne and Tor! The three of us getting lost at night and kind strangers giving us rides home on their motorcycles!  Enjoying a delicious Newary Nepalese dinner at the college Social Work Director's home.  So many more!!!

Impact of your trip – How do you plan on using your experience in Nepal in your profession / life back in the U.S.?
I made a number of new friends in Nepal and have been in communication quite often since returning. I hope some will accept my invitation to come stay in my home. I carry the generous fun loving Nepalese spirit with me now and extend that to people I interact with here at home! I will be hosting a Nepalese party for 40 in my home on March 4th. We will be serving Nepalese food, looking at our photos of Nepal, enjoying Nepalese music and dance!  

I followed my CIF exchange with a 3 week trek of the Annapurna Circuit. My friend and personal trainer, flew over to do this together and Lifetime Fitness (my gym) made a video of this. It is being shown in ALL of the Lifetime Fitness Gyms in the USA and Canada. In the video, I speak of possibilities and how I have been amazed in my life of dreaming big and taking steps everyday to accomplish those dreams. I challenged/invited all those watching/hearing to "take that first step... to extend that hand...and be amazed in the possibilities!!!  I am seriously considering attending the International Conference in Greece in Sept. and I intend to apply to future CIF/PEP exchange opportunities!

Below is the video about Monica's journey via Lifetime Fitness:

Any other comments / advice etc.?
It was a transformative life experience and I am so grateful to have participated!!! 
I liked the emphasis on the cultural exchange and the flexibility in the participant designing it to their particular interests. I appreciated observation with opportunity for discussion of multiple agencies and an overview of social work in Nepal along with getting out and experiencing how people in Nepal live and interacting with the natural wonders of the great country! 



Marianne's Experience

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Occupation: Nonprofit Administrator

Why did you decide to participate in an international professional exchange program and why Nepal in particular?
I have wanted to participate in a professional exchange program for quite some time and had not found a program that fit my needs. This opportunity surfaced, it fit my criteria for the amount of time, and I have wanted to go to this part of the world. 

What were your thoughts leading up to your trip?
I have traveled extensively so my expectations were wide open and I had no real concerns. In addition, the time between confirmation of the trip and date to leave were close so my time was spent getting documents, and clothing ready for the actual trip.
What organizations/agencies did you visit/observe during your stay? 
We visited government organizations, hospitals and NGOs. A mental health hospital, cancer hospital, orthopedic children’s hospital, the Butterfly House.

What was your biggest “takeaway” from the sharing of knowledge and your discussions on social work systems in Nepal v. the United States?
The issues are similar, the lack of resources and political climate are an issue in both countries. The social work profession is in its infancy in Nepal and is looked at more of a volunteer opportunity. Sometimes it was difficult to differentiate the two in terms of professionals and volunteers in the minds of the organizations. 

What was your experience like living with a Host Family?
I enjoyed the experience very much. I enjoyed being immersed in everyday life, which is the same of mothers with 8 year old boys juggling a profession and motherhood, after-school activities etc.  I was made to feel very much part of the family and believe that we will maintain our relationship.

What cultural activities did you participate in?
We were invited to an engagement party for the son of one of the board members. That was fun to experience, everywhere we went people were very anxious to make us feel at home -- the hospitality was everywhere and overwhelming.  We were exposed to cremations- death rituals, various religious sites, historical sites, re-building from the recent earthquake.  

Any favorite memories from your trip?
The food was delicious, the people were extraordinary, the weather was glorious 70 and sunny.

Impact of your trip – How do you plan on using your experience in Nepal in your profession / life back in the U.S.?
Interesting -- since returning I have met several people either planning or contemplating a trip to Nepal,  I have provided information and frame of reference. In addition, I have met several refugees from this part of the world as well. I hope to encourage others to travel especially in the current political climate. I am also a resource for refugees here in my own community, someone who has some knowledge of the country they left behind as we have a community of Nepalese refugees. 

Any other comments / advice etc.?
I am always happy to answer questions in the future for anyone interested in this trip.


Posted by Lindsey Walsh on February 20, 2017 at 1:00 PM in Participant Permalink
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