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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine July/August 2004
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Explore Now: the Beach Will Wait

Trekker in Nepal
Photo by Larry Morgan.

Nepal for a Cultural Immersion Experience

I was 16, an age that most people see as too young for overseas travel, but I had an immense desire to explore and learn about other cultures and ways of life. When I learned about an organization called International Cultural Adventures, I called and talked with the program director about my interest in Nepal and their 6-week Nepal Cultural Immersion Experience program. I told him that I would talk to my parents and see if I could go on this program and do some volunteer work in Nepal over the summer.

Convincing my parents that I was capable of going so far away from my home in North Carolina, alone for so long, was very difficult. Making it even harder, Nepal was in the news, because of problems with Maoist rebels. I did all sorts of things to try to show I would be capable of going to Nepal. I raised my SAT scores, got good grades in school, and did research on the country to show that it really wasn't that dangerous.

Springtime rolled around and it was definite. "What are you doing this summer?" people would ask. "I'm going to Nepal," I would reply. "Where's that?" they would ask. "Near India," I would reply. "That's interesting. I'm going to the beach," they would say.

Travel in Nepal

Once in Nepal I had no regrets at all about going. It was fascinating. My willingness to leave my expectations behind certainly had a positive effect on my ability to get involved and gain a deep appreciation and some understanding of this mighty kingdom. I found the Nepalese people to be incredibly friendly and open to sharing their culture with visitors. There was hardly a day when someone didn't invite me into their house or shop to drink "chiyaa,” the milky tea which is so common in Nepal.

For part of the program I stayed in the home of Ghana Shyam Paudel, the head of one of Nepal's oldest trekking companies and spent many hours listening to stories about the different expeditions he had organized. He had arranged countless Everest ascents, some for very well known climbers like Edmund Hillary's son.

Volunteering in Nepal

Another interesting part of the program was teaching during the volunteer service phase. I taught English to elementary school kids in Kathmandu. I had no idea how I was going to teach English to kids who spoke a language I only knew the rudiments of. Despite this it turned out to be a success, partly because the kids already knew some English. I told them things about my home country and in turn they told me things about their homeland Nepal. It was good for all of us. If I could do it again, I would learn more about teaching methods and bring some resources for teaching with me.

Another volunteer teacher and I experienced part of the Annapurna Trek, which is northwest of Kathmandu. In Nepal during the summer the mountains are sometimes covered by clouds because of the monsoons; nonetheless, the views were amazing. The villages we walked through were some of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

The Return Home

Upon returning to the U.S. my outlook on things had changed somewhat. I had learned what it was like in country totally different from my own, and I was more confident about doing things independently. I knew that I wanted to visit more countries, learn other languages, and lead an adventurous life.

That's exactly what I'm doing. Now I'm living in Spain and learning Spanish and later plan to travel to Morocco, then around parts of Europe. I’ll be starting college next fall, but first I'm taking some time off to learn about the world in the best way possible—through direct experience. My ICA experience in Nepal was one of the first steps along my path, and I recommend it to someone who wants to really get involved and pursue his or her own individual interests. There's a whole world out there, and you'll never really know what it's like unless you get out there and see it for yourself. The beach will still be there when you come home.

GRANT FLORIAN finished high school in Lumberton, NC a year early in order to travel and learn Spanish in Spain. In the fall he will attend college at the Univ. of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He plans to major in anthropology and Spanish.

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