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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

Defining Development

What defines you as a person? Is one’s hair, eye, nose, face, voice, style, mannerisms, networking, habits, words, consistency and countless things that define us.   We are continuously developing ourselves.  Time changes us, whether we embrace it or not. We won’t be the same people we are today in a week, a year, or ten years. We are constantly growing as people through our experiences of the world.  I’ve already changed through the course of only four weeks in Nepal with Where There be Dragons.  That puts personal development on a fast-pace scale.

This past week we’ve been discussing development within ourselves and in Nepal.  I never studied development in school nor gave it a lot of deep thought.  The discussions this week, however, have really opened my eyes about just how complicated development is.  For example, many people in the United States would not even question the label of the US as a developed country and Nepal as a developing country.  These terms might at first glance be understood as neutral and simply descriptive.  But, of course, they are anything but neutral.  They carry with them all sorts of baggage and value judgments, with developing always suggesting something less advanced, less stable, less technological, less economically powerful.

The speakers this week has addressed their particular circumstances—for example as Nepali women–and how they define development within that context.  Perhaps it is no surprise that there is no consensus on what development means, not simply with respect to Nepal but on a global scale.

So maybe the take away here is that development plays out on many levels: personal, local, national, and global.  Each of these impact the other but the most important factor is the last one: global.  There is good reason that the United Nations and other global entities, such as the World Bank, are dropping the word “developing” from their labeling as it implies a hierarchical scale of development with some countries—US, much of western Europe, Canada, and others—being understood as “developed” and the others less so.  But how can that really be measured?  How could anyone say that Nepal and another so-called developing country were the same when the variations between them is enormous?  The world is much more complicated than just being divided into two groups: developed and developing.

I have come to understand that development is a global problem and needs are shared on a universal scale.  How could someone say that the US is a developed country when there is no gender equality, where there is extreme poverty and violence, where there is not a sustained policy for environmental protection and the development of clean energy?  Development is a problem we all share.

So that gets us back to Nepal and what we, as twelve young people spending three months in a very different culture, can do to make a difference?  Our personal growth and development will happen no matter what given the challenges we all will face during this time here together.  And that is important as it will help us formulate our paths forward.  However, maybe more meaningful is our seeing that our personal development extends on a far broader scale and that we need to be a part of the conversation that is not interested in establishing hierarchies or biases but rather in seeing our world in a truly global way and recognizing that we all have work to do. As much as the snow that falls on the Himalayas may have started as water molecules from across the world, we all touch each other’s lives, in some ways.  We need to start to figure out how we can do that in a way that is sustainable, equitable, and just.