After a flight that felt like a lifetime, we arrived in Kathmandu very early on September 17th. Drenched in sweat and exhausted, we got off the plane and stood in a long line to fill out our 90 day tourist Visas; then, stood in a customs line. At the front, I handed over my passport and Visa to a darker complected middle aged woman, who had a bindi on the center of her forehead. She looked over my paperwork and handed it back with a smile saying, “Welcome to Nepal.”
It was 3am and the airport was empty. The security guards paid more attention to their phones than us as we proceeded through the last barrier to our new outside world. Our three instructors greeted us with open arms and mala necklaces made of bright orange marigold flowers, which in the Nepalese culture signifies a celebration. We loaded the bus with our big bags and headed toward the Bhaktapur Guest House, where we would finally get to rest our eyes. Our surroundings were hidden by the darkness of the night which left me with a sense of even more curiosity. After finally getting into bed, my nerves kept me up and I couldn’t fall asleep. Luckily, my roommate also couldn’t fall asleep so we decided to explore and walk up to the roof. At this time, a bright, giant, orange orb crawled over the mountains and lit up a pink sky. The Kathmandu Valley and all it’s bright colored houses began to appear through the fog, and the whole city began to wake up. People began hopping on their motorcycles to start their Monday. Stray dogs appeared and began playing. The exotic birds woke up and started singing their songs. It was a magical moment which left us in silence as we observed as far as our eyes could see.
Our first day was spent familiarizing ourselves with cultural norms and doing uncomfortable team bonding exercises. We learned ways the Nepalese culture differed from ours. Differences as simple as going to the bathroom and eating with our hands. We began the routine of sanitizing our water, otherwise, we would have gotten very sick. By the end of the first day, I knew it was going to be hard saying goodbye to those 14 strangers, we named ourselves the Dream Team.
On day 76 of my 81 day trip in Nepal I could already feel the intense emotions of what would be on December 7th in the JFK airport. Many of my new trip friends were ready to return home after missing their own lives. I too, missed home and all my friends and family. I couldn’t help but have a hole in my heart as I looked around and realized, the faces who had been in front of me for the past two and a half months might never be seen again. Besides feeling sorrow toward not being able to consistently see these familiar faces, but also the unfamiliar ones. Ones who at first glance appeared to be different and talked different, but people who let me comfortably make their home, my own. I would be stripped away from the people and country I grew to love. On the bright side, I would be able to go home to family and friends with an endless amount of unforgettable stories. However, this dark cloud began to form over my head, making it hard to truly enjoy my last days.
On day 81, we loaded the bus and prepared for our final excursion together, to the airport, where months earlier we met for the first time. Saying goodbye to our three noble instructors, brought me to tears, as these people truly changed my world. After commuting the long flight back, we were finally on U.S. territory. We had been anticipating this moment for months. Knowing there were families everywhere, anxiously waiting for their loved ones, us, I felt distraught. I was nervous to leave the people who only knew me from the reality that had been my last three months; to seeing people who knew me from everything else, except for the last three months. I became a different person, but I didn’t quite know how different. I began giving out hugs and saying goodbyes to my new family, and the dark cloud above my head called for showers as I began to cry. I found my parents who were over the moon excited to see me. It felt good to be in their arms once again, but my mind was with the Dream Team. We stepped outside the JFK Airport and I could instantly feel a difference in the atmosphere. Having been in Kathmandu where the air is not as clean, I finally began filling my lungs with the cold, crisp, New England air. As my dad paid for the parking ticket, I looked around and instantly started crying. Seeing all the brand new Jeeps, F-150s and other giant vehicles, while not even 24 hours ago my surroundings were filled with small, dusty, old beaten up cars and motorcycles. Everything felt overwhelming. My instructors had been warning us in the past week about the potential of experiencing reverse culture shock. I thought the idea of having strong discomfort in your normal environment was a bit strange, but that’s exactly what I felt.
After finally returning to my hometown, everything was the same as it had been, like I had never left. The days to follow consisted of me never being able to shut my mouth about Nepal, as that was the only thing relevant to me. I loved telling people about my adventure, but it ended up becoming unhealthy because there was nothing that excited me more than to talk or think about. As I readjusted to the American lifestyle, I found the most normal everyday things to be so unfamiliar. After seeing one of my close friends for the first time, we went out to eat at a restaurant. Our server handed us a glass of water with ice. For three months I distrusted water and out of habit I didn’t even think about touching it. It wasn’t until my friend took a sip of hers when I remembered it was safe to drink. I felt out of place.
The weeks to follow I was in a deep slump. As I adjusted back to my normal routine, work was the only thing keeping me busy. I spent the rest of my time in my room, doing nothing. Being around my group meant never having alone time, and now I was always alone. My parents were worried about me. On my mom’s day off she’d force me out of the house to go to the grocery store with her. The first time going shopping since I had gotten back, resulted in a mental breakdown in the cereal aisle, due to the abundance of consumption that us as Americans have compared to the Nepalese. Therefore, the times to follow I would sit in the car and wait. It took me months to try and move on and get my mind back on track. It was hard as I would try and forget about the things I learned, rather than apply them to my future, as that was easier. I realized, not only does it not do myself any good, but also makes the time I spent learning a waste. Reverse culture shock had changed the way I viewed the world.
Flashing back to Nepal, my rural homestay lasted 10 days. I remember it being a long, relaxing, 10 days in the foothills. I spent the afternoons with my friends hanging out by the nearby waterfall where we would swim and journal. After, we would play cards on someone’s roof until sunset. At night, we’d look at the stars and try and find familiar constellations, as we were looking at a completely new sky. I knew little to no Nepali, and my host mother and grandmother knew no English, yet we’d spend half the day together. I’d help them prepare meals to the best of my ability. We’d eat all our meals together and try to communicate. No information would ever get through to each other, but we’d always have a good laugh about the constant confusion. We didn’t need to talk to enjoy each others company and care for one another. One day we had a field day working in the rice paddies. It was harvesting season and everyone in the village was there. People were helping their neighbors without question. In this village people live off one another to survive. It was truly a beautiful sense of community filled with love and peace. It made me wonder why life isn’t the same back home. Sometimes I feel like I live in a place where survival is a competition rather than about working together. I wondered why it was so easy to share such a comfortable relationship with someone I couldn’t even talk to. That experience showed me, we’re all the same beings, trying to accomplish the same things of survival and love, such simple things, you don’t need to verbally communicate to
I realized even in the darkest of times, I can always find a light. For me, winter was tough returning home as I felt completely unmotivated. Other people were telling me what I could do, but nothing truly got accomplished unless I wanted to do so. I think my experience applies to the real world, that when the universe is pushing on me and making times difficult, it’s up to me to push back. I realized it was okay to embrace my sadness, as long as it didn’t consume me. If anything, I used it as an inspiration. After coming home and having experienced a different quality of life, made me reflect on my own lifestyle. In Nepal, I lived in a place where people don’t even think about letting the water pressure run as it’s a precious commodity. Or how people in villages have to walk miles to get the simplest of things we take for granted and never question being apart of our daily lives. Life never felt more unfair. However, I’m fortunate to have had these first hand experiences so someday I can hopefully make a difference, so those “precious commodities” in some places are no longer “precious,” and are easily accessible to everyone. I realized getting out of my comfort zone is an important step in truly finding myself. My trip as a whole was way out of my comfort zone. I had never been away from home that long, in a country I had never been to, with people I didn’t know, and the absence of my phone. The experience was hands down the best thing to have ever happened to me, which I would never have had, if I wasn’t willing to push my boundaries. I’m a shy person who doesn’t normally see my opinion as being one that is important, but as I continued to challenge that, I learned
whatever I have to say is just as important as the next person. Taking a year off meant being on a different track than my friends. As a senior in high school, I felt like the odd ball knowing I wasn’t going to college that next fall, and when I would the following year, I’d be older than my classmates. I got over that idea once I returned home and realized my life doesn’t have to be the same as the social norm. I realized it was okay to slow down in a world moving so fast, and for that, I’m thankful for my time spent away from a desk.
All this information I retained from my travels have brought me here to the University of Arizona. I’m in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to learn more about sustainability in agriculture. I hope someday I can apply my knowledge to the real world and help those who may not have the same privileges as me.