Dear Incoming Students,
My name is Michael Smith, and I am very pleased to be serving as one of the three course instructors for your Himalayan program this Fall. The autumn is a very special time in Nepal, with crisp cool weather, great mountain views, and many unique festivals including Dasain and Tihar, considered the most important annual celebrations for Nepal’s Hindu communities. We are excited for our time together, and you should be too!
As a brief introduction, I am originally from Central Louisiana, and spent much of my youth in a similar way to most in my home town: scouting, team sports, band, church, and playing in the woods. Feeling the call of the mountains and yearning for a radically different setting, I traveled to Nepal in 2003 for my junior year on a study abroad program – much like the one that you are embarking on – an experience that deeply changed my life in countless ways. I was hooked, and since then I have spent most of my time in Nepal and India to deepen my understanding of spirituality, social service, the mountain environment, and the peoples that call it home.
That said, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 also deeply changed my life, as my father’s family hails from New Orleans. After the devastating floods, I dedicated a portion of my time and energy each year to recovery work in New Orleans: I bought and renovated a flooded house, attended graduate school there, and return home once each year to be with family and friends and stay involved in the incredible community building there. Although I have a passion for the Himalayas, my perspective remains deeply rooted in the place that has been home to my family for generations.
I am honored to have the opportunity to continue my exploration with you all. Though my role on our adventure is that of “instructor”, I see myself as another student participating alongside you, albeit a bit older. I expect for us to learn and grow together, as long as we remain open for new insights and awareness, and willing to put aside our prejudices and beliefs – or disbeliefs – to make space for new truths. I feel that is the key to success for this type of experiential education. As instructors, we have the ability to facilitate the learning conditions for our students, but we are not the cause of that learning. The cause is ultimately in your hands and within you – your open attitude, diligence, and perseverance.
I am sure that you are excited and apprehensive as you prepare for your journey, but don’t stress out! You are in the exceptionally good hands of a great team of experienced people that truly care about their work. Anyway, most anything that you forget to pack you can get in Kathmandu.
Wishing you the best of luck as you get ready, and looking forward to meeting in September. Please post a note of introduction when you get a chance.
Michael D Smith, MSW MPH