Dear Nepal College Study Abroad Students,
I am very pleased to introduce myself as faculty for three of your academic classes: Nepal Regional Seminar; Intercultural Development and Global Citizenship; and your Independent Study Project (ISP). I am excited for the classes, which will begin during program orientation, and continue throughout the first 9 weeks of the program.
Regional Seminar is titled “Diversity in the Himalayas”, indeed a truly vast subject. It is our opportunity to contextualize and gain insight into the content of your experience in Nepal; an attempt at an overview of an array of interwoven subjects, including geography, history, politics, religion, philosophy, public health, disaster recovery, gender, art, music, architecture, social issues, environmental activism, ecology, agriculture, and so on!
In our Intercultural Development and Global Citizenship class, we will be examining broad themes related to amorphous terms, such as “Culture”, or “Development”, our role examining that, and who we are as humans in a complex, diverse world. We will focus on the process of our experience in Nepal, integrating into a new community in a far away place.
Finally, for our ISP class, we will be studying and practicing (practice makes “perfect”!) various methods of hands-on learning and field research. What we may understand about the world has as much to do with how we ask questions, as the questions themselves. We expect there will be numerous topics we can dive into in detail that will appeal to you individually and as a group, and we have the flexibility of a small group to tailor course content to your interests. It will be a lot of challenging engagement, but we know that y’all are up to it!
As for an introduction, I am from a small city in Central Louisiana, and enjoyed my youth in ways common to southern kids: scouts, sports, band, church, reading or roaming in the pine woods. Feeling for a radically different setting, I spent my junior year of college in Nepal on a college study abroad program much like yours, a profoundly impacting experience that deeply changed my life. Since then, I have spent over half my time in South Asia, deepening an understanding of the Himalayas and the peoples who call it home, in a wide variety of contexts: collecting oral history in Solu-Khumbu (Mt Everest Region) from elder Sherpa and Tibetans; conducting research with the Newar community in the Kathmandu Valley; developing social work projects with Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala, India, the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; organizing treks, environmental and cultural programming in Lower Mustang in the Annapurna Conservation Area; exploring the historic sites of Central Tibet with students like yourselves; teaching college study abroad in Himachal and Uttarakhand in North India; organizing seismic resistant building trainings in the Nepali hills after the devastating earthquakes of 2015; coordinating and participating in meditation retreats at monasteries and nunneries near Kathmandu; going on occasional personal pilgrimage to holy sites near and far; teaching Buddhist Studies at a local college in Kathmandu; more recently working with Dragons as an instructor in 2017 and 2018; and other spiritual, social, and mundane pursuits. I look forward to sharing more with you all soon.
Most significantly, I am the husband of an incredible woman from Dolpo (north-western Nepal), and a father of an adorable energetic boy who began attending nursery school in Kathmandu this week! Oh, the lessons that our little 19 month old teacher has given us already!
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 also radically changed my life. My father’s family hails from New Orleans, and I have continued to dedicate a portion of my energy each year to flood recovery work and endless house renovations. I have passion for the Himalayas, but my perspective remains deeply rooted in Louisiana, which has been home to my family for generations.
I recognize that it may strike you as a little strange that a white guy from the Deep South will be your teacher for a course titled, “Diversity in the Himalayas”, and in some ways it certainly is! I believe that through confronting our own limitations of conditioning, perspective and experience, we can see beyond them, and possibly serve as a guide for others. Practically speaking, I do my absolute best to emphasize a plethora of local voices in our course content, by organizing as many diverse guest speakers, tours, and field trips as possible.
I am honored to have the opportunity to continue exploring, together with you. Though my role is that of your ‘teacher’, I am really just another participant in this journey, albeit slightly more experienced on this particular terrain (in this life). I remain thrilled for the learning opportunities with which we continue to be blessed. I expect us all to remain open to new insights and awareness, willing to put aside our prejudices and beliefs – or disbeliefs – to make space for new truths. Finally, humbly following your own sense of adventure is your own golden key which will open all doors for you on this quest for learning. Teachers have the ability to facilitate learning conditions for and with our students, but we are not the causes of that learning. The causes are naturally resting in your hands. They are already there as seeds within you: your open-minded attitude, diligence, curiosity, and perseverance.
I am sure that you are excited and may be apprehensive as you prepare for your journey, but don’t stress out! You are on the way to join experienced people that truly care about their work, and for you. Anyway, most anything you forget to pack you can get in Kathmandu. If you have any questions about the class, please post them here on the Yak Board and I will do my best to answer them promptly.
Best of luck as you get ready. We are very much looking forward to meeting you in just a few weeks.
Very truly yours,
Michael D Smith, MSW MPH