I wanted to go abroad initially because I wanted to experience something different than what I was used to. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, and then find myself comfortable there. I also wanted to do my part and help others, while acknowledging that I am no "savior." If I have the ability to travel, then I want to use that privilege in a positive way. I also wanted to grow as an individual and expand the "world" that I've been living in.
Why did you choose to volunteer abroad with GoEco?
At first, I was intrigued by the title, "women's empowerment." While exploring the program more and reading reviews of GoEco, I knew this was the program for me. I am passionate about gender equality and after learning about the gender disparity in Nepal, I knew it would be a good place to get involved, or at least learn more about it. Once I found this program online, there was no hesitation; I immediately knew this was the program I was looking for.
What was your favorite part about Nepal?
The people, without a doubt. Everyone was warm and welcoming, greeting me with a genuine, "Namaste!" and teaching me about their customs. I learned that cows are sacred and respected, and therefore cannot be eaten. I also learned that you shake your head back and forth to say "Okay" (La), that there is no such thing as personal space on public buses, that rice is an inevitable addition to every meal, and that there is no language barrier with laughter. I have never smiled so much.
What made volunteering abroad a unique international experience for you?
The women I taught patterned my experience with their kindness and enthusiasm, making me feel more at home than I thought possible. In order to teach them English, I thought it was only fair that I learn some Nepali. Before each class, I would prepare what I wanted to teach them (i.e. emotions, animals, question words, verbs, etc.). After preparing the English part, I would then look up the Nepali equivalent and check with the staff to ensure my pronunciation was, somewhat, correct.
The women were so surprised that I learned Nepali for them, but I did not expect for this to be a surprise. When I've learned languages in the past, my teachers always knew how to speak English. In this moment, I realized my privilege in having English as my first language. Each day, they would giggle at my pronunciations and then teach me how to say it properly. This way, it was more enjoyable for them to learn English, and perhaps easier for them to subsequently remember the words. We were learning together.
I will never forget, after the first day attempting to speak Nepali, one of the women rubbed my arm and said, "Ramro, ramro." (Good, good). They are incredible.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
They were always around, asking us how our accommodations and placements were going and if we enjoyed the food. They were always aware of us and what we needed. When we had to take buses to our placements, they came with us and stayed with us the whole time. We were never without support and I am very grateful for that; I always felt looked after.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I worked on my Nepali before coming! It would have been even better if I knew more Nepali, instead of just learning bits and pieces before my classes. Although, it was also very exhilarating to learn the language with the Nepali women.
In the end, there's nothing I would want to change about my experience.
Describe a typical day in your life in Nepal.
I would wake up around 7:30 a.m. and get ready for the day. Then, I would have breakfast with the rest of the volunteers and relax for a little while in the volunteer house. We would read, talk, or play cards. At around 10 a.m., I would walk to my placement with a few others. I taught English to the women from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Then we had lunch at 12:30 p.m., and a break until 3 p.m. At 3 p.m., I went with a few others to the orphanage/disabled home and we would help the kids with homework and food preparation. We were there until 6 p.m., and then we would go back to the house and have dinner. After that, we would all relax and talk about our days.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoyed walking around the area near the volunteer house, exploring Buddhist stupas, HIndu temples, cafes, and shops. I would also be very tired from working some days, so I would relax with other volunteers, play cards, or read. During the weekends, we went on excursions to Pokhara and Chitwan. We had incredible times there, going on boats, seeing the sunrise, visiting temples, seeing elephants, etc. There was never a dull moment, because there was always something to do and people to do it with.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
My accommodation was lovely. Good food and a comfy place to sleep. It felt very welcoming, and I felt right at home.
What is one thing everyone should know before volunteering abroad?
Everyone should know that it is hard at first. Transitioning into a new culture is never easy. You are not going to feel "normal" right away and you will likely wonder, "Was this the right move for me?" My advice is to give it a few days. Settle in. Smile. Be open to the people around you. Soon enough, it will be impossible to leave. Everyone, each volunteer I met, cried when they left. It was hard to leave the people we had gotten so close to and the place we came to love.
Now that you're home, how has your time in Nepal impacted your life?
It has opened up my world and allowed me to acknowledge my place in it. I am more aware of the realities beyond the Western "sphere." Although Nepal is beautiful and full of amazing, warm-hearted people, it is also a poor country, riddled with social inequalities and stagnant mobility. It is important to be aware of cultures beyond your own, and not just on paper, not just by reading an article about it on occasion. It is also important to actually see it, to be in it, and to understand that some things cannot be easily explained.
My time abroad has also expanded my heart, as cheesy as that sounds. Now there are people all over the world who have impacted me and who I hope to see again in my life, and I am thankful for that.
Would you recommend your program and GoEco to others? Why?
Completely! Every experience is unique, but no matter what, Nepal is unforgettable. From the people you meet to the work that you do, there is never a dull moment. There will always be people to look after you and make you smile.
If anyone is questioning whether they should go or not, I think you should just stop questioning it and go for it. Why not? This could be the most impactful thing you do. You never know what will happen, and that's the beauty of it.
Blair is a 21 year old from Baltimore, Maryland. She is currently attending Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she is studying psychology and art history. Blair has worked as a research assistant at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health and at Saratoga Mentoring, a program that matches at-risk youth with community mentors. She also did volunteer work at an NGO, called KIND, in Cambodia.