Stephanie Polendey - 2017 Program Participant

How has your life been changed by travel?

I am living in South Korea as an English teacher. Living in a city like Seoul is a hard adjustment to make when you come from a small town in Oregon. I was accustomed to living in a wild, natural environment, so when I was placed in Seoul, my mountains were transformed into skyscrapers and my rivers were turned into busy streets. It is a different kind of wild. But, from my initial move abroad, I was able to recognize the profound and fundamental changes that happen to you once you travel.

Every moment spent away from the security and the comfort of your home, your family, and your culture is a moment of challenge and growth. I am fully devoted to travelling.
Sunrise at a monastery in Nepal
Sunrise at the monastery

What inspired you to go abroad to Nepal?

When I had the chance to travel during vacation, I wanted to go somewhere that felt a little removed and somewhere I could see the stars at night, so I chose to go to Nepal.

Why did you choose Love Volunteers?

On a trip back from Japan about two months ago, I wrote down the things I wanted to accomplish, and one of them was to see the Himalayas. Another was to give back to something meaningful to the world that I wanted to explore. When I started looking into volunteer options, I came across Love Volunteers, which had positive reviews and an opportunity for me to utilize my teaching skills by helping out in a monastery. Although it is always a little scary planning a trip as a solo female traveler, I knew that if I passed up this opportunity, I would regret it for a long time to come. I signed up, not knowing exactly what was in store, but that is half the fun of traveling!

What was your favorite part about Nepal? 

There is not enough time or space to discuss how appreciative and grateful I am to the people I had met in Nepal. Sure, I could go on for days about the beautiful landscape or the wealth of outdoor activities to do, but when it comes down to it, the people are the reason I will be coming back. They are by far, my favorite part about Nepal. The kindness shown to me by the monks, the local Love Volunteers’ staff, and by the locala is truly indescribable.

There would be mornings I would walk up the hill and talk to the local shopkeepers. Or some days, I would walk into town and discuss, in a series of charades or pictionary, the politics or nature of the country with the locals. No matter the language barrier, the Nepalese are brilliant conversationalists; you just have to open up and accept that you are going to make a million new friends.

Selfie in Pokhara, Nepal
Shameless selfie with Pokhara as the backdrop

What made your experience abroad unique?

The moment my airplane touched down in Kathmandu, it was very clear to me that I was not in Seoul anymore. The poverty and struggle of the locals is a serious matter.

Even on the airplane, I was given a brief history lesson of Nepal by a wonderful Nepalese man named Deepak. He expressed his growing concern with the lack of sound infrastructure and indecisive government. He told me about the fall of the monarchy and the devastating damage of the 2015 earthquake. All of this was told to me before the Himalayas were even in sight. I am eternally grateful for that introduction to Nepal. My experience was unique because of that conversation, and the many other similar conversations that followed.

Sure, I was volunteering for a week at a monastery, but witnessing the lack of development and poverty first hand as well as knowing the backstory of Nepal truly inspired me to help. I realize that one week, one year, or even a lifetime of goodwill may not ever be enough to help Nepal, but because of this trip, I want to give back to Nepal who had given me so much, even when there was nothing to give.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Needless to say, the monks within the monastery are some of the best friends you will ever make. Even my students, or the monks in training as I lovingly call them, will make your trip worthwhile. They were kind, compassionate, and willing to help at anytime. From the Guru to witnessing the Buddhist life in action, I learned valuable life lessons about community, happiness, and peace.

If safety is ever a concern, you shouldn't worry. The local staff at the Nepal Volunteer Council do an excellent and efficient job arranging transportation for you to and from the monastery. Before even arriving, I kept in very close contact with Keshab, one of the coordinators, who was a vital source of communication for me when preparing for my trip. Over the week while volunteering, another local volunteer, Manoj, was extremely generous with his time, always willing to help. Altogether, I felt entirely safe and very welcomed.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

My only regret is not staying longer. But, the length of this trip gives me incentive to come back!

Roadside in Nepal
Local Houses

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

In a monastery, most days were spent quietly walking the grounds, planning out English lessons for the monks in training, talking to the monks, and thinking; there was lots and lots of thinking. In a quiet place overlooking the city of Pokhara and the Himalayas, thinking was a meditative act and so easy to accomplish in a place like that.

The mornings would begin with a beautiful drumming to start the Buddhist morning prayers, which was my alarm. I would take my time, spending at least an hour outside on a bench overlooking the mountain range. I would eventually get dressed and meet the Guru downstairs, in the open courtyard overlooking the city. After sharing tea with the Guru, I would spend time planning out my English lessons for that afternoon. After planning, the rest of the morning was mine.

The afternoon consisted of an hour and a half to two hours of teaching. The monks in training were wonderful and enthusiastic students. There were only three students, but I found out that certain games would catch the attention of most in the monastery.

The evenings were perfect to unwind, filled with meaningful and enlightening conversations with the monks or the monks in training. Dinnertime was a communal event, with gurus and students alike joining in a traditional dinner of dhal bhat. Honestly, it was always a perfect ending to a perfect day.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

During my free time, as mentioned, I spent my time deep in thought, writing, exploring the city, and most importantly, talking to the locals. This was my chance to not only witness the true Nepal, but to make meaningful connection with the people.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

My accommodation was simple and beautiful. It was a monastery, so I didn't expect elaborate housing. However, it was more than I could have asked for. The bedroom was spacious, with plenty of beds to choose from. I was also given a private bathroom with a western toilet and shower. To me, in comparison to the monk's lifestyle, my accomodation almost felt lavish.

Even with the spacious room and private bathroom, my favorite part, hands down, was the view. All my life I have never witnessed a more beautiful sunrise or sunset. As far as I am concerned, I could have slept on the ground and eaten stale bread because the view of the Himalayas and the city were all worthwhile.

View of Phewa Tal in the Himalayas in Nepal
Phewa Tal and The Himalayas

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Make an effort to absorb the local culture. Know that you are going as a volunteer and not a tourist, so use your time to give back. It is very easy to fall into the trap of “I am abroad and must experience everything this country has to offer,” but slow down.

Have deep and meaningful conversations. Open up, and you will find that those conversations will be some of the most valuable souvenirs you could ever take back home.

How has your time in Nepal impacted your life?

In a metropolitan city full of rich entrepreneurs, salary men working for large corporations, and sooooo much shopping, it is really easy to lose sight of what is truly important. It is also easy to feel lonely and isolated, despite being surrounded by millions of people. Through this solitude, I think I lost a bit of who I am. I forgot how necessary it was living a life connected to others. Building connections out of love and kindness sounds so cheesy, but that is what I did through this experience. Because of it, I feel like I came back to Seoul as a whole being.

Now, as I continue teaching English to my Korean students, I am looking at life through a different lense. I am seeing the goodness in the world that I so often over looked. After experiencing the kindness of strangers firsthand, I have let go of the fear that holds me back from accomplishing what I want in life. I am realizing just how much of a difference I really could make in the world.

Would you recommend your program to others? Why?

If you have the chance to take part in this program, I sincerely urge you to do so. It will change your life in more ways than one.