By Liz McAllister, fourth year design major with a human rights studies minor, College of Letters and Science
I leave for Nepal in 11 hours. And although I should probably be notifying my bank of my traveling plans or spitting out the emails I owe several professors, I want to tell you about this past quarter and what led me to the trip ahead.
Spinning with Possibilities
It all really began last April. As a design student, I often walk through Cruess Hall and look at the work of other students on the walls (you should try it sometime!) That particular morning, I walked by dozens of photography projects and duotone infographics. Outside of my classroom was a bulletin board with conference and internship listings and the poster for the Nepal Seminar Abroad. It seemed to glow in relation to the dull listings surrounding it. I stopped in my tracks, read it, took a picture, and was late to class. And while my professor rotated her hands to describe different faces of orthogonal projections, my mind was spinning with possibilities.
After sending a flurry of emails to the professors leading the trip and receiving texts from several friends (“Liz! A hands-on seminar on sustainability, community development, and technology in Nepal? This trip sounds like something you’d like!”), I sat in the office of Nancy Erbstein, faculty member in the Human Ecology Department, and talked about the possibilities. And while we spoke in speculative language, there was no doubt in my mind where I would be spending my winter break.
The spring quarter ended and I began a summer of saving up for Nepal by interning in Davis, which ended up opening doors to even more opportunities. During the last few moments of summer, I was contacted about going to Beirut, Lebanon to assist with documenting a human rights project called Article 26 Backpack. And before I knew it, I found myself facing two international trips—one of which was right in the middle of fall quarter and the other bookending it.
Fall quarter began and I felt like I was sprinting even before the starting gun. In addition to classes, there were important meetings to attend and miles of emails to keep track of. I had to learn about two different countries at the same time. There was constant activity seven days a week and I often felt like I had taken on too much. Wanting to be able to pour all my energy into all of my projects while being pulled in so many different directions was overwhelming. Luckily, I have wonderful and supportive friends and professors from whom I was able to solicit both advice and encouragement.
Crossing Time Zones and Fields of Study
With almost interweaving international trips, just before leaving for Lebanon, I met three seminar classmates from Nepal over a Skype video chat. Our seminar has brought together a project group comprised of both UC Davis and Nepalese students. We communicated via Skype and WhatsApp and worked out our project details through many emails, late nights, and early mornings.
After returning from Lebanon, I was really able to focus on our Nepal project: working on a museum proposal for a small village called Machhapuchhre. I began to see how readings on government and educational policy in Nepal from earlier in the quarter shaped our project. It was incredible to be a part of a new educational model that crosses time zones, fields of study, and transcends age gaps. We have been interfacing with experts in many different fields, from the brightest minds at UC Davis to upcoming leaders and innovators from Nepal.
This seminar has given me confidence to approach this trip as a challenging and exciting excursion and experience. When traveling thoughtfully, there is an immense responsibility to be a careful observer and learner of another culture. Instead of experiencing Nepal passively, I am able to bring my traveling and learning experiences together to expand my knowledge and appreciation for this unique culture.
And although I won’t be going home for the holidays, I’m grateful to visit someone else’s home. The opportunity to present our work is the opportunity to fulfill a need, the opportunity to learn, and the opportunity to become a better person. Traveling is ultimately about honing our ability to understand the importance of the different ways that humanity expresses itself. This is why my interest in the Nepal Seminar had sparked, almost before I had even heard of the opportunity.
Ready to Keep Learning
Just before our last Thursday night seminar, a classmate and I stopped to talk to the International Center custodian. Faustin had been a kind presence throughout the quarter. He encouraged us after our late meetings, reminding us to be safe while traveling. That night we said our goodbyes. He told us that we wouldn’t see him upon our return because he would be retired and traveling the world on his own. We were floored; we had had no idea. He told us stories of the hundreds of countries he has been to and how he had learned seven languages in the process. We exchanged Arabic that I learned in Lebanon and basic Nepalese that I learned in class. It was an incredible interaction that would have been impossible if not for the diligent preparation for our trip to Nepal.
I don’t know how our project will pan out. I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be overcome by homesickness on Christmas Day. I can’t guarantee that I can even speak in a semi-complete sentence while in Nepal. But I do know that the dynamic learning process experienced in this seminar and throughout the quarter has given me everything I need to succeed. I’ve learned so much this quarter and am ready to keep learning. Now it’s about nine hours before I leave so I’ll sign off and check back in on the other side!
- See Namaste from Nepal for the second part of this series
About Global Affairs at UC Davis
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