ISD Project Nepal – Culture Shock

ISD Project Nepal – Culture Shock

During the 2018 spring break, a group of grade 11 students traveled to Nepal as the culminating part of their CAS project. Our purpose was to help spread hygiene awareness to children and paint two early learning classrooms at a local school. During our service project, we stayed with a local family within the community and gained an understanding of daily life in the rural outskirts of Kathmandu. The trip also included a team-building three day trek across the Annapurna Foothills and cultural visits to temples and local restaurants.

We’re not going to lie to you, it was difficult. It was a trip filled with laughter, dancing, unimaginable experiences, tonnes of curry and amazing pictures. The diverse Nepalese culture is something that none of us had experienced before, and can only really be understood and enjoyed firsthand. But, even though we didn’t manage to get a tan, we did manage to encounter an astonishing culture and improve the learning environment for the sweetest kids that we’ve ever met; which some might argue is slightly better than a tan. Here are the 4 stages that you will most definitely experience on your trip to Nepal. 

Stage 1: The Fantasy Phase

This is the phase in which you realise that you have actually arrived in Nepal, and is probably a once in a lifetime destination. Not only are you here with some of your best friends, but you also have a tour guide and translator, because Nepali isn’t your best polished language. In addition, you have a personal, luxury minibus to take you around Nepal including Kathmandu, Pokhara and tiny Nepali village. You are staying in Hotel Premium, the peak of your first night, and you enter the building with a smile on your face and a traditional orange, marigold lei around your neck. None of us managed to wipe that smile from our faces the first day.

We were 13 ISD students and 2 teachers, ready to tackle our customary Nepali Momos served to us on the rooftop restaurant overlooking the bustling streets of Kathmandu, but still careful not to use our left hands (a big no-no in Nepali culture). As we ate, we chatted about our dreams of cultural tours across mountains and beautiful pictures of landscapes to show our parents.

Stage 2: The Jet Lag Phase

This stage occurs when you are 3,000 metres high in the Himalayan mountains and only now does jet lag kick in. Three days of tiresome trekking are behind you and your legs are beginning to tone up thanks to the hundreds of stairs climbed. however, the fight against jet lag is easily won considering the incredible view at the top of Poon Hill and most of the trip still before you.

The beautiful rice fields and encouraging Nepali porters’ faces helped us to continue the trek which, ultimately, is an unforgettable experience. The extremely nice and experienced tour guides helped us to navigate our way through the windy mountains, that just added to the Nepalese beauty we were seeing.

Stage 3: The Enjoyment Phase

After the battle with jet lag was won and we settled into Nepalese culture, we were simply enjoying this trip. It is hard not to when you realise the incredible experience that you are currently shaping. Arriving at the school, ready to teach hygiene awareness and painting classrooms, was a highlight for everyone. The Nepalese children were simply some of the most fascinated and happy kids on earth. Playing in their small schoolyard and watching us paint their classrooms in enchantment, encouraged us to make every painting better. One classroom had a space theme, where the other was nature-oriented. Numbers, shapes, colours, planets, fruits and so many other images were painted, with labels in English. Watching the new furniture be brought into the painted classrooms only added to the satisfaction we were feeling, as we had done something good for these kids and their school community. The day that we finished painting the classrooms, no adult, teen or child stopped grinning.

Perhaps even more satisfying was watching the young kids practice brushing their teeth with the toothbrush and toothpaste that we had supplied through a hard year of fundraising. We had thought of games and songs that everyone appreciated, and the celebratory ceremony at the end of our time at the school was a moment of mixed emotions. We were all happy to have helped this Nepalese school community and improve their educational and sanitation supplies, but were sad to have to say goodbye to these cheerful and lively children we had played and bonded with over the course of the three days.

Stage 4: The OMG Phase

When you are standing in the Düsseldorf Airport after a 24-hour journey, across 3 different countries, and realising you don’t even know where to begin your story; that’s when this phase kicks in. You show your parents and friends the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of remodelling two whole classrooms of the local school, as well as the pictures of children climbing on you like monkeys during your breaks. You begin to ponder on the times you spent playing cards with a friendly troop of porters, enthusiastic to learn, or the one time you were pecked on the head by a large peacock at our cultural dinner (just to clarify, it was a man in a costume, not a real peacock).

The photos don’t speak to the incredible atmosphere and our stories don’t do a single bit of justice to this absolutely amazing, beautiful, and chaotic country otherwise known as Nepal. And we leave you with one word, the Nepali term for hello, thank you and goodbye: Namaste.