Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Back Teaching In Nepal

“What are you going to do with that degree?” is the question that plagues almost any social science major. And to be honest, up until a few months ago, I wasn’t that sure what I was going to do with my Anthropology degree.

Midway through my Fulbright grant last year, I realized that Nepal was a place that I wanted to stay long term; from the people to the food to the mountains, I had fallen in love.

Finding a job here that provides one with a working visa is difficult to say the least.  About 1/3 of the population in Nepal relies on remittances, and because of that, the government protects local jobs and strickly limits the working and even volunteering visas provided. If you know someone who has volunteered in Nepal, it is almost certain that they did it on a tourist visa, which are only valid for 5 months a year.

I spent my remaining months in Nepal, putting my name out to people really just looking for a legitimate way to stay here.

Through some Fulbright connections, I was put into contact with Ullens School which is a private Nepali IB high school. I interviewed and gave them my resume but they weren’t sure what positions, if any, would be open in the next school year.

It wasn’t until months later when I was sitting with my uncle in a village in Gorkha, that my phone rang from an unknown number and I was asked, “Hi Vincent, do you still want the job?”

“Yes!” I stammered, “Who is this?”

Now I am the Social Cultural Anthropology teacher at Ullens.

If you had asked me upon graduation, I never would have thought that I was going to be anthro teacher!

On top of being a teacher, I get to combine two other of my passions. I am also an Academic Counselor, guiding thirty 12th graders with everything from their college selection process to the common app to the SAT. And I am a co-coordinator of the Creativity, Action, and Service program.  We direct students in a variety of service projects, organize sports teams (still pushing for swimming), and lead bi-monthly outdoor leadership programs, including some short treks and a Project Week where students live with a family in a rural village.

I am incredibly fortunate to combine those three passions into one job.

This blog will primarily be focused on adventures in the classroom (at least for the time being); although, I am itching to get outside of the valley for some trekking soon. The transition from rural government school to elite private school is stark. From chalkboards to smart boards.

Until I get myself a bicycle (surprise surprise, it is proving very difficult to come by a proper bike for someone who is 6ft tall in Nepal), I ride with my students in a van to school.  I gotta say that they could give some of my cousins a run for hipness.  Mornings our filled with songs from Of Monsters and Men (grandma google), Mumford and Sons, and Kendrick Lamar (grandma, don’t google).

Although my teaching uniform is a little less formal than last year's (seen above), I want everyone to know that I am still wearing the chacos. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Number 7!

It has been an adventure.

But that is always a given when my cousin Francesca (aka Cuz) is in town.

After my month of bumping around Bangladesh, Turkey, Tajikistan, and then Turkey again I returned to Nepal to spend the month of May with my favorite traveling buddy. Her arrival to Nepal marks our 7th country together.

Within hours of being together, I got a call from my host family in Gorkha telling me to get my ass out there (sorry grandma) because my host sister, Sajana, was getting married. We were on the first bus out the next morning and Cuz got a true taste of life in Nepal. Jammed into a seat too  small even for someone who is less than five feet tall. We made the 

Airport Arrival
Cuz sampling some of the local wear
Getting ready for the wedding

After learning traditional Nepali dance, we then taught the fam Call Me Maybe

Tika and exercise does not miz

Swetha, Srijana, and Cuz


Our welcome to Laprak
Sunrise in Gumda
Morning tea with Boudha Himal in the background

Cooking with Sajana

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Quick Update...

My week in Tajikistan was amazing!

When I wrote this I was in Istanbul usıng a Turkish keyboard so I apologıze for the lack of dots above some of my 'ı's.  Their keyboard ıs sımılar but ıt ıs also fılled wıth sun characters lıke the ğ ü ş ö and ç.

In Tajıkıstan, I was able to vısıt my fellow Fulbrıghters Alfred, Kyle, Javıd and Areebah and theır respectıve host locatıons.  Unlıke ın Nepal where we were teachers at government schools and addıtıonally worked wıth programs such as ACCESS, the Fulbrıghters ın Tajıkıstan do not teach at government schools and theır prımary purpose ıs through programs lıke the Amerıcan Corners (and Wındows) as well as ACCESS programs. Thıs allows for much more flexıbılıty but also requıres alot of creatıvıty.

Wıthın hours of getttıng off the plane I was put to 'work'. I was the subject of the Duchanbe Amerıcan Corner's dıscussıon group. We talked about my expereınce as a teacher ın Nepal; also, they were shocked when I told them I had bıked from Seattle to Santa Cruz.  We were able to dıscuss thıngs from relıgıon to careers and when I mentıoned that I had lıved ın Botswana, I was ımpressed when a boy saıd they were famous for dıamonds.

Throughout the week, I vısıted several of these locatıons. For the upcomıng song competetıon, I helped Javıd teach the Bruno Mars song “Just the Way You Are” and for an Access program ın the northern cıty of Khujand who was learnıng about Romeo and Julıet, Alfred and I taught the LMNT song “Hey Julıet”.

Then I had an amazing weekend with ETA and fellow Pitzer grad, Caroline, in Istanbul.

I'm back in Nepal now. Arrived Monday along with my cousin Francesca (who seems to just keep following me around the world, and I couldn’t be happier about it!) and called my host family. They said that I had to get back to Gorkha because my sister, Sajana, was getting married. We rushed out the next day and have spent the past few days (weddings last several days here) eating and dancing and eating more.

Tomorrow Francesca and I begin our trek in the shadow of the 8th tallest mountain in the world, Manaslu! Be back in a week!

Sorry for keeping these short; my laptop died and we've been incredibly busy. But when I return to the states in 3 weeks (can’t believe that’s all I have left out here!), I will post a lot more stories that are still stuck in my journal and some photos!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Yesterday Turkey, Today Turkey, Tomorrow Turkey...

Yesterday, was the closest (I hope) I ever come to inciting a riot.

Currently, I am a member of the Occupy Tajikistan Consulate.

The story is too long and still unfolding to give you a full recap now; but know that (hopefully), I will be laughing about it one day.

Yesterday, over 45 people including myself were removed from boarding the plane on its way to Dushanbe because we didn't have visas. Although we had in the months and weeks and even that very morning been told that we could get a visa upon arrival at the airport.

We were told that the Tajik policy had been changed. That day.

When we arrived to the consulate the next morning to apply for a visa, they were closed.

Tajik holiday.

In other news, the food here is awesome and I have nearly run into both a telephone pole and a glass window while admiring some moustaches here.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Yesterday Bangladesh Today Turkey Tomorrow Tajikıstan

 Yesterday I left Dhaka and thıs mornıng I arrıved ın Turkey on my way to Tajıkıstan. Surprıse surprıse there are not a lot of flıghts to Tajıkıstan so I have a nearly 18 hour layover ın thıs beautıful cıty.

 I spent today wanderıng the streets, drınkıng lots of tea, and stuffıng myself on the local food.  I just fınıshed a 2 hour cruıse on the Bosphorus where thanks to a yacht's wave all but went swımmıng.  Headıng back to the aırport soon but excıted to explore the cıty more when I return ın two weeks and get to hang out wıth fellow Pıtzer grad Carolıne!

Sunday, April 14, 2013


    Since my last post lots has happened. I reached Everest Base Camp, climbed to over 18,000 feet, slept 2,500 feet above the summit of Whitney, and survived the worlds most dangerous airport, Lukla. But more on that another time.

      My Uncle Chris, who came to Nepal nearly 30 years ago, just returned for his second time to visit me. We had an amazing time. For three weeks we traveled around the country, celebrating Holi with my host family and heading out to the far west of Nepal to Bardia National Park where memories of Botswana were invoked as was saw elephants, a leopard, and more types of birds than I knew existed.
    My last day with Chris was spent enjoying a nationwide strike. We rented bicycles and for the first time since arriving to Nepal felt safe on the roads as a pedestrian, as the only traffic was the occasional government and tourist vehicle.
    The following day I left Nepal for the first time since I arrived over nine months prior.

       I was one of the few tourists on the plane ride over to Bangladesh.  The rest of the flight was packed with members of the Bangladesh Army who were participants in a training in Nepal and Nepali migrant laborers who I met while waiting in line for check in.
       Most of these men wore flimsy white brimmed caps with their contractor's name printed on them.  The majority of these men (some I would be hard pressed to called boys) are traveling abroad to work primarily low-skill jobs on two year contracts.  Over 1 in 3 families in Nepal rely of remittances and the airport everyday is packed with these men heading out.  Most of them come from rural villages and have never flown on a plane, let alone seen one up close.  Camera phones flew out and a tidal wave of people rushed to the window when a Pakistan International Airlines flight arrived.
       It was easy to spot those that were making their first trip abroad and those that were returning.  There was a mad dash to get onto the plane and some ran across the tarmac trying to get the best seats. Obviously plopping themselves down in first class, until flight attendants instructed them to go further down the plane, to where they took the first seats in coach.  The concept of assigned seats was lost on some.  
      Throughout the flight, there was a constant and futile war being waged by the flight attendants to get these men to turn off their cellphones and stop taking pictures.
     I was woken maybe 15 minutes into my hour long flight and to my surprise was handed a full meal. 

American carriers take note.

       The crowning moment came less than 5 minutes before landing, after several announcements had been made to return to the seats and the flight attendants had strapped themselves in.  Realizing that one of the bathrooms still was occupied, a flight attendant rushed up to the bathroom banging on it vigorously;  only after several bangs and what I can only image to be several choice words in Bengali, did a kid (maybe 18 years old) emerge hair soaking wet with a sheepish grin. 

Although airplane protocol I would assume for most of the people that read this blog is second nature, it is not for everyone and it was interesting (to say the least) to watch the Nepalis adapt to these new experiences. 

I left one strike only to find another. Bangladesh has regular nationwide protest/elections - the date still to be determined for upcoming elections. To put it simply, these have put a damper on travel, but I have managed to see some cool things so far.

Yesterday was Bangladeshi New Years and this is how we celebrated:

At New Years getting interviewed.
Alyssa, Onik, and I

Meet the vuvuzelas Asian cousin....

Maisoon, Alyssa, Onik, and myself right before on stint on national telivision

They closed this street in front of parliament the previous night and the entire road for several km was covered with these cool paintings.

Floats from the celebration

Some photos from Alyssa and my boat trip through one of the world's busiest ports, Sadarghat:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Day 3

The scenery for the first two days of trekking can best compare to Yosemite on steroids. Pine forest, clear rivers, huge rock faces, and the the Himals! If it weren't for the tea houses and villages we passed along the way, I could have easily forgotten that I wasn't in California.

Today, we are in Namche Bazaar at about 3,440m; each step I take from now on surpasses the highest I have ever been. This in turn means that from now on, everything I now do is a new PHR (Personal Height Record). Today I racked up a several: A new PHR for drinking tea, another PHR for a yak sighting (which in turn was also a PLR (Personal Low Record) as this is the first I have ever seen), and when I broke my previous PHR set in the morning and went to the top floor to go to the bathroom.

If that wasn't enough, we saw Everest today. From afar, it still looks huge and we have several days and several more thousand feet until Base Camp. Luckily for us, altitude has yet to be an issue. After Base Camp, we will head over Cho La Pass and make our way to Gokyo.

There is no where else I would rather be right now.