By: Seraphina Mallon-Breiman
It was a last minute decision to attend the Nepal informational meeting. Per usual, Joe Petrick sent out a campus-wide email, alerting the school about an upcoming study abroad trip to trek throughout the Himalayas and conduct ethnographic research within adjacent cities. My curiosity was sparked; I began remembering the unbelievable stories I’d been subjected to by friends who’d sought out the experience two years earlier. My advisor was convinced this trip would change my life, reminding me casually to sign up every intermittent moment we saw each other between class and around campus. Nepal was a part of the world that I knew nothing about. My knowledge regarding Asia overall was limited, at best, aside from the facts I’d learned throughout my sociology and anthropology curriculum. The more I fantasized about the experience, the more I felt like I didn’t have a choice; I had to go to Nepal. I wrote the admission essay and was accepted, prompting a nervous realization that I had no idea how to come up with the thousands of dollars required. However; after working a few jobs, receiving a lot of help from my extended family and the creation of a GoFundMe account- I made it happen. I was going. It was months later, during the 4am taxi ride to the JFK International Airport that I could even begin to consider what I was about to experience.
Of the many intricate ways that the Western world starkly contrasts the developing world, tourism is at the forefront of this divide. I visited Nepal under the false impression that I would be able to generate genuine, authentic research regarding Nepali people. I had my topic picked out. I would write an ethnography titled, ‘Coming of Age in Contemporary Nepal- Stories from Young Nepalis Amidst Post-Traumatic Societal Reconstruction.’ However, I forgot that I would be traveling with a group of twenty other American people to a country whose economy inherently depends on our wealth and existence. This was only one of what felt like hundreds of contributing factors to the separation and hierarchy in which naturally existed within any relations I shared to the Nepali people I encountered. I immediately realized how impossible it would be to elicit authentic research by the end of three weeks within a culture whose language I didn’t understand while moving to new places every few days. The inequality between our cultures was too extreme, promoting extreme feelings of guilt no matter what way I tried to view it.
…to be continued