The University of Washington will hold an exploration seminar in Kathmandu in August as part of its year-old Nepal Studies Initiative.
For the first time in recent history, 10 University of Washington students will go to class about 7,000 miles from campus this August, in Nepal.
For 3½ weeks, they will participate in a seminar organized by the Nepal Studies Initiative (NSI), one of the few formal programs in the U.S. that focus on that country.
Nepal is often overlooked because it’s a small country about the size of Arkansas, located between the much larger, rapidly developing nations of China and India.
And Nepal’s political instability and lack of infrastructure make it nearly impossible to run a safe and sustainable program without local connections and knowledge of the area.
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But NSI leaders and other Nepal scholars think these are precisely the reasons why academics interested in global development should focus on the Himalayan nation.
“It’s an extraordinary piece of real estate,” said Kathryn March, a Cornell professor of anthropology, who started that university’s Nepal program in 1992. “Nepal has got this geopolitical, cultural, environmental, religious and linguistic history that is so much denser than very many other singular places.”
The UW’s NSI is a mark of progress, March said, as the only Nepal studies program at a public university after one at the University of Wisconsin shut its doors a few years ago.
This August’s seminar will begin in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, and end in Kavre, a rural farming district. With the goal of learning about Nepal’s developmental challenges, students will do independent field research. At the end of the program, they will present research at a Kathmandu symposium, also organized by the NSI.
“This is an investment,” said Biraj Karmacharya, a co-director of the NSI. “These students will ultimately be the champions of Nepal-U.S. collaboration.”
Since its establishment at the UW last March, the NSI has spearheaded three major efforts: a course offered this past winter quarter about contemporary development barriers in Nepal, the summer seminar and a fall research symposium in Kathmandu.
“ … Nepal comes in and out of fashion depending on what’s happening there,” NSI co-director David Citrin said. ‘When bad things, like the [2001 royal massacre] or the earthquake happen, we know we have a small window when the world is watching Nepal.”
Trinell Carpenter, a junior public-health major at the UW and a participant in this summer’s program, said one of the main reasons she applied was a desire to visit Nepal in the aftermath of the April 2015 quake.
“It’s going to be a totally new experience for me,” she said. “I haven’t learned a lot about challenges facing Nepal in the global health classes I’ve taken so far.”
Global health and humanitarianism will be two of the themes of the August trip along with political ecology, climate change and economic development. The nature of the coursework, Carpenter added, has attracted students interested in global health or anthropology.
A visit to Kavre, a remote area severely impacted by the earthquake, will offer students the chance to witness reconstruction efforts. In Kathmandu, they will visit local hospitals and government agencies.
The trip, as well as the NSI at large, is supported by the UW’s South Asia Center, which has allocated a portion of a federal grant to the initiative. Through the grant and added support from the UW Office of Global Affairs, the NSI has a budget of roughly $8,000 a year.
The summer program costs students $2,850, with financial aid available.
Support from the global-affairs office demonstrates an interest in Nepal from the higher levels of the university, said Keith Snodgrass, managing director of the South Asia Center. There has been a definite spike of interest in Nepal over the past academic year in the aftermath of the earthquake, he added.
The Pacific Northwest has always had an interest in Nepal, in part because it is home to a large Nepali community and because the mountains of Western Washington attract avid climbers and hikers who also have an interest in Nepal.
Karmacharya, an executive member of the Nepal-Seattle Society, sees his role as a unique one: to connect Nepali residents and scholars back to Nepal with the UW’s vast resources.
“If you want to build cooperation between Nepal and the U.S., there is no institution in a better position to do that than a university,” Karmacharya said. “You have people from every field. Where else can you get that?”