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My Potholed Road to UWC

Reading Time: 5 minutes

They say, “Luck favors those who work hard.”

Luck intervened a few times in my life. In a post about Bishnu, a young, ambitious and driven girl, on the verge of giving up her dreams of completing her education, I mentioned how her story spoke to me. My own academic career in Nepal was a roller-coaster ride. But, one of the number of times luck intervened, I got to go to the United World College (UWC) of the Adriatic.

UWCAD-"borrowed" from UWC Org web site.

UWCAD on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. (Photo “borrowed” from UWC web site.)

It was early June in 1988 in Bangalore, India, feeling I had reached the end of the road, I was planning to return home, to give up my pursuit of education and to start working, completely unaware that I would actually end up in Italy in less than three months.

Knowing that further education in Nepal would get me nowhere, a very good friend and I had travelled to the Southern Indian city in search of schools. But, with every school visit, my heart would sink further, as I discovered my family couldn’t afford my education there. After all the trials and tribulation of the preceding seven years, my goal had increasingly looked unreachable.

Though the pressure to quit had always been there, it wasn’t until 1985, when I was in 9th grade, that preparations to get me out of school and working were made in earnest. As the first-born, just as in Bishnu’s case, tradition and family financial situation called for the sacrifice of my own dreams to offer better opportunities for my younger siblings. When the financial condition worsened still the following year, the pressure got even greater.

But I had some big dreams! I didn’t allow the pressures to quit, or our financial problems and the myriad social, family and personal problems to affect my studies in any way. Education, after all, was my ticket — my only ticket — to a fulfilling and dignified life. Getting an education and making something of myself, my family and others in similar situations had been but only a few of my many dreams.

Most in my community believed — for valid reasons — that education would get the likes of us nowhere in Nepal. “Source and force” (wealth and connections) got one far in life. Forget further education abroad, forget even education, most people from my village were illiterate. And as such, hardly any adult from our community expected much from their children. Having become aware of that pretty early on in my life, I, however, dreamt of being a role model to the younger generation of Tangbetanis — the people from my little village of Tangbe in Mustang — by being the first one to get qualifications from educational institutions abroad. (When I graduated from Grinnell College in 1994, that’s exactly what I became.)

The Nepalese at large, especially the ones who knew about Bhotes from Mustang and viewed us through the narrow and prejudiced lens of cultural tradition, did not expect much from the likes of me either. Bhote denotes “someone from Tibet,” i.e. an ethnic Tibetan from the northern mountains of Nepal. However, as an ethnic slur — and no different from any other ethnic or racial slur — it connotes, among other things, “backward, uneducated, dirty, unintelligent, barbaric” etc. So, naturally, I dreamt also of breaking the mould, of breaking the stereotype and of sending the wider Nepalese society a message that a Bhote can also perform, and be successful, academically and professionally.

In 1988, after completing my schooling at St. Xavier’s, I realised that I would have to complete my intermediate level studies also outside of Nepal to keep my dream of going to the United States alive. I applied for the only UWC scholarship available — one from UWC-USA. But, another friend won it; I came third. India had then beckoned!

Just when I had begun to despair, that June in Bangalore, a school mate caught up to me with a message saying I needed to call, immediately, the friend in Kathmandu who had won the scholarship. It turned out the Italian UWC had decided — at the last-minute — to offer a full scholarship to a Nepalese student! The friend who had come second in the ranking had turned down the offer and it had now fallen on my lap! Ecstatic, I accepted the offer and flew home.

Back home, my parents couldn’t make head or tail of the turn of events. I had never shared any of my dreams with them knowing that they wouldn’t understand them at all and instead would blow me off. I had never shared the details of any education-related activities I had undertaken. My five closest friends in high school and I, for instance, had all been planning to go the US. (We all made it though at different times and the other five are still there.) What my folks struggled to get their head around the most was “Why?”

“So, a foreign government is paying for your education at their school! They’ll pay for everything, including your flights, and even give you pocket-money. Why?! They don’t even know you!”

Less than three months later, some time in early September that year, I would reach the small coastal town of Duino with a 20-kg suitcase of clothes and shoes and find myself among students from about 65 different countries, many of whom owned more footwear and clothes than I had probably ever owned in my entire life!

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I was not expected to make much of my life; my destiny was in the circumstances and context of my birth. But with hard work, determination and a series of luck, I would get some extraordinary educational opportunities and would have an extraordinary life as an international teacher. I would see, learn about and discover even more about the equally extraordinary world and its people — at the UWC and elsewhere in the years that followed — many of whom, just months ago, would give me the most humbling experience of my life.

Luck thus rescued me that fateful afternoon, the summer of 1988 (as at a number of other times). But for hundreds of thousands of 16-18 year-old children from low socioeconomic background, attending government (public) schools in Nepal, no matter how good they are in their studies or how hard they study, luck rarely does anything for them. Most never even become aware of scholarship opportunities.

I came to ponder all this as just recently applications for UWC scholarships were opened by Nepal UWC Selection Committee. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if hardly any youngster, apart from those that attend expensive private schools in Kathmandu, know anything about this incredible opportunity.

In Nepal for good now, I continue to dream. Recognising that I am in a position to do something about those children, I dream of playing “lady luck” to their hard work and drive. I shall be doing what I can to help them possibly win UWC scholarships. (I have heard that UWCs have stopped offering full scholarships to Nepalese students. And, what’s more, that some times the best applicant or applicants are unable to go because their families can’t afford the costs.)

Failing that, I shall also be doing what I can to possibly help them with placement at other very good institutions of further education abroad, or even in Nepal, possibly through COMMITTED’s sponsorship program or through other means, and thereby open up the world to them!

 

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