I only turned eighteen nine days before flying out to Nepal – I had finished school on my birthday also, and everything moved so fast in the week between the events. Before I knew it, I was on a plane and there was no going back. Prior to this, I had been no further than 150 miles from home …. and this time it was over 4,500. It was a big step, and more than once in the lead up I freaked out and wished I could cancel the trip – staying home with my family seemed an awful lot easier. However, as hard as it was, I still boarded that plane, and fifteen hours later I was emerging from Kathmandu Airport, mildly terrified but full of excitement.
I knew I wanted to travel this summer, and had originally planned a trip around Europe with friends, but that had fallen through and I was left with a free summer, two years of savings and a desperate yearning to travel. So I took the plunge and I decided to go alone … and whilst difficult, it was one of the best decisions I made. As was coming to Nepal; I wanted to go somewhere a little different, not entirely the most obvious option, like Thailand or Vietnam where everyone seems to be going these days. The culture of Nepal also fascinated me; the combination of race and religion and cultures. I did not know a huge amount about the tourist side of the country before booking, but many friends and family gave me recommendations, many of which I ended up doing with VCD, who took me sightseeing the first couple of days to help me acclimatise to the different culture before I went to my placement.
I had never been outside Europe or the United States before I came to Nepal, so I was expecting a certain culture shock; but whilst different, it was not in fact quite as much as I would have expected. Perhaps it was because I spent the majority of my time in Kathmandu and the surrounding valley, but I never felt unsafe or completely out of my depth, especially when with other volunteers, many of whom are sure to become friends for life.
My placement was at the Khawalung Monastery in the north-east part of the Kathmandu Valley, a short walk from Boudhanuth and only thirty minutes drive from the centre of Kathmandu. I shared a room with a wonderful woman from Mexico, and we awoke every morning at seven for a delicious breakfast which was always varied – sometimes beaten rice and chickpeas, maybe naan breads and spicy potatoes, even noodles some days. Lunch and dinner was served at eleven thirty and six and consisted of the typical dhal bhat, which over these weeks I have gone from liking to absolutely loving – I am definitely going to miss it! The combination of rice with a delicious lentil soup and my favourite – curried vegetables – was always something I looked forward to, as well as leaving me full and satisfied afterwards. It took very little for me to adjust, and my advice to other volunteers (especially when it comes to food) would be to throw yourself in at the deep end and not be afraid to try things, as long as they are safe and you know where they’re from! The doughnuts here are also tasty, and I had momo regularly (buffalo, chicken and vegetable) and loved them every time. Lassi and Nepali tea are also wonderfully sweet drinks!
At nine thirty from Monday to Friday, we taught English – 45 minutes for the older ones but up to two hours with the younger ones. Whilst planning lessons was often a challenge (especially as a native speaker who had not always considered the ins and outs of her own language), I reveled in it, and it was incredibly rewarding to see the boys improve, even in the nine days I was there. I love languages and being able to share mine was something I definitely want to do again in the future. The boys themselves were contiuously gorgeous, always curious and in an amazing mood, despite waking up at five every morning! It was fun to play with them in the occasional free time they got, or tease the older ones whilst they borrowed our phones to check their Facebook accounts. I will definitely miss them and their individual quirks and experiences.
For me, the people are what made it. Not only the boys, but also the other volunteers like I mentioned previously. There are a few that I am already planning on visiting in a few months, and a couple who I am sure will become friends for life. I think when everyone is in the same situation: coming alone, slightly scared but eager to travel and learn and experience, you bond very quickly. You are already pretty like-minded, and everyone supports each other through any ups and downs, always smiles and kind words. On one of my last nights I went out for a meal with my fellow volunteers; we had an incredible evening and I miss them already. Planning the next trip is definitely getting me through it!
Throughout this entire experience, VCD Nepal have been wonderful to me – right from stepping out of the airport I was looked after, introduced to the new culture, taken to all the sights and driven to my placement. During the time I was not with them, I was given a phone number and told I could call if there were ever even any hints of a problem – luckily, I had none, but I knew that if there were, they would be there as soon as possible. Staying in the Light House was so much fun, playing card games with other volunteers or learning about the new culture. At the beginning of my trip, two weeks seemed like it would stretch on forever, but now, with less than twenty four hours left in this beautiful, mad country, I can’t quite believe how fast time has passed. It was certainly a learning curve, and it wasn’t always easy, but looking back I don’t regret it for a second. Coming to Nepal at this time in my life was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I am so grateful I got the opportunity.
Jasmine Altham, UK
2 weeks teaching monks