It was the spring of 2017. Having spent 6 months in New Zealand with a Working Holiday Visa before entering my university, I knew that I should be doing something abroad instead of sulking at home. But then, I had zero ideas on what to do, so I opened up and talked to my roommate. Coincidently, he knew of a program which offers volunteer programs all around the world. I had been wanting to travel to Nepal for trekking, so it's the first country I checked, and long story short, I applied for the program, and I'll be teaching kids in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.
But I constantly doubted my decision, I always hated kids, you know. They're so annoying, they cry so much, duh. However, I knew I had to shake off this stereotype and embrace them. "It's only for one month, I told myself.
My Class in Kathmandu, Nepal
I was assigned to an elementary school, Traibidya Shikchhya Sadan in Kathmandu, and I was arranged to stay with my school principal, Ms. Sangeeta. She is a super helpful and kind lady, and it's not hard to see why every kid in the school likes her so much.
The kids that I was assigned to teach are between 5-8 years old, which is the golden period of "let's make some troubles" in kids.
For the 5-6 years old kids, the job was challenging in terms of the language barrier. The kids are too young to speak English, or maybe they're just too shy to talk to a foreigner. The kids from 7-8 years old were of a different story. They speak amazing English, well, some of them, and I had no problem communicating with them at all.
The Curriculum in Kathmandu
Now here's the question, what were we teaching in the school? Most people would think that we were teaching English or Mathematics – no, we were teaching Geography and basically just teaching alongside with other Nepalese teachers.
I know, our roles sound quite insignificant there. We tried to make every class as interesting as possible and created some materials to make the learning fun. Gotta say that colouring is the easiest and most participating activity during my time there. I still remember vividly how we tried to teach them our national flag's colour, only to be messed up into a rainbow colour national flag.
The amazing experience lasted for a month and we had to leave the school. The last day is one of my most unforgettable days of all-time. The school prepared a farewell ceremony for us, and each of the classes presented pieces of their work. I tried to hold back but eventually cried so much that one of my students, Evan, later told me "Sir, you cried like a baby just now."
No, I didn't make this up!
What I Learned From This Nepal Trip
Traveling in Nepal made me realize many things, but the one thing to really emphasize is how nice Nepalese people are. And it somehow left me thinking about how unfair society was in Malaysia. There are many Nepalese labourers working in Malaysia, and they are often treated unwell by employers. Low wages, bad accommodation, unfair treatment, and almost zero career advancement.
It's not only me. I'm not the kind of the people who just sees the good side of the country I visit. I believe I've seen quite a lot by living in the residential area when I was teaching on how the society is in Nepal. All of my volunteer friends said the same thing.
There were also a few culture shocks for me too. Like how normal it is for people to spit on the ground and how early Nepalese people go to bed. One time when I was out with my friends after class and got back at 9 pm, the house was pitch black. I called my school principal and it turned out the whole family is already sleeping (I thought they were out for dinner or something!). I felt bad but learned it the awkward way. It's not just them. The whole street was dark, almost every house had their lights off after 8.30 pm.
Where to Next?
It's amazing how differently society works in Nepal compared to other countries, like my home country Malaysia. And the process to experience these differences is always rewarding. I'm always grateful that I had the opportunity to go through the experience myself.
I promised myself to return back to Nepal after graduating from university, and I'll definitely go back to the elementary school and see how everyone is doing!
Written by: Zheng Yen Ang
Yen is a full-time university student who always takes full advantages of his holidays to travel for new experiences. He's been to New Zealand for Working Holiday before having his road trip, volunteered in Kathmandu, Nepal and exchanged in California along with several backpacking trips through Southeast Asia. Having spent months in foreign countries, he gives in-depth travel tips and guides in his travel blog, www.swingabroad.com