taking stock

a sabbatical rest, day 139

kathmandu lockdown, day 18

If we can’t get a plane home, my sabbatical may last forever. But realistically, we should get home next month, in June, like we had planned. My sabbatical isn’t functionally over until I start teaching classes in the fall, but this seems like a good time to take stock. I looked back at what I planned, and have made some progress on all my professional goals. Notice the word “some.”

Teaching journalism

I came expecting to teach media theory at Tribhuvan University, but, after some visa hassles (“some” again) and with classes on again and off again, I only gave one lecture about research writing online. Most of my progress has been in cultivating relationships with the faculty here in the Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. It’s a remarkable team, with plenty of practical experience and journalism education expertise.

Travel has been restricted here, but the faculty included me in some trips to the main campus, and I’ve met deans and reviewed exam questions. A few meals, a few meetings, but most of what we’ve talked about, and I’ve thought about, is a new curriculum. They are in a temporary and inadequate location, but a new building is under construction, with new labs and more space. They want a new curriculum to go with it.

The building, designed to look like a camera, represents considerable vision and effort. I can’t imagine, given the nature of bureaucracy here, how the department head, Chiranjivi Khanal, ever arranged the property and funding. His faculty gives his vision and persistence full credit, and he (characteristically) credits his faculty. This includes, lacking a better word, my “handler” DevRaj Aryal, a working journalist and faculty member. And friend.

This is a strong team, and my modest contribution has been to review the curriculum and make suggestions. The real progress, in my view, is the potential to keep helping, either in future trips or online.

Language learning

Katie and I also hoped to become conversational in Nepali. Not going to happen: this is a three-year project. For one thing, most of our contacts (educated Nepalis) speak English, so we didn’t get the practice we needed. Even the staff in our apartment understand enough English to respond to most basic requests. I can ask them to bring a jug of water to our room in Nepali, and talk about the weather. But if I really need anything I don’t have to speak Nepali.

But we have made real progress on the alphabet, and as we continue to read and write our vocabulary will expand. It’s very phonetic; if you can read a word, you know how to say it. But the script is different, with 50 or so letters, depending on which book you are learning from. And the vowels (13) have a symbol that can be attached to the consonants.

No need to explain it all here, but this seems like a milestone worth celebrating. We will continue lessons when we get home, and try to speak Nepali with our Nepali friends. It’s coming. Bistarai (slowly).

Culture guide

A third goal was to be a better culture guide when we bring students to Nepal from our university in Michigan. We wanted to make new contacts and explore new venues. We did, starting with the university faculty here and small business owners in our neighborhood. Not only that, but we spent time in Bhaktapur with people from a new (to us) tribal group. And we went to new places, including the Mustang mountains.

We also developed some street smarts, shopping, walking, and eating. (Street smarts deserves a future post.) Once we master a little more Nepali, students should have confidence in what we know and do, even though the most important thing we learned was we have much more to learn and do. Humility is always a good place to start in cross-cultural education.

I also read three local (English language) newspapers every day and got a better sense of the complicated cultural, economic and political challenges facing Nepal. I’m not an expert, but I’ll take Nepali politics for $200, Alex. Of course, the politics will be different by the time we return. Same politics, I imagine. Different cast; probably the same caste.


Overall, (some) progress on every front. I wouldn’t change anything about it, not even the challenges we’ve faced. We have been surrounded by beautiful, gracious people. We also had the chance to help start a Food Bank in Bhaktapur, and contribute to another one in Lalitpur. Many beautiful, generous people from home have invested in unemployed workers in Nepal affected by the pandemic and lockdown. (You can donate here.) Thanks to all the friends, family, former students, and colleagues who have helped. Distribution began today.

This is the right time and the right place for us to be here. We have learned much and loved much. And have so much more to learn.

1 thought on “taking stock”

  1. Well done, well begun Wally and Katie. David Martin Stevens

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