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Country in profile: Nepal

Blazer from Pokhara compares life in her homeland to freedoms in American society

October 7, 2010
In America, students who don't do their homework are punished with a small grade deduction. But in Nepal, where junior Til Kumari Paraguli spent most of her childhood, students are swatted with a wooden stick.

In a small way, this reflects an authoritarian streak that is common in Nepalese society. The country was once ruled by an absolute monarchy, spurring a resistance movement and then a decade-long civil war. The government became a republic in 2008, but the revolt against the monarchy cost 12,000 lives.

Paraguli's family decided to move in 2008 for other reasons. Her father had been living in the U.S. since 2003 in order to earn a green card, which he needed before he could bring the rest of his family. Paraguli's parents believed that America would provide their children with a stronger education and better opportunities compared to their war-torn country.

Schooling struggles
In Nepal, Paraguli attended a small private school in her hometown of Pokhara, located in the central region of the country. She wore a uniform, and attended classes six days a week. Even in the classrooms, teachers did not encourage creativity and free discussion. According to Sudyamna Dahal, a Fulbright Scholar from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, rote memorization is a common teaching method in Nepal. "You study the book and you memorize in order to pass the exam at the end of the year," says Dahal. "That's the only motive."

Paraguli witnessed students receiving corporal punishment, sometimes even daily, but she was never a victim. Teachers struck students on the hands or ordered them to stand up and sit down in their chairs a certain number of times, depending on the extremity of their behavior. Paraguli had mixed feelings about the punishments. "Sometimes it was kind of heartbreaking," she says. "But sometimes I thought it was good, because if you get punished you will start doing the homework." Paraguli actually liked her teachers, despite the punishments they imposed.

An epiphany

The authoritarian style of governing, similar to the common style of teaching, has taken a toll on citizens. Even the current, elected government denies freedoms and does not provide Nepali people with equal opportunities. According to Paraguli, wealthy citizens with government positions give their relatives jobs, even if these relatives are not qualified. "They just want their success, not all people's success," she says.

Many Nepali citizens have been trying to change the country's political system for years, but sometimes not for the better. In 1996, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal, also known as the Maoist guerrilla group, started fighting to overthrow the monarchy. They fought a brutal, bloody campaign until 2006, when negotiations took place, eventually leading to free elections and the formation of a parliament.

Maoists now participate in the government, but they have continued their violent protests in order to scare citizens into voting for them. In 2007, Paraguli and her family were shopping near Mahendrapool, a bridge in Pokhara, when a Maoist demonstration broke out. Roughly 250 rioters were throwing stones, waving sticks and parading around the streets with red flags. Paraguli and her family took shelter in a store, where the owner locked the doors until the protesters left the area.

The experience triggered an epiphany for Paraguli. She felt the need to make a difference in her community. "I was thinking that one day I will help all the poor people and get these people in jail," she says. Paraguli plans on doing her part to help by entering the medical field one day.

Life without strife

By coming to America, Paraguli says she will get a better education and be able to attend medical school. At Blair, unlike in Nepal, students can take honors and AP courses. Paraguli is able to learn at a faster pace, especially in her favorite subject: math.

The technology at Blair also helps in the learning process, Paraguli says. Promethean boards and computers are an improvement compared to the blackboards used in Nepal, where schools get far less funding than in the United States. "If the teacherís handwriting [was] not good, you [didn't] understand anything," she laughs.

Natalie Rutsch
Though she appreciates the education and technology offered at Blair, Paraguli is disappointed in the way students treat teachers and classmates. "They say bad things about [teachers] and talk to them with an attitude," says Paraguli, adding that students also disrespect one another. She says she feels frustrated when people cut in front of her in the lunch line.

Still, Paraguli says she feels fortunate to have so many opportunities in the United States. She misses the majestic beauty of Mount Everest and is sad to live so far away from many of her relatives. But America is now her new home. "I think home is where you live, where you live is your home," she says. "I still love Nepal. I was born in Nepal but I want to stay in America."