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Students from Nepal say culture and traditions of their country keep them grounded while away from home

An illustration of three people standing next to each other with flags and mountains in the background.

Living far from their mountainous home country, three students from Nepal said they always remember where they come from, no matter the distance. As they work to attain degrees and a future career, the Nepali students shared how they hold onto their heritage through physical reminders and thinking of family.

Rajkumar Tamang, a junior from Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, majoring in social work, said his identity is tied inseparably to his home country. Growing up attending boarding school away from Kathmandu because of his family’s financial issues, Tamang shared he learned great respect for his homeland.

Even though he lives thousands of miles away from Kathmandu, Tamang explained he hopes to return one day and make things better for the lives of others.

Growing up

“I lived in the middle of the jungle, not with my family, starting at age five,” Tamang explained.

“I grew up without a father, and my mom could not take care of all four kids. I never thought I would ever go out of Nepal, but as I grew up, I learned more about my country and the world outside where I lived and became interested in leaving.”

Ayusha Bayjoo, a junior from Swayambhu, Nepal, majoring in biology, said she grew up in a fairly well-off household. Bayjoo said she believed there were some things one could find in Nepal that could not be found in the Western world.

“Growing up, I didn’t live in the city, but Kathmandu was a big part of my life. From Swayambhu, it’s about a half-hour drive. When we were younger, we would have to walk 15-20 minutes just to get to the bus stop to go into the city. As kids, we have two very big festivals, Dashain and Tihar (known as Diwali in India), so most of my childhood was waiting for those.”

Dikshyanta Lama, a senior majoring in business supply from Kathmandu, said she grew up in the city, which she said included the privilege of going to a nice school outside of the villages her parents lived in while they were growing up. Despite having these privileges, she said she always remembered where she came from.

Because her father’s family still lived in the village away from the city, she shared she would go back at least once a year to see her extended relatives.

“It was always a reminder to be grateful and to be humble for what I had.”

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Both Tamang and Bayjoo said they do not want others to think of Nepal as just a poor country or as “the home of Mount Everest.”

“When I say we are poor,” Tamang began, “it is in comparison with other countries. When you compare it on a global scale, there is poverty. But I don’t think anyone in Nepal thinks they are poor or would even admit it. They will always have food to eat around where they live. In a global community, we are unfortunately seen as poor.”

Bayjoo said she believed comparing countries to each other was not a good idea, saying, “I think we should just appreciate what is in both countries. Nepal is so rich in life, culture and natural beauty. Nepal has a lot of potential. Rather than compare our home to another country unfairly, we focus on the good we’ve got.”

A town in Nepal with snow-covered mountains in the background.


Tamang shared an experience he said demonstrated the difference between Nepal and America. As he walked down the street the week before his interview, he was offered a very sugary candy, which he said was considered luxury in his home. “I thought, ‘This shows a lot about America,’” he exclaimed.

He said it had been many years before his family was able to get a refrigerator or a washing machine in Nepal, because they are traditionally Western luxuries. “The way we consume food is very different from the Western world. Back home, we hardly eat anything with a wrapper. If it’s in a can, it’s from another country. Now I have come to America, I have seen the lifestyle is privileged. There are so many luxuries.”

Bayjoo added how people from more developed countries might come to Nepal and think most of the people were poor because they did not have a fridge or furniture at home. “But for us, we have a roof over our head and always know where our next meal is coming from because of our agricultural society and that’s enough.”

Nepal relies heavily on tourism for its economic growth, according to Lama. Her father works as a trekking guide, or sherpa for tourists. “There are so many jobs in the tourism industry there. A lot of people rely on it to survive, whether it’s running a shop, being a porter or guiding tourists.”

Lama said she does not necessarily see tourism in her country as a bad thing, but she sees its dangers. “When I first came to America, I thought nobody would know where Nepal was, but I was surprised a lot of people knew. Tourism is a big reason behind it.

“I guess there is a danger of tourists seeing Nepal as just a tourism country and not seeing the people as people. They may see it as a ‘cheap country,’ a place to have a good time and go back home. Potentially, the culture could be exploited by visitors who don’t take the time to understand.”

Unity

“Nepal is a predominantly Hindu country,” according to Tamang, “with a lot of Buddhism as well ... All of the religions in Nepal celebrate the common things, like [the festivals] Dashain and Tihar. All the Hindus, the Buddhists and the Muslims celebrate each festival, and we come together as one.”

A photo of colored banners with a mountain in the background.


Lama agreed, as she said she loved the sense of harmony. “All the people who are Hindu and Buddhist live together with no sense of division. Growing up, there was a sentence in a book I read that said, ‘Nepal is like a garden of different flowers.’ So many ethnic backgrounds, languages and religions make my country beautiful.”

Like Bayjoo, Lama is not a member of the Church, but is a part of the Buddhist faith. However, she said she does not feel out of place at a school where she is the religious minority. “There are times when I feel a little different, but I guess it comes from being the minority. I’ve been talking to my friends, and I’ve told them how living here feels normal.”

Staying connected

After she graduates with a degree in biology, Bayjoo said she plans to return to Nepal, but she does not know if there will be many job opportunities suitable for her degree there. “With my advisor, I’ve been looking for jobs I could find back home, but I may need to travel to a country with more opportunities.”

Tamang, while devoted to his home country, said he knew he might have to make the hard decision of not working in Nepal.

“There’s a bigger job market outside of Nepal. I think, though, at the end of the day, I will face the future and see how things go. Going back home gives a sense of freedom, which stays a part of me. The feeling of freedom I get when I’m at home cannot be found anywhere else, no matter how developed.

“The way Americans feel proud of being American, I feel proud to be from Nepal, despite its political problems. I always feel connected to my country. There are, of course, some things I don’t like about my country, which I’m sure is the same for everyone. When I sing songs, it’s the biggest part of being connected with home. It overwhelms me every time.

“To be in my soil, to be in my own land, no matter how poor, this feeling drives me to work hard and remember who I am – to be true to my country. I still miss back home because of all the good memories. I feel like I’m not in Laie. I feel when I get out of the school, I’m going to go home, and things will be like they were before.”

To keep part of her home and remember who she is culturally, Bayjoo said she cooks Nepali food and gets together with Tamang and his wife to celebrate Dashain, as well as wearing traditional clothes. “Being in touch with my family helps too because I can remember who I am.

“It is hard to connect with people who have had those first-world opportunities since they were young,” Bayjoo said. “You can be very good friends with them, but it is hard to connect. When people from the same place interact, there is already so much common ground.”

To stay connected with her home, Lama said she stays in contact with her family and holds on to her traditional clothing. “It was my first year here, and my mom sent me a piece of clothing, which I keep in my room to remind me of home. My last name is also ‘Lama,’ which means ‘priest’ in Buddhism. My grandfather on my mom’s side was part of a line of priests. I believe there is an entity, something out there, in praying.”