I am often met with a surprised face when I tell people what I do in Nepal. “But all Nepali students are going to Australia! Why would an Australian come to Nepal?” Foreign students undertaking course work full-time in Nepal seem to be a rare commodity. This is my testimony of the experience: studying for one semester at Tribhuvan University.
As a New Colombo Plan Scholar—a flagship program of the Australian government aiming to make deeper connections within the Indo-Pacific region—I was funded to undertake one semester of study in the Master’s of Anthropology program at TU. In the 11 months that I have been here in Kathmandu, I haven’t yet met another foreign exchange student. However, I have bumped into dozens of Nepali students with relatives or friends who have moved over to my home city, Melbourne, and even to study at Monash University where I completed my undergraduate degree.
Studying at TU has been a challenging, unique, rich experience. I arrived in mid-January with the expected semester start date of February 1st. But it wasn’t until two months later in April that we actually began our classes. It was a frustrating time, walking up the tree-lined streets of the Kirtipur campus each week, books in hand and eager to learn, only to be told that there was another delay and that I should go back home.
Then, after a couple of weeks of class in early April, the devastating earthquake shut down academic institutions across the affected zone for a month or more. Having expected to be back in Australia by July, I reached the date in my calendar marked “Fly Home!” with only three weeks of class under my belt.
Thankfully, I was able to extend my time in Nepal, and with the hiatus finally over classes began again in earnest. My enduring impression of this time in the classroom will not be of broken windows, scratched walls or dusty desks, but of the vibrant discussions on anthropological theory, the spirited presentations about fictive kinship, and the constant challenge from our professors to ‘think!’
But beyond all this, my fondest memory will be of the deep friendships formed with my classmates. As the only foreigner in the room, feeling out of place and a far from home, I was welcomed by a wonderful group of young, intelligent, warm-hearted Nepali students. They were eager to learn and digest and process, not just in the classroom, but in the countless hours spent drinking tea at the dingy TU canteen where I think I learnt more about Nepali culture than anywhere else.
But the warmth and intelligence and friendship of my anthropology classmates leaves a bitter-sweet taste, because the rich experience of university exchange in Nepal is unlikely to be enjoyed by many Australian students in the near future. Australian universities will always be reluctant to offer Nepal as an exchange destination if they cannot guarantee that the overseas study program will fit within their own semester system.
In Australia, a university starts on a fixed date and ends on a fixed date, dictating and shaping its engagement with other universities around the world through exchange relationships. However, the lack of fixed semester dates is a huge obstacle facing TU as a member of the international academic world.
To institute a semester system with predetermined, fixed start and end dates would be a small step for TU to take. Surely the TU administration wants to harness the depth of opportunities that formalized exchange partnerships would offer to its students? And who can measure the positive benefits that such long-term, tertiary-level partnerships would bring to the establishment as a whole?
(This is the experience of Sam Williams originally published in Republica National daily entitled "The TU experience".