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by Bailey Marsheck
Staff Writer

It’s fascinating how a country deemed “The Roof of the World” can fall so deeply into the shadows of its neighbors. The small Himalayan nation of Nepal, sandwiched between China and India, has struggled to find its footing since its 1990 transition from monarchy to series of short, dysfunctional democratic regimes. Its economy has grown neither robustly nor equitably. Nepal is disadvantaged by its landlocked, heavily mountainous terrain. As a result, its poor and isolated rural areas are a far cry from the relative wealth of the Kathmandu Valley. Yet if the Nepali government were to prioritize its education system, especially in improving the rural schools lagging far behind their urban counterparts, Nepal may eventually outgrow its impoverished LDC status to become a major player in South Asia.  Nepal’s recent local and national elections could be a first step in the right direction.

Nepal is ranked 144th out of the 188 countries on the United Nations’ 2016 Human Development Report, using an HDI indicator argued to be a better measure of living standard than GDP because it captures disparity in wealth and opportunity. In particular, the children of rural Nepali villages face massive education inequality. Many children have to walk up to two hours a day to attend underfunded schools decimated by a massive earthquake in 2015.

Like many countries struggling to develop, Nepal remains trapped in a stifling economic cycle. It has poor infrastructure and an underfunded education system, providing it citizens with few opportunities to prosper. Those who do find success tend to pursue employment elsewhere, exposing Nepal to brain drain as the number of Nepali citizens migrating outwards for work is growing each year. Many of these workers use migration as a means to support families back home in Nepal, as 31% of Nepal’s 2015 GDP was remittance-based, the highest of any country in Asia or the Pacific. The problem is that the Nepalese are working to build up other developed nations, subsisting but creating nothing of value within Nepal itself.

Some of Nepal’s struggles stem from a systematic lack of human capital. The few who get the choice to leave Nepal for lucrative job opportunities are almost always from wealthier urban provinces, where students attend private schools and learn English at a much higher rate. English language learning is essential for achieving the requisite level of education to succeed in today’s globalized world. Nepal has few established universities and many Nepalese seek higher education outside of Nepal, impossible in most cases without a firm grasp of English. The Nepali language is rarely spoken by foreigners, while English is the business lingua franca for those working abroad or even internally with the few multinational corporations in Nepal. English is also paramount to Nepal’s tourism industry, making up 7.5% of Nepal’s 2016 GDP as adventurous travelers seek the beauty of the Himalayas and the Annapurna Mountains.

Yet those living in rural areas don’t have access to proper school materials, least of all English learning resources. A staggering 81% of Nepal’s population is designated by the World Bank as rural dwellers, one of the highest percentages in the world. Most of these villagers are relegated to quasi-subsistence farming lifestyles, with agriculture being the largest share of Nepal’s GDP. As Nepal’s mountainous terrain isn’t very fertile, farmers work terraced plots and hope for favorable monsoon seasons.

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Having lived an agricultural existence for generations, many parents don’t see the advantages of sending children to school and assume they will take over their parents’ farming role. Those who do attend make do with a lack of basic materials in the old school buildings left intact by 2015’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. There are still significant gender barriers in Nepali culture regarding education as well. Girls are the first children to be pulled from schools and put to work or even married off, as Nepal is very patriarchal and education for girls often isn’t considered worthwhile. A massive 30% of Nepali children never start school, and only 70% of those who do start even make it to grade 8. The school participation rate is highly skewed towards the urban male demographic.

Recent Developments

Nepal has been in the news with an unusual frequency over the last few years. Foremost was a possible stabilization of Nepal’s government along with political empowerment of local communities.  May 2017 brought the first local elections in over 20 years as the country decentralizes its political power, continuing its transition from a unitary system to a federalist structure. A more equitable power distribution may help to close the gulf between Kathmandu and surrounding areas as representatives from rural provinces can ensure that those in the central government expand their policy scope. With stronger connections to government officials, citizens will be encouraged to push for modernizing reforms rather than leaving politics to the urban elites.

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In December of 2017, a landmark legislative election brought the communist “Left Alliance” of the United Marxist-Leninist and Maoist Centre parties to power. Two of the major selling points for voters were the coalition’s prospects for stability and grassroots mobilization. More than just an exercise of political voice, a stable Nepali government would increase the country’s attractiveness to multinational corporations. One reason for Nepal’s low level of foreign direct investment is an unpredictable government system littered with corruption, discouraging any companies from entering and establishing Nepali industry. Good governance might serve as a rebranding signal that the country is open for business. But stability remains far from a given, as the Maoist party is best known for its Mao Zedong-esque revolutionary spirit and was involved in an armed struggle with the government only a decade ago. There are hopes that the party’s more progressive treatment of women and rural proletarian empowerment may encourage higher levels of education and equality. Communist ideologies have a polarized relationship with education, as education systems have both been encouraged and done away with entirely in the pursuit of socialism. At the same time, the parties have adopted a milder ideology accepting the necessity of building up economic power in order to thrive.

There are reasons to be optimistic about Nepal’s future development. A less centralized political system with a governing coalition that is more in touch with its people should better allocate resources to poorer regions. Assuming the current government outlasts its predecessors, political continuity has a chance to attract outside investment and keep Nepal’s brightest from emigrating for more lucrative opportunities. But the necessary human capital to take advantage of these opportunities is impossible to build without equalizing an education system that privileges the few urbanites while ignoring the country’s overwhelmingly-rural labor force.

Images by:
World Bank Photo Collection
Bruno Vanbesien


by Madisen Ro
Staff Writer

On a flight back from Oahu, Hawaii, my mother and I sat in an emergency exit row. We were excited about having the extra leg room until a flight attendant asked my mother, “Are you comfortable with performing all of the necessary emergency procedures?”

My mother, a Korean-American elementary school teacher born, raised and educated in Los Angeles, was a little confused, as she had never sat in an emergency exit row before. Though slightly unsure of the exact procedures, she nodded her head, indicating that she would be fine carrying them out. Taking this slight hesitation as a sign of a language barrier, the flight attendant proceeded to ask, “Do you speak English?”

When we visited Seoul, South Korea, my mother found it slightly difficult to adjust to the culture. She didn’t know how to use the metro or the bus system. She didn’t know about the new, trendy Korean street foods, but also didn’t exactly like the bland, simple food at her grandmother’s house.

Feeling like a foreigner in both one’s home country or culture and one’s parents’ home country or culture is a common theme among many “third culture kids.” This term was coined in the 1950s to describe children who grow up in a culture other than their parents’ during their formative years. In my mother’s case, she grew up in America while her parents are from South Korea.

Many different circumstances can qualify someone as a third culture kid. While the term can be applied to immigrants or children of immigrants, it also includes kids who grew up living in many different places. Often, kids follow their parents to different countries because of their jobs. Some kids of diplomats, missionaries, and military personnel grow up in expat communities and others attend boarding school abroad.

As a student at UCSD, it can be easy to dismiss all of the different international influences that are right here on campus. According to admission statistics of the incoming freshmen class of 2016, over 80% of admits are American. It is far more common to be exposed to the perspectives of American students here, yet international students can offer us new viewpoints and mindsets. In such a globalized world, appreciating and learning about people of other cultures makes us more tolerant and fosters new relationships.

Hoping to gain some insight, I interviewed a few students who identified as third culture kids.

Dorothea was born in Singapore, but moved when she was less than two. She has spent most of her life in the Bay Area in Northern California and considers herself Chinese-American. In addition to speaking English fluently, she can speak conversational Mandarin and Cantonese. When visiting family in Hong Kong or Singapore, she states, “Though I don’t feel like an outsider, I know people in that country definitely see me as a tourist.”

Alternatively, Elaine, an international student at UCSD, has lived her entire life abroad in Bangkok, Thailand. She and her family are originally from Taiwan. She attended an international school in Bangkok and can speak English, Mandarin, and Thai fluently. Though she says that she is from Thailand when someone asks her where she is from, she explains, “I feel like an outsider in both [Thailand and Taiwan]… I speak Mandarin and am accustomed to the culture, but I never lived in Taiwan. I live in Thailand, but my family and friends are not Thai.” She also stated that a “cultural barrier” exists whenever she visits Taiwan because she does not understand pop culture references.

Claire is a Michigan-born American girl who spent ages 5 to 10 in Hong Kong and ages 10 to 14 in Belgium due to her father’s jobs. She attended high school in Wisconsin. Though living abroad for nearly 10 years, she says that she “always considered [herself] to be from [America].” She doesn’t consider herself an outsider in the States because she lived in an expat community in both Hong Kong and Belgium. However, she does consider herself an outsider in both those places.

Veronika was born to an American father and a Czech mother, but grew up in Germany. She speaks German, English and Czech fluently and studied French in high school. It’s a bit more difficult for her to explain where she’s from, as people are often surprised to hear that she doesn’t have an accent and that neither of her parents are German despite being from Germany. Veronika states that “there’s been minor instances where I’ve felt like an outsider, but rarely ever in a negative way… Everyone’s been pretty welcoming of my different background and really just excited to hear a different viewpoint…” That’s not to say that her upbringing didn’t bring about awkward situations. There were times when cultural differences such as different snacks, different clothes, or different sports “will make you the cool kid, sometimes the weird kid – it’s a blessing and a curse.”

All of the students had different experiences living in places where their parents are not from. Some people, such as Dorothea, assimilate completely and find their nationality in the country that is different from their parents’. Others, such as Claire, never truly lose the cultural identity of their parents’ home country despite living abroad for so long. Some people, such as Elaine, don’t identify with just one country as their home. It’s often difficult to label people with one nationality or culture, and even the term “third culture kid” includes a wide range of people with unique and independent experiences.

All of the students expressed that their identity as a “third culture kid” has made them a more tolerant or open-minded person in general. Whether it is because they were exposed to multiple cultures from a young age or because they have had unique and diverse experiences growing up abroad, all of the students’ backgrounds growing up have shaped them into who they are.

Veronika words it nicely when she states, “I absolutely think that being a third culture kid has helped me be more open minded and tolerant. Well, more open-minded, more tolerant of different values and opinions, but less tolerant of things like xenophobia and negative cultural stereotypes. My background has made me realize that there really are no blanket statements for nationalities.”

My mother would probably agree. She is not always accepted in America as an American, yet she is a fish out of water in Korea. Lots of people have experienced feeling like a cultural outsider, and yet these situations have shaped their understandings and subtly taught them the importance of tolerance. Understanding the international perspectives in our own community plays an important role in showing the complexity of personal ethnic or national identities and can be an opportunity for learning and for interesting conversations. In a world that is so interconnected, interactions with the international community is arguably inevitable. Understanding our neighbors can help us understand the world today, and how it is changing.

Image by rvacapinta


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By Aisha Subhan
Contributing Writer

*This essay was originally published in The UCSD Guardian and can be viewed here. If you would like to submit a piece to us, then please email us.

Education is a scarce and precious resource — but a vital one. For those in pursuit of a higher education in war-torn areas, the educations of their dreams remain insurmountable. Now, new challenges lie ahead in America.

In light of recent currents events, I first urge the University of California President Janet Napolitano to issue a statement demanding protection for international and refugee students and the repeal of the executive order’s ban on student visas. Further, I urge UC San Diego to establish a scholarship program for promising students who qualify for refugee or political asylum status.

In response to this crisis, UCSD could play a unique, life-saving role. For the university’s benefit, a scholarship program of the like could further UCSD’s mission and future goals.

Within UCSD’s mission lies the following statement: “As a public university, it’s our responsibility to give back to society by educating global citizens, discovering new knowledge, creating new technology, and contributing to our economy.” Providing and assisting for the world’s refugee population, would serve as lasting investments in all of these areas. Such a population would only enrich our society.

UCSD anticipates creating a new environment that will require “critical thinking, emotional intelligence and other key skills that have previously not been emphasized.”

UCSD has a chance, more than ever, to respond, to act and to save lives. These key skills that the university hopes to emphasize can factor into a response to the very crisis mentioned here.

While darkness, destruction and despair currently haunt these nations, one must think critically about the future. The children of these nations, refugees and the internally displaced are the future of this region upon return. Why not assist these children in the building of their foundations? Why not give them an opportunity to prosper and grow? Why not help them so they can help their nations’ heal?

In responding to this crisis, one must also utilize emotional intelligence. Given the certain climate of our world order today, we must sympathize more, open our hearts more widely and imagine being in the shoes of refugees and those seeking asylum. Much of our fellow humanity wishes for escape, hopes to continue to live and aspire just as we do. In displaying who we are, we can choose to respond, to improve lives and to shape a better future for us all.

Because of similar scholarship programs and initiatives like Books not Bombs and the Institute of International Education, several success stories have emerged. Commenting on his experience, Syrian student at University of Evanston and scholarship recipient Walid Hasanato stated, “Life is better when you are genuine, simple, nice and inviting. Life is better when you are human” (Books not Bombs).

Finally, I urge UCSD to absorb this simple sentiment, to make it our own. Life is better when you are human. Life is better when we aid our common humanity. Life is better when we remain committed to all lives. Life is better when we support life.
Because I envision this program to support life itself, I have named the future scholarship program the The LIFE (Learning Initiative for Freedom and Equality) scholarship. It has the power to help us achieve the sentiments stated above: UCSD students and faculty, I urge you to help me in this pursuit.

Photo by United Nations Photo