Living completely in the moment: College of Human Sciences’ study abroad trip to Nepal offers immersive and unforgettable experience

Graham Brooks | Communications Editor

For the first time since 2018, a group of College of Human Sciences students and faculty members experienced a trip of a lifetime that included an 8-day trek through the foothills of the Himalayas, visiting a Tibetan refugee camp, exploring the jungles of Chitwan National Park and more on a study abroad trip to Nepal offered through the College of Human Sciences Office of Global Education.

Seven College of Human Sciences students made the trip to Nepal for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the biennial trip in 2020. Of the seven students, six stayed for the study abroad experience and completed an internship spending nearly 10 weeks in Nepal.

Through the sustainable travel company Five14Nepal, students learned about community development and responsible tourism as Five14Nepal’s goal is to prevent exploitation through ethical travel. The study abroad students experienced this first hand through justice and social business tours where they looked at organizations and businesses that are working to combat exploitation either through employing at risk women or taking in women who have been exploited and are providing them with ethical jobs and life skills.

Global Education Academic Programs Administrator Megan Elliott, who lived in Nepal from 2009-11, helped lead the 2022 trip and discussed how much Nepal has improved their infrastructure in the last decade, but more importantly, how the country has made huge strides when it comes to combating human exploitation and sustainability.

“I used to live in Nepal and so I knew what life was like there and how much corruption and exploitation there can be,” Elliott said. “In the 10 years since Five14 has been working there, they have effectively eliminated exploitation in the region. In the past year, only 19 girls were trafficked when it used to be thousands and 18 of the 19 were actually recovered. Even though we’re trekking and having a good time, the goal is to kind of let students see how simply showing up and using ethical organizations can have an impact.”

Another highlight of the trip to Nepal was embarking on an 8-day trek through the Himalayas using established trekking routes where students would hike from village to village experiencing Nepali culture through homestays.

Dr. Clark Danderson, assistant professor and director of Brewing Science and Operations at Auburn University, attended the study abroad trip to Nepal for the first time and brought with him years of hiking and climbing experience.

“Nepal has always been a country that’s been on my bucket list,” Danderson said. “I’m an avid climber so I spend a lot of time hiking and backpacking mostly on the Appalachian Trail or the North Country Trail up in Michigan. I’ve always been a big fan of mountaineering culture and of course you have the highest mountain in Nepal being Everest but also at some of the highest peaks you can get like 8,000 meters. It’s always been something that’s been of interest to me and a dream to go to these places to see the culture and see the geography and experience it. When Megan approached me with the opportunity it was a pretty easy yes.”

While trekking through the mountains, access to cell phone service and the internet is nearly non-existent and while this is something many Americans can’t imagine going without in 2022, this only strengthened the bond students had with each other, and also with the Nepali people.

“While we are trekking the students are in the moment and they focus on what they’re doing,” Danderson said. “They learn about the culture and see the cultural interactions so they get pushed in ways that they never thought they would and it’s challenging. Having that sort of cultural intelligence prepares them in life and makes them better especially in the hospitality fields where they’re going to deal with people from diverse backgrounds and it makes it easier to navigate those differences.”

One of the students on the trip Reagan Myers, a junior double majoring in Human Development and Family Science and Nonprofit Studies, explained how living in the moment and being able to unplug was one of the best parts of being in Nepal.

“Getting away from internet service and social media is rare these days,” Myers said. “We lived completely in the moment while embracing rural life. Our days were spent hiking and evenings spent playing the card game Phase 10, entertaining village children, and eating dal bhat, a local cuisine of Nepal. This was easily one of the best weeks of my life.”

When traveling to Nepal, Elliott said visitors to the country will notice just how resourceful, innovative and infinitely hopeful the Nepali people are while facing extreme challenges on a daily basis such as water shortages, infrastructure issues and more.

“Nepal can be really hard, there’s a lot of things that can be really hard but at the same time it just gets under your skin and it doesn’t let you go,” Elliott said. “Once you’ve been there you love it and want to go back.”

Myers echoed that sentiment and said she wants to return to Nepal after having an amazing experience through the College of Human Sciences study abroad program.

“The Nepali culture is centered around relationships and community,” Myers said. “I’ve been welcomed into more homes than anywhere else and treated like family by friends I just met. The Nepali people have shown me what it truly means to love my neighbor as myself. I am coming home filled with gratitude for this country, the opportunities I’ve received, and all my blessings back home that I’ve taken for granted.”

For students wishing to stay up to date on current study abroad programs in the College of Human Sciences, visit the Office of Global Education Instagram @AUGlobaledu, Facebook @auglobaleducation and the Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy program @auburninitaly_jsb for the most updated information including student study abroad testimonies and spotlights.