And Off We Go!

Suddenly after twenty years of life in Wisconsin I’m planning on moving around, A LOT. In addition to studying abroad in Peru next year, I leave for a three-week trip to Nepal in about one week. My only real worry right now is sickness or injury because I know it’s bad enough being sick in your own bed, with roommates or mothers a phone call away. In order to dispel my fear a little bit, I’m armed with the technology of 4 different vaccines, about five over-the-counter medicines, ginger, Malaria and traveler’s diarrhea medication, water filtration weapons, sun screen, bug spray, photocopies of everything that proves I’m an actual human, and of course, ‘good walking shoes’ (this key ingredient apparently cannot be emphasized enough, but it is a good tip).

I’m going to Nepal with a group of UW-Madison students for a Global Health Field Experience, which is basically a mandatory travel learning experience in order to put all those class lectures in context of the real world. The one thing everyone knows about Nepal, even if you think you don’t, is that it contains Mount Everest, along with 7 of the other ten highest peaks in the world. I have a really sappy obsession with mountains so this scenery will be a big highlight, if the smog of pre-monsoon weather is in my favor. Nepal is slightly smaller than Wisconsin in area, to put the size in context, and it is sandwiched between the Tibet region of China and India.

I can count on mid to high eighties and no option to wear typical American summer clothes…covered knees and shoulders required. We’re told not to drink any water unless it is sealed, boiled, or purified, and our group leader has highly recommended we not eat any street food, no matter how tempting it is.

The official class title of my trip is called: Community Health and Health Disparity: Learning through service in Rural Nepal. We’re going to be doing some combination of the following: learning about rural and urban health, building a road, visiting non-governmental and governmental organizations involved in health and development, touring cultural sites, hiking, and staying with a host family for a few nights. The main organization we are working with is called Sarvodaya. We’re going to take a small side trip to the city one of my group leaders grew up in for relaxation, called Bandipur, and take a scenic hike up an overlooking cliff.

From what I can gather from our meetings, this will be my first introduction into the world of terrible jet lag, non-American time schedules, cold showers and pit toilets. From what I know of myself, this will be the first test of my ability to adapt to a very different country. The only time I’ve been in ‘difficult’ living situations is during voluntary camping trips, when it’s okay that no one has taken a shower in two days and the water doesn’t come from a faucet. My whole life I’ve assumed I’d be able to live easily in another country, but now that Nepal and Peru are on the horizon I am suddenly slightly doubtful… I mean, what if I can’t handle shaking up my routine? What if I can’t figure out patchy bus systems (too many “help, I’m stranded” calls to my sister have tested my navigation skills even in Madison)? How can I possibly communicate effectively with someone who doesn’t speak my language? And of course, like I mentioned before, what if I get sick—apparently it’s almost guaranteed I will. But hey, I guess all of this has to be better than Econ 101…right?