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Students Explore Religion, Culture
During Winter Study Break in Nepal
hey hiked the Himalayas, drank Tibetan tea, and visited villages near Kathmandu. They also studied Hinduism, Buddhism and the cultures of Nepal and Tibet.
It happened during winter break, when 22 students took a cultural and academic adventure through UConn's Study in Nepal Program. Students earned six credits in either history or interdepartmental studies, after completing a research paper on a selected topic from the academic curriculum.
Jeetendra Joshee, assistant dean of the College of Continuing Studies, says students were able to experience first-hand what they learned through the class.
The academic component of the trip included lectures and seminars given by professors from Tribhuvan University, the national university in Nepal. These focused on Hinduism, Buddhism, the history of Kathmandu Valley, Nepali and Tibetan cultures, and contemporary issues in South Asia, and basic language instruction in Nepalese. The classes were supplemented by visits to historical sites in the Kathmandu Valley, temples, stupas, and educational institutions.
A large part of the program was the study of the two major religions in Nepal, Buddhism and Hinduism, says Joshee, who is originally from Nepal. "It's a predominantly Hindu country but quite a large population follow Buddhism as well," he says. "This is an example of two major religions coexisting peacefully in a country. Students had the opportunity to go into a place where you can see a Hindu temple side by side with a Buddhist stupa."
Millette Nunez was attracted to the program because of her interest in religion. "I'm interested in the different religions and I wanted to travel and learn about the cultures," she says.
She was "particularly struck by the fact that there is no religious conflict here. As a political science major, I know that so many wars have occurred due to religious differences," she says. "Since religion is such a huge part of Nepali life and culture it's impossible to teach about the country without incorporating the religious aspects. You can't separate it."
Fiona Crimmins, a history major, says the program made her think about her own life. "I learned a lot about who I was, because I took myself out of the context of my little comfortable life here," she says. "I really got to see myself in an entirely different environment. It was wonderful to see how other people live."
A three-day trek from Pokhara to Ghandruk left students exhausted but exhilarated. "The trek was challenging but very rewarding. It was hard physical work, but at the end I was really proud of myself," Crimmins says.
Sarah Johnson agrees: "It was the most challenging thing I'd ever done."
Johnson, an anthropology major, says, "It was probably the best experience I've had on a trip. What we did in three weeks was amazing. We had a strict schedule. We saw all kinds of temples. ... We even did a mountain flight in a smaller plane to see Mt. Everest."
Nunez says she loved the people. "They're very humble and welcoming. They have a simple way of life that I'm a bit envious of," she says.
Joshee was pleased with the lectures, and also with the highly motivated students. "The quality of our professors was excellent and the content was very, very good," he says. "I was pleased with the quality of our academic component, as well as the opportunity for students to see the diversity of this small country."
The academic component of the program was organized by Bandana Purkayastha, an assistant professor of sociology with a joint appointment in Asian American studies.