Student Spotlight

In our student spotlight we'll be bringing you regular updates from Anthropology Major Alex O'Neill, who is spending the year studying in Nepal.

Namaste from Kritipur, Kathmandu Nepal!

My name is Alex O’Neill and I am a Junior in the College double majoring in Anthropology and Environmental Biology. This past year I was award the David L. Boren Scholarship for year-long Nepali language study at Tribhuvan National University. What an opportunity! For those who don’t know, the Boren Scholarship is a competitive award granted by the US National Security Education Program (NSEP) to facilitate language study in regions critical to US national security concerns. Because it is a fledgling democracy with great cultural and biological diversity, Nepal caught my attention as a sight where I would like to do future fieldwork or ecological research. It is a beautiful country and the cultural diversity is fascinating!

This is undoubtedly a unique study experience. However, my decision to accept this scholarship was not easy. I am (or perhaps should be) a senior. But a requirement for the Boren is that the recipient is an enrolled undergraduate. Basically because I applied as a Junior, I either had to take my would-be senior year off from school or spend my entire senior year abroad. Oi vey! Academically this was not necessarily a problem. If I took the year off, I would return to school and take my final classes. However, socially this was more complex. Leaving my friends, my ‘grade’ cohort, and family was not easy. 

After much deliberation and discussion with both my faculty and friends, I decided that I should take the year off. And about a week in, I can already say this was the right decision. Skype, Whatsapp, FaceTime, Viber, etc. are social media applications that really work even in this relatively remote area. I am connected as much as I want to be. But I am really trying to take this time to venture into Nepal to learn Nepali language, Himalayan cultural practices, and really find myself. Simply, I want to disconnect. It is hard as an undergraduate. The job search is difficult, and the question of “what do I do after college” looms over our heads. I feel that this break may be exactly what I need to begin focusing my diverse interests into a cohesive field, and to further prepare myself for Graduate-level study.

So where on earth am I? I am studying in a subdistrict (and former kingdom) of Kathmandu called Kritipur. In Kritipur, I am living in a dorm with eight other Nepalese roommates and one other American: my bros half a world away from home. Walking into this situation was daunting. I don’t speak Nepali. And moving into a dorm here was like starting at Georgetown all over again! Add in social, class, and caste dynamics and you have quite the scene!

Within a week however, I am already conversational in Nepali. I am picking up on some cultural cues. And I have been embraced as a friend by Nepali peers. College is college, and people are people. I must say thought that my studies in the Anthropology Department really helped prepare me for this experience. Specifically, Denise Brennan’s, Joanne Rappaport’s, and Cecilia Van Hollen’s classes in fieldwork, the ‘ethnograhic imagination’, and South Asian socio-politics have guided me so far. I am thinking critically, and (although it was the bane of my exisitance when in class) am working to keep notes and a blog to recall this experience. Anthropology is a fun and very rewarding field. And I look forward to more in the future.

For more information about Alex's adventures in Nepal, make sure to check out his blog: A Dharma Bum