Read “Trekking Across the Classroom,” published by UVM Communications
Explore the history of the Mustang region of Nepal to understand how global forces are affecting geographically remote communities. Through traveling in one of the most inaccessible sections of Nepal, on the border with Tibet, students will be introduced to a community undergoing profound transitions—culturally, socially, politically, linguistically, and religiously. Through a 10-day initial orientation in Burlington, and then four weeks in Nepal, examine how this Tibetan Buddhist area has adapted to those changes, and what strategies have emerged for facing further changes in the future.
Three main thematic areas of focus guide the course. First, we will look at the various ways in which Mustang is and has been connected to the outside world historically through trade, migration, national policies, and more. To do this, we will:
- visit families whose sons and daughters have migrated to the US and elsewhere for work;
- explore state education policies to see how the state is promoting a single Nepali identity among diverse linguistic and ethnic groups, and
- analyze the profound effect that took place when China took over Tibet and closed the previously open border to trade.
Second, we will explore environmental changes in the region, where 2” of annual rainfall leave very little margin for weather variations or human error, analyzing how adaptations to landscape have changed over time.
Third and finally, we will assess cultural responses to change, from conservation efforts to preserve historic monuments led by groups like the American Himalayan Foundation, to educational initiatives to promote the use of dying languages, to the conflicts that arise when tradition and modernity compete for hearts and minds.
The program will start with a ten-day orientation at UVM, which will run five days a week, eight hours a day. Intended to introduce students to the history of the Himalayan region, strategies of national integration in Nepal in particular, and the politics and economics of development in the area, the orientation will also offer basic instruction in spoken Nepali language.
After the orientation, all students will travel together to Nepal for 26 days in country, including two weeks trekking between small villages. During the trip, all students will keep journals of their experiences, recording what they learn during the trip and writing up responses to individual questions posed as part of each day’s activities; that journal will be turned in at the end of the program. After completing the program, students will revisit the topic on which they wrote the pre-trip paper, and submit a 7-8 page reflection paper explaining how their ideas about that topic have changed during their time in Nepal.
This program requires no prior knowledge of South Asia, although coursework in the area is certainly desirable. It does require a reasonable level of physical fitness, as much of the time will be spent on foot, trekking up to seven hours daily through regions that have no roads.