Flawed dreamsThere has been a long-standing tradition of a yearly exodus that sees thousands of Nepali students embark on a journey to make something more meaningful out of their lives.
There has been a long-standing tradition of a yearly exodus that sees thousands of Nepali students embark on a journey to make something more meaningful out of their lives. Having studied at one of the better schools in the nation, going abroad was merely a ritual I took part in. I might have boarded the plane a year after finishing high school, but I’d made up my mind a long time ago. There’s only so much that rejoicing in folklores, mountains and monasteries can do to your patriotic resolve before you succumb to the realisation that the glass you’ve been staring at is half empty.
Nepal lags behind in every social and economic metric, and struggle has long been part of our daily existence. No wonder the grass appears greener on the other side, especially when you’re standing on barren land getting buffeted by the dust. But be that as it may, I would be lying if I said necessity sent me to foreign soils. To be honest, I don’t really know what made me cave in to the appeal of an international education. Perhaps it was curiosity. Or perhaps it was inertia to an existing trend—something I felt obliged to be a part of. What I do know is that for me and for a few of my cohort, the ritual that I alluded to came simply as part of the next logical step in life, one analogous to moving up a grade. While there is nothing wrong with foreign education in itself, the inevitability of boarding a plane should make people reflect on how has the societal division brought about an unnoticed trend.
For a specific demography, international education becomes a predestined outcome resulting from the much-flawed education system in place. This was a realisation that just dawned on me after a friend of the family chastised me for not being able to fluently read Nepali. I’ve always accepted my apathy towards Nepali content, but I had never asked myself why it was the case.
My parents wanted the best for me, so it was only natural that they sent me to the best schools, which for some reason, used to be synonymous with English medium education. So, the skeptic inside my head goes, wait a minute, you were sent to a school as such, where maths, science and social science were all taught in English, and after coming through a curriculum where Nepali was treated as second-class language, which you could drop after year 10, society somehow expected you to be holding on tight to your copy of Kantipur every morning? When you don’t know anything about the political, social and economic affairs of your home country, and all the knowledge you’ve amassed pertains to Western civilisation, why wouldn’t you be interested in getting on a plane?
The seeds of fascination with the West are sown subconsciously at an early age, courtesy of movies, music and sports. You consider every tourist with a pale skin tone as an embodiment of a Hollywood protagonist, a superior human in every aspect. We grow up marveling at their way of life that appears to have so much to offer, and we try to emulate what we see and hear, hoping that someday we get the opportunity to go to the promised land. And therein lies the problem. Our understanding of Western society is so facile that we use observable metrics like accent, skin tone and dress code to determine the level of intellect that we wrongly associate with being an individual from the West. Not that I dislike their physical appearance, but what I’ve noticed as their greatest asset is their courage to chase after their convictions.
They’re in a perpetual state of rebellion against existing trends, and they use it to their advantage to find new ways to solve problems. Our society, on the other hand, is reliant on conventions and we’re more inclined to play catch-up with the rest of the world. When the West faces a dead end, they innovate. When we face a dead end, we’d rather emigrate. And the tragedy is that it usually turns out to be the smarter choice. One section of the demography goes abroad because it’s the next logical step, the other goes in search for comfort and a better life, and the ones that remain get trapped in a political maze that starts with a fight against the system and somehow ends with a sense of animosity amongst one another.
Living in the West does come with an infrastructure upgrade and also an improvement in the quality of life, but it usually comes with a hefty compromise. There’s a human proclivity for all things shiny, but as you know, all that glitters is not gold. Among all the restrictions placed on our relatively conservative society, the most mind-boggling is perhaps the one placed on the dreams and aspirations of young children. Growing up you’re expected to choose between being a doctor, an engineer or a businessman. And in most cases, you don’t want to be either of those.
Yet for some reason you play along because in all honesty you yourself don’t really know what you want to be. Maybe it will all make sense after going to college, you tell yourself and you can’t wait to put some distance between you and the questions. You pass high school, board a plane, start university and all of a sudden you’re earning dollars to take care of yourself. You get to strap a smart watch, carry
an iPhone or whatever and you have the appearance of an independent being.
But as you gradually spend each passing day reluctantly waking up to the sound of the alarm clock before boarding the first train of the day to a job that you despise but nonetheless have to keep, you, in the midst of the newly found independence, start to feel the weight of the shackles. By the time you graduate and apply for a job in your field of study all you have in your resume is waiting tables and making sandwiches, all noble professions but something that you didn’t set out to do and definitely not something the hiring manager wants.
After a few rejections, the job that you once dreaded doesn’t look half bad. Fast forward you have a family of your own and you reach a point where taking risks doesn’t seem to be worth it, and you just accept it as the way it is. And just like that, an entire life passes you by without you ever knowing what you wanted to be. You travel thousands of miles to find a better life, and in some ways, you do. It’s just a shame that you end up losing yourself.
Pandey is an undergraduate student at Macquarie University, Australia