A Nepalese Student’s Journey to a Dream Education
[Editor’s Note: This guest post is written by Jean Schrecengost, our Environmental and Occupational Health Intern at MCN’s Salisbury, Maryland office. Jean has joined us this summer as part of her graduate studies in conflict analysis and dispute resolution at Salisbury University. This post is the second in a series of profiles of immigrants in Jean’s rural Maryland community. Read the first installment here.]
Ocean City, Maryland (which the locals call OC) is a sleepy beach town that turns into a ten-mile-wide metropolis between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The permanent resident population of 7,000 is wholly insufficient to accommodate the employment needs of all the resorts, restaurants, bars, attractions, and kitschy tourist shops. With the influx of vacationers come hordes of seasonal workers from all over the world. Many people are either students, permitted to work, or international workers with temporary work visas like an H-2A or H-2B visa.
Among many stories of the summer, from bliss to desperation and from gainful employment to scammed and bitter transients, we find Denish, a Nepalese network security student biding his time in OC till his sophomore year begins at Minnesota State University, Mankato (MNSU). He is a polite, positive young man with an average build. The t-shirt and grey shorts he wears seem to help him blend into the world with ease. His five o'clock shadow and short black hair are neither neat nor disheveled. His features strike me as Asian but I could not place his country of birth until told. He is spending this summer living and helping a sister and brother-in-law at their tourist shop. He seems at a loss of what to do in OC. He is too young to go to clubs and terrified of the ocean's power and flat expansiveness, so he spends most of his time watching films, sleeping, and hanging out with the small local Nepalese community. Denish’s willingness, good natured attitude and love for life are deep-seated in the Nepalese culture and tradition. The dream to study abroad started when he was a preteen watching foreign TV shows and films. After high school he took a year off to explore and reflect on international education options. After narrowing it down to Norway, Germany, and the United States and weighing the pros and cons of each, his parents stepped in and encouraged him. ‘They said, “Look, don’t go here and there, go where the studies are good. Go to the USA. Study hard and do your best, don’t put your mind here and there,’” Denish recalled. According to Denish, family is very important to Nepalese people. It is so important that his parents consolidated their savings and sold their residence in order for their son to study in America.
Denish studied hard to pass his TOEFL and SAT. He then followed the steps to be admitted to MNSU and jumped through the bureaucratic hoops to attain a US student visa. Some of those requirements were to schedule an interview with the US consulate, obtain an I-20 form from MNSU, have $40,000 in the bank, and pay over $500 in fees. With luck on his side, Denish gained the F-1 visa on the first attempt.
“Look, don’t go here and there, go where the studies are good. Go to the USA. Study hard and do your best"
Denish boarded a plane in Kathmandu, Nepal for Chicago by way of Abu Dhabi. He had huge luggage, huge coats, huge ideals, and huge aspirations. When he began his long journey across the world he was well prepared for Minnesota winters but naïve. Critically during his first journey to the US, he was naïve to artificial climate control. He recalled sweating in his winter coat and thermal shirt as he made his way through the US border patrol at the Abu Dhabi airport. After traveling more than 15 hours, he entered the Chicago O’Hare security checkpoint. Denish recounts, “When I went through the section where they scan me, the officer was right here in my [armpit] and was like, ‘S**t, can’t you take a bath?’” He laughed nervously as he recalled the incident. “She sprayed me with air freshener. I was like ‘WHAT!’ And all the people were watching me. I said ‘I’m sorry’ and she sprayed the room freshener again.” While he says he feels like he has never been a victim of racism in the US, he was publicly humiliated within moments of landing in America.
Despite this first experience, Denish is honored and humbled by his opportunity to learn from Americans about development, economics, and democracy. His goals are to finish his studies at MSU, gain experience in network security, and return to Nepal. When he returns, he hopes to make his family proud and country strong. He views Nepal as both “heaven on earth” and a disaster due to corruption and political manipulation. He says the youth movement will continue to feel powerless until the old guard dies off, making way for young and motivated Nepalese to develop and improve the country. He hopes that an American education will make him an asset for the youth movement that will elevate Nepal.