Wow! These last few weeks have been a whirlwind! As I worked hard to plan my trip to Nepal, school simultaneously kicked my butt. Just within the last week of school, I had an analytics presentation, empirical study in economics, strategic management audit project, business ethics paper, and Honors thesis project due—all on top of final exams. Simultaneously I was working this semester to find a job for my return stateside to start my career. Needless to say, Belmont did not let me off easily! But by the grace of God, I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 as an Honors Scholar. Now I head to Nepal, capping of my experience at Belmont by working in the Himalayas—all thanks to Lumos!
Preparing for Departure
Unfortunately, I didn’t get much time to rest after classes ended. Two days after my last exam was graduation, then I immediately began packing and preparing for Nepal—communicating between Projects Abroad, Belmont, and the local workers in Kathmandu. Knowing I only had a week before departure, I gave my best attempt at saying as many goodbyes as possible and taking in the joy of graduation.
RUF Summer Conference
Two days after graduation, I left for RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) Summer Conference—a week-long conference for college students to study the Word and spend time together in Christian community. That week was such a blessing and truly served as a springboard for my work abroad! It gave me Monday through Friday to spend time with the Lord, reflect on graduation, pray about my future, and prepare myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for Nepal. Because my good friend Taylor Brown and I were leaving early from the conference—me for my trip to Nepal and him to move to Colorado—our pals in RUF ceremonially saw us off at the beach. Two of my best friends—Emily Tomsovic and Koby Langner—gave Taylor and I an especially unique goodbye. The four of us stood on the beach together, our feet in the water, and read the liturgy “For Leavings” from Every Moment Holy. Then we had prayer together as we processed the thought that our close friendships would now have to fight the difficult battle of distance. Each of us is entering a new chapter as we move on to our futures and leave college behind. It was a special moment, and one I’ll remember forever. I would not be in the headspace I am in now—a posture of readiness for both giving and receiving—had it not been for that experience.
My Last Few Days Home
After getting home Friday evening from Summer Conference, I spent Saturday and Sunday packing and doing the last bits of prep. As you can imagine, my schedule was a bit exhausting! But I tend to thrive when pushed to my limits and this trip is certainly no exception. My last few weeks were as follows...
- April 25-30: Final Exams/Projects
- May 3-4: Baccalaureate & Graduation
- May 6-10: RUF Summer Conference
- May 13: Departure for Kathmandu
This left me a total of 5 free days between exams and my final departure for Nepal, so cramming everything in was quite a challenge. With the help of my friends, Projects Abroad, and especially my family—we made it work!
I tried to see as many good friends as possible to say farewell—especially knowing that many of them are moving away to start their careers after graduating. I also worked hard to make every moment count with my beautiful girlfriend, Gabrielle. She helped me shop, pack, and prepare every step of the way. Throughout the planning and preparation process, my Dad was a saving grace, guiding me every step of the way. My last day home, I enjoyed lunch with my Mom to celebrate Mother’s Day, exchanged letters with Gabrielle, and got my last few things in order. Even though 9 weeks doesn’t seem like much on the outside, it feels like an eternity when you are apart from loved ones. But I am confident that I can make at least a small impact during my time in Nepal. While I wish I could stay longer, I am keeping in mind that this is only the first of hopefully many projects across that beautiful country!
A Little About Nepal
To be as ready as possible for my work, I have dedicated much time to reading about the culture, natural landscape, and logistics of Nepal. Being land locked between two global giants—India and China—Nepal has long struggled to maintain its sovereignty and stability. For many years the country was in isolation, and it has only had a stable government since 2008. As a result, there is very poor infrastructure and low economic development. Most of the Nepalese economy is based on agriculture and services, but a solid 30 percent of the nation’s GDP comes from remittances—or payments back home from family members working abroad. To put it in perspective, a quarter of the entire country lives below the global poverty line. For this reason, Nepal is among the poorest developing countries in the world, and it is in need of economic resurgence, especially in the rural areas.
A Little About Me and the Sherpa
My story began when I was a freshman at Belmont. Interested in mountaineering, I began reading about Everest and I stumbled upon a group of people called the Sherpa (which comes from ‘shar-wa’ meaning ‘east people’). The Sherpa are a small people group that mostly live in the Himalayas, meaning they are especially adept to the high altitude of the mountains and know the region well. Since the earliest Everest expeditions, they served as guides and porters up to the mountain peaks. Many of the Sherpa are proud of their heritage as world class climbers, and the job often pays very well. However, the Sherpa community also faces major problems as a result of growing interest in the mountains.
Few job alternatives exist in the Himalayas, often forcing the Sherpa to continually risk their lives as guides even if they do not want to. This is especially alarming as the job of an Everest Sherpa comes with a higher death rate than even the US Military. The issue has been especially inflamed with widening access to Everest and less experienced climbers demanding a piece of the summit. The Nepalese government often grants permits to unfit climbers for the sake of monetary gain, as one permit costs $11,000. With a government that wants the money, companies that need to business, and consumers willing to pay, the Sherpa are left to take the brunt of the force when inexperienced climbers put their lives in danger at over 20,000 feet of altitude. While some mountaineering organizations work hard to ensure the safety of Sherpa, there still exists an economic problem in the lack of job alternatives.
These problems are not unique to the Sherpa, but exist across the globe as a threat to numerous people groups who live in remote areas that are ripe for exploration. My goal is to ultimately create a for-profit business that leads the mountaineering industry not just in sustainable travel, but in bolstering economic development in the communities where exploration happens. “Aid” is a fairly colloquial term today, but in large part that is my plan—use exploration to fund international aid to foster growth abroad that brings in more exploration. It is a beautiful cycle! To be specific, the aid I hope to provide will look like four main categories of service—economy, education, healthcare, and ecology. This structure functions to increase economic growth, enhance human development, and preserve the natural environment.
Over the coming 9 weeks, I will trek to Everest Base Camp through Sherpa villages, work with other mountain communities in conservation, and serve as a medical technician in Kathmandu. These experiences are small, but they serve as an introduction to all of my aid areas—economy, education, healthcare, and ecology. More importantly, exposure to the culture of Nepal will allow me to understand how to effectively work with those in and around the region—especially the Khumbu valley and Everest region. I hope to create a model of “adventure as a service” and use it across the globe. This in mind, my next few weeks will put the possibilities of these dreams in perspective and operate as a catalyst to my service!
Travels to Far
Of all the international travel I have done, this experience has been my best by far. God has been with me every step of the way. Yesterday I said my goodbyes to my girlfriend and my family, then boarded my first flight to Philadelphia.
Every detail of this travel experience had God working in and through it! It was even a blessing that I was able to snag my specific flight. Originally, the only flight I could find had a short 25 minute layover in Philadelphia. This seemed extremely risky—as with even the slightest delay in Nashville, I could miss my connecting flight from Philly to Qatar and not arrive in time to join my team. That means I would miss the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla and lose out on trekking through the Sherpa villages to Everest Base Camp. My dad and I searched for hours to finally find a flight through both American and Qatar airlines with a generous 2 hour layover. Sure enough, my flight from Nashville was delayed by 40 minutes! Had we not spent our time searching for a better flight, I would be in a crisis right now. Thanks to God’s sovereignty, it all worked out!
Little Gifts Along the Way
One of the first things I was worried about was my luggage being overweight, especially with the gear I was bringing for the mountains. So, before I left they house, I weighed my bag in at 52lbs. I figured it might be possible that they would let me slide a tad over the 50lbs limit, but I came prepared to ditch things if necessary. When I arrived at BNA’s American Airlines check in counter, the desk clerk noticed I was headed to Nepal and asked about my trip. I explained as he weighed my bags. I then told him I may be a little bit over weight and, if so, I’d be willing to pay a fee or leave items behind. He said, “It looks like you’re at 39lbs, so you’re good to go!” What!? Now, I know that my 10 year old scale at home is NOT super accurate, but there is no way it was THAT far off! Then he looked up, winked at me, and said “Enjoy your trip.” Thank the Lord, this man was looking out for me!
A similar experience happened to me once I arrived in Philadelphia. Apparently, Qatar has different definitions of “carry-on” and “personal item” than American. They considered both my technical pack and my small backpack as carry-ons. As a result, one of them had to be checked for $65. Fortunately, I made friends with Yafa, the Qatar desk clerk, and she became my advocate. She said I might be able to get away with carrying both on board, but it all depended on the flight manager—an intimidating man who according to Yafa has good and bad days. A tall, broad shouldered, blonde Swede, this flight manager walked over with a stern look on his face. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, I smiled as big as I could, shook his hand, and introduced myself. When I explained the situation, he said there was no room to budge on the rules—my bag had to be checked. BUT… he allowed me to check it for FREE! Thanks to Yafa’s help and some grace from God, the manager let me slide!
My flight from Philadelphia to Doha was probably the best international flight I have ever been on. Of course, 12 hours in an airplane is never fun, but Qatar makes it a luxurious experience even if you fly economy. They served dinner and brunch, plus snacks in between and free WiFi. Most of all, I made friends with the flight attendants. They were from all over the world and filled with interesting stories. One in particular stood out. Her name was Puja. From Delhi, India, she has worked for Qatar for 3 years while her husband works back home in the hotel industry. Kind and mild-mannered, she treated me like a king on the flight to Doha. We talked all about her dreams of living in Zurich, Switzerland and having her own travel company one day. We also bonded over missing our loved ones as we travel. She was an absolute delight!
Said and Soni
Meanwhile, my seat companions were as entertaining as ever. Next to me was Said—a 20 year old student from Oman. He is currently a sophomore studying civil engineering at University of South Florida (USF). We connected over our mutual desire to move to Colorado. He asked all about Nashville and the Smoky Mountains while I asked about Oman. He showed me pictures of his trip to Colorado a few weeks back and I showed him my many photos of Nashville and the mountains of Tennessee. We both agreed that we need to visit each other in Nash or Oman someday!
My other pal was PS Soni. He was an older business man from Kolkata (Calcutta), India, that now lives in Doha, Qatar. Chasing his dreams of business success, he works with multiple companies in shipping and manufacturing. He is now taking steps to buy a factory in Galveston, Texas, with the dream of becoming as US citizen and settling in Houston. I told him that America needs more people like him! He advised Said and I to avoid alcohol, drugs, and women. Instead, he said to focus on our personal and professional development—all for the glory of the god we worship (as Said is Muslim and I am a Christ follower).
Soni also explained that we must surround ourselves with good people. To find these people, he said we must determine how they see the world themselves. He uses a simple trick—the Insha’llah test. Insha’llah is an Arabic word which means “if God wills it.” He explained that If you ask someone whether or not they think they can accomplish something, there are three possible responses—yes, no, or Insha’llah. You should surround yourself with those who say “Insha’llah.” These are the individuals who will work hard to reach their goals, all the while keeping in mind that God’s will is not always their own. A wise and encouraging man, Soni left Said and I with something called The Serenity Prayer that he learned from his days growing up in a Catholic School in India. It goes as follows:
“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
People like Yafa, Puja, Said, and Soni are the reason I love to travel. They are the reason I have set out on this journey. My goal is to learn the stories of people around the world, operating as a sponge to those around me. Then I want to take the knowledge I gain and use it to help others in their journey. This is my goal with the Sherpa and with the people of Nepal. To listen first, then act. Thanks to the grace of God and to the generosity of Lumos, I will be able to do exactly that—all while learning about the culture of Nepal, economy of the Himalayan communities, and ecology of the mountains. I look forward to seeing what this trip holds and all the things that God has to teach me.