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World Class: a semester abroad at Kathmandu University

Boston College students James O’Hara and Molly Shea on the Annapurna Trail near the village of Ghorepani, Nepal. Boston College students James O’Hara and Molly Shea on the Annapurna Trail near the village of Ghorepani, Nepal.
By Christine Murphy
Globe Staff / December 11, 2011
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For James O’Hara, a junior English major at Boston College, Nepal was the most exotic place - geographically and culturally - to spend a semester. O’Hara is attending the Rangjung Yeshe Institute, also known as the Centre for Buddhist Studies, at Kathmandu University. The program focuses on an intensive study of primarily Tibetan Buddhism, and is located in the city’s Boudha section. He has studied Buddhist history and philosophy and taken an introductory course in Nepali language. Coming to a developing nation was a personal challenge for O’Hara, who had been only to Europe. “I wanted to gain a more whole perspective on both humanity and my own life,’’ he says.

FULL HOUSE: “I basically rent a room in a family’s apartment, and I eat both breakfast and dinner with them. The host family all sleeps in the living room, graciously leaving the bedroom to me. While I find this very kind, it appears that most Tibetan and Nepali families share the same room for sleeping. It’s very noisy in the morning. I’m woken up by roosters, wild dogs, and men hammering away on ‘antique’ items to be sold to tourists every morning at around 5:30.’’

CALL IT ‘BUFF’: “Some Nepalis will eat only one meal their whole lives - daal bhaat, which is a dish of stewed lentils, rice, and usually some curried vegetables. With a majority Hindu population, beef is scarce in the country, if it’s eaten at all. The substitute is called “buff.’’ Turns out it’s water buffalo. Goat is another popular meat. Lassis are a type of yogurt milkshake. Butter tea is basically a stick of butter melted in a glass.’’

ON THE ROAD: “It’s not as hard to travel around as it is tedious. Buses are packed with more people than there is space inside, and on trips out of the city, people actually ride on top of the buses. Traffic is chaos, but there are surprisingly very few accidents. There appears to be little logic in the flow of traffic - turn signals are replaced by honking, but somehow it all works.’’

EAST VS. WEST: “Part of what I sought in coming to Nepal was to experience a more ‘Eastern’ method of teaching. For the most part, my classes are decidedly ‘Western’ in their structure, although we do sit on the floor. I do have one class, however, which is taught by a Tibetan monk, in Tibetan, then translated. There isn’t much room for discussion with the monk, but he does take questions at the end of each class. The style of learning appears to focus more on memorization than critical thinking, which is an apparent difference from Western tradition.’’

SLOWING DOWN: “I’ve had to abandon any reliance on the relative comforts of home. My regard for personal hygiene has nearly evaporated, as I sweat most waking hours of the day due to the humidity. I’ve had to get used to the non-Western-style toilets. And I’ve had to come to terms with a more lackadaisical pace of life. Everything seems to take a little bit longer to get done.’’

NIGHT LIFE: “Everything shuts down in Boudha around 8 p.m., and the streets are empty by 9. This has a lot to do with power blackouts and lack of street lights, which results in muggings. I’m not entirely sure what Nepalis do for fun, but there are plenty of dance bars around. For Westerners, Thamel [a popular tourist destination] is the heart of the night life. Bars and clubs there shut down at [midnight], as mandated by the government. Otherwise, people seem to do a lot of hanging out, chatting on store stoops or on the street.’’

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