What’s in a name?

I carry a piece of paper with me everywhere, and have been for over two years now.

The summer following my first year of college, I went on a month-long travel study program to Nepal. There was one moment of the trip in particular that has continued to motivate me to work harder and to do better. On the last day in Kathmandu at the end of the trip, our class visited a Rinpoche (reincarnated monk) at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. The Rinpoche gave each of us a Tibetan name, explaining the meaning of the name to us.

I was given the name “Ngawang Palmo,” which translates as “Courageous Owner of Speech.” Maybe it was because I was emotionally raw from the thought of leaving the country I had just fallen in love with, or maybe it was because my mind was brimming with new experiences from the past month, but receiving this name hit me hard. My first thought upon hearing the translation was shit.

I have to live up to this name.

I returned to Vermont with a new desire to make a difference in the world, no matter how small the scale. I realized I needed to use my own privilege to help the voices of others be heard. For my remaining time at the University of Vermont, I made an effort to choose classes and extracurriculars that centered on this goal. My anthropology classes certainly helped with this, and have modeled for me many ways that anthropologists can engage with the world around them. I also declared a second major in the Religion department, hoping to extend my anthropological studies and learn about something that has never been very present in my own life but is important to so many other people.

The following summer, I attended an international institute for Kingian Nonviolence and Conflict Reconciliation, where I not only learned how I could apply Dr. King’s principles to my own work, but I also made friends from around the world with whom I hope to work again.

This training, in combination with my trip to Nepal the summer before, pushed me to consider working on a collaborative research project with one of my Nepali friends and colleagues from the institute. Her PhD research is focused on Peace and Conflict studies in Nepal, where she works with women who were victims of the 10-year civil war. With my background in Anthropology and Religion, and my experience working with audio visual elements, the two of us hope to collaborate on a multimedia project in the coming years after I graduate.

These plans still seem incredibly abstract and far away, but they also seem completely possible. I might have never considered taking such a direction in my life if I hadn’t been given a name to live up to.

I still have the piece of paper that the name is written on, and I carry it in my wallet as a constant reminder of what I work towards.

Sound Check

With the school year beginning and my impending work on my senior thesis looming in front of me, I am starting to think about the best way to present my thesis and the sound recordings that accompany it. I’ve started to find out what works (or doesn’t) about various platforms, which has also helped to clarify what I really want to create.

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Nearing the end of my time teaching at Kag Chode Monastic School, I decided to take out my camera and capture bits of daily life there. I knew that I would miss my students dearly after I left, and I wanted to have some reminders of the time we had together, but I also wanted to give them the pictures so that they could keep the memories as well.

After classes had finished for the day and many of the students had changed out of their uniform, they all ran outside to play in the courtyard. Seeing my camera, some began to overact, showing off for the camera and making extra big movements to be caught on film. This soon turned into fighting, with groups breaking out across the green. Every few minutes, some of my students would run over and pull my camera down, crowding around me in a circle in order to see the pictures I had taken of their games. Upon approving the ones I had taken so far, they then ran back out into the fray for more.

A lot of people don’t think about the daily life of novice monks, and what they do when they’re not in their robes or learning the teachings of the Buddha. After the month I spent teaching English to these 64 kids, I can definitely say that (at least in their case) they’re just normal kids. They play jokes on each other. Get in to fights. Love to play games in class. Sing popular songs on the radio, and watch the World Cup just like much of the rest of the world. They’re regular kids… who also have the extra role of learning to be a monk.

The Benefits of Surrendering to NST (Nepal Stretched Time)

There is something somehow calming about knowing that there is no way to tell what time you will arrive at your destination. You know that you will get there, eventually. And it will very rarely be at the scheduled time. And there is nothing you can do about it.

Nepal’s timezone is 15 minutes ahead of India’s, setting it just slightly off from the country that surrounds it on three sides. This is NPT – Nepal Standard Time. This partially political statement is just one more way the country is defined as “not India.” The locals, however, know a different NST – Nepal Stretched Time.

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The Changing Winds of Tourism in Kagbeni, Nepal

This is Kagbeni. This is the village of approximately 300 people where I have decided to live for a month this summer, doing research for my senior thesis and teaching English to 63 monks between the ages of 5 and 18. Kagbeni is situated at a narrow part of the Kali Gandaki Gorge – the deepest gorge in the world – and thus has historically been a stopping point for trade moving back and forth between India and China. At the convergence of two rivers, the town gets its name. Kag, literally meaning “stopping point” and beni, being where two rivers come together.
Looking down on Kagbeni from the south, you can see the yellow fields of barley are almost ready for harvest.

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What I Learned Studying Abroad (Twice!)

I recently returned from a semester-long program in Costa Rica, where I lived on a chocolate farm with 19 other students and learned about sustainable development in rural communities. Next week, I take off for Nepal, in order to return to a town that I visited on a summer program after my freshman year, and to do research for my senior thesis.

As I’m looking forward to returning to this place that completely threw my life for a loop almost exactly two years ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that I’ve learned from studying abroad, twice. Here’s seven quick reflections about things that I’ve learned about myself, and that I want to remember in the future.
That time we stayed in Panama for an extra three days and went to the highest point in the country

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You’re Studying What?

Over the 2018-2019 school year, I will be researching and writing a thesis in Anthropology and Religion at the University of Vermont. My work is focused on the relationships between identity and place, and I will be using sound as a lens through which we can experience these relationships.

Here, I plan on talking about my thoughts and feelings regarding the process of writing a thesis. This is basically a way for me to decompress about things, and maybe help someone else in a similar position in the future.

Listening to the sounds of the forest in Costa Rica

Mustang, Nepal, 2016