9/11/17 | Of all the Study Abroad programs that JWU runs each year, the Sustainability, Community Engagement & Leadership trip to Nepal is one of the most unique.
Most of the two-week trip is hosted at the Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation (KRMEF) in Khahare, but also includes treks to UNESCO sites, Chitwan Safari + Cultural Village, and more.
The Foundation serves as a community center to support a healthy and sustainable Nepal.
The KRMEF campus includes a working biodynamic farm; an eco-café that feeds volunteers and locals alike; a handicrafts workshop that teaches valuable skills and generates income that is funneled back into educational programs and outreach; and an alternative energies program (the Foundation runs on a mix of solar, eco-fuel briquettes and bio-gas, all of which are generated or manufactured on site).
Before she left for Khahare, Deanna Sweeney ’17 — who is currently pursuing her online MBA — knew she would be focusing on eco-development at the KRMEF, but didn’t have much in the way of specifics: “I knew they ran an on-site school, vegetable garden, café, entrepreneurial center, and health clinic. I knew that we would have the chance to immerse ourselves in Nepali culture through engaging with others at the Foundation.”
Education partnered with adventure. Peers who become family. It’s worth it.”
DEANNA SWEENEY '17
RELIVE THE NEPAL TRIP THROUGH SARAH CROFT’S HIGHLIGHTS VIDEO.
But as she explains to JWU Online, what she found upon arrival far exceeded her expectations: “Every day we went on outings to meet entrepreneurs, eat local food, check out festivals, hike through rural villages, and more. Every day was drastically different, unpredictable, exciting, and stimulating in its own unique way.”
For their final project, Sweeney and another student teamed up to build a hydroponic tea garden — an effort that inspired Sweeney to apply for and accept a Fall internship to rural Panama, where she will be working on a massive project to design and develop an off-the-grid system for a self-sustaining town.
For Study Abroad advisor Sarah Croft and JWU Global Executive Director Loren Intolubbe-Chmil, that’s the beauty of the program: You get out of it what you put into it. “The KRMEF is not a didactic place,” notes Intolubbe-Chmil. “The course reflects this philosophy that it isn’t about TELLING people how to find their place in the world — you have to do that for yourself.”
That flexibility means that the program can accommodate students from most majors. Notes Croft, “We had students majoring in culinary, entrepreneurship, business, Continuing Education, Online — all very different perspectives but by the end of the trip we were all working toward the greater goal.”
The Foundation really is an ecosystem. Any issue you’re interested in, you can investigate.” LOREN INTOLUBBE-CHMIL
Intolubbe-Chmil also emphasizes the uniqueness of the opportunity to actually study in Nepal, a country that is very much in the process of defining itself: “Nepal is such a fascinating place — it’s an emerging democracy. It’s a tiny country sandwiched between two superpowers. It is still struggling to recover from a natural disaster. The Nepalese people are still drafting their constitution, which is supposed to be one of the most enlightened in the world — it uses the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a starting point.”
On the flip side, she cautions, “you can also start to see what happens when any culture starts to engage with the modern world: You get plastics, but there isn’t yet an infrastructure to deal with it.”
These issues — and more — are grappled with on a daily basis at the KRMEF. “The great thing about the Foundation is that it really is an ecosystem. Any issue you are interested in, you can investigate,” notes Intolubbe-Chmil.
For Sweeney, the trip was eye-opening and life-changing — not just intellectually, but personally. “On this trip, I learned to be grateful. Gratefulness. A concept which, in theory, is so basic. But are we truly grateful? Especially in our Westernized, first-world culture. Sure, we say thank you. But is anything ever enough? We’re still online shopping. We’re still staying on top of the newest trends. We buy clothes that are trendy but disposable after a few washes. I had my last smartphone for a year before upgrading.
“People in Nepal don’t have those luxuries. Much of the country lives in poverty. Joy is not obtained through commercialism and is not necessarily a matter of instant gratification like it is for us as we rack up ‘likes’ on social media. Instead, joy is obtained through relationships with friends and family, through having a sense of faith and purpose, through connecting with and being kind to others.”
As she prepares to head to Panama for her Fall internship, Sweeney encourages every JWU student to look into studying abroad: “You’ll always be able to travel, but once you’re out of school, never again will your travels take on the dynamics of a study abroad trip. Education partnered with adventure. Peers who become family. A foreign country you can call home, even if just temporarily. It’s special. It’s indescribable. It’s worth it.”