Expect the unexpected

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Colin laviolette, Netherlands
Human rights research
University of Maastricht


”Dear Colin, Your application has been approved for the program. You can join with us in areas of human rights research, photojournalism and thesis writing.”

Posting this on Facebook, I remember how many people were reached and excited by this confirmation of me being part of the Internship Nepal as a fifth semester and valid internship abroad. Like many of them, I sure had many expectations upon this whole about scenario I had never experienced before. I mean, I sure knew that Nepal was going to be a totally different story from the occidental back grounded ones I was taking off with in Paris… and as many of my friends, expectations and wonders were paving the way within my inner thoughts for the twelve hours flight I had ahead…

A little week after I arrived, and especially because I had already become familiar to one of the intern’s most favorite expression it’s Nepal, expect the unexpected!! Most of my expectations were just gone. Giving the retort to Alexis’s preferred maxim, I got to say, he was damn right! If there is already one thing I should hold as a convenient and decent argument for those who are about to embark on this unique adventure and wandering how it looks like, then it would be this: in your luggage no matter how big it is, try to bring as less as possible expectations along! From the early start of this internship, where I sure did spend the time of my life, I tried to drop anything I had previously formulated in my head, thoughts from all kinds, and rather let myself entrance into the whole purpose of this internship: learning.

If someone would ask me what would be the word I would use to describe my whole about experience over here, then I guess the concept of Learning would rationally apply. But one ought to know that still, the shape of this 18 weeks experience goes far beyond of what words and descriptions, even the sharpest ones, are capable of. Nevertheless, I hope that with this short review of mine, I will be able to express and share this wonderful adventure with anyone willing to know a bit more about Internship Nepal and what it is like to be part of this family.

Being a third year bachelor in the political culture specialization of the Art and Culture Program of Maastricht University, despite the photojournalism program being very appealing, I finally applied for the Human Right Research one. Given the Transitional Justice topic by Ram Prasad Humagai, head coordinator of all interns project, I spent time learning on the armed conflict of Nepal, but also on concepts such as Impunity, Truth Reconciliation Commission [TRC], Comprehensive Peace Agreement [CPA], … Spending the first weeks on elaborating the complex and delicate situation that there is within the Nepali government, part of my learning objectives the ones suggested by the program I was enrolled into, I became more comfortable with the political landscape of Nepal.

Visits to the Transitional Justice Resource Center and interview with one of the leading figure on this field, Professor Bishnu Pathak, helped me to seize precious information widening my array of notes and details… Reading this, one would wonder whether this review will solely be about a detailed explanation of what I did during this internship, but no worries, the core purpose, if there is one, is only about sharing my experience and what I learnt from such life changing tune. Again and I think I will never say it enough, it’s all about discoveries and learnings I have been part of, that the reader should address this writing of mine… What I tried to point out, whilst referring to one of the interviews I had with scholars and experts, is the natural and unexpected way the meetings went in general. Being a student, I know for sure that when it comes to meet people of great knowledge and wisdom like Phd holders for example, anxiety and nervousness are too often part of the state I am about to express.. And there was no time – and no reason actually- to waste on first trying to feel comfortable with a teacher who had to squeeze this interview into his/ her very tied schedule… To say, in Maastricht, getting a meeting with an expert wasn’t easy task for an undergraduate student like me, struggling to hand in his paper on time…

Whilst here, when we -there were three of us accompanied by Ram- got to meet Bishnu Pathak, what stroke me the most about him and the way he gave us a lecture on national security, and political history of Nepal, was his kindness and willingness to help us out any way he could. Sometimes getting off topics and elaborating more on matters he really liked to talk about, he nevertheless was very open to discussion and easy to get in contact with. Even though I think this internship could neither be resumed in one word, but also nor with one person or event, I would like nevertheless to regard this interview as a journey of how happened this whole about experience. In terms of being accessible, kind, supportive, steady to help, comfortable, none involved in the Internship Nepal going from the host family, through Rajat and then Ram has failed. It really was a pleasure to be part of this family who tried its best to share some culture and habits many of the interns weren’t familiar with. Again, I owe most of my learnings and discoveries to the family, including the other interns as well; I have been part of during my stay. By learnings, I mean not only the skillful hand of information and the academic apprentissage developed along the researches, interviews, documentaries, studies on ground and writing of academic paper and article for review, but also the apprentissage of a whole another culture, where things are meant to be done in a different way for us occidental people…

I guess the major strength of this program is the gifted panel of opportunities it offers to its interns, especially because the things we see and live don’t come from the balcony of the hotel, guesthouse we are staying in, but rather from the terrace next to a kitchen where dal bhat is cooked twice a day… Living within the enclosure of a Nepali home, and still very much oriented into places occidentals are familiar with, and enjoying the family living in it, has been an unparalleled experience. The richness of a host family like the Pandey goes beyond the mountains and hills encircling the valley of Kathmandu, and if you are willing to embrace what they offer you -being grateful for the appreciation and liberality they have for our different backgrounds-, then, let me tell you, you sure will spend the time of your life around here.

If you are willing to make the best out of your time here in Nepal, and trying to find a way to get a broader glimpse on Nepali culture than the one coming with the voluntourist label, then Internship Nepal may be something you want be part of! Writing all this, I am trying to make it as fun and as fulfilling as it really is but also how generous this program is, but still, to make the best out of it, I guess it’s mostly up to you.. I don’t think there is a similarity on any of the projects of interns I have witnessed/ shared, all of them had their on way to approach and tackle down the topic they were involved in and devoted to.

The uniqueness of each project, even though many interns were under the same cover of photojournalism or thesis writing, is guaranteed a hundred percent! But to make it that way, there is only one way to go though, and that’s through your own self. You won’t have any guarantee of anything but nothing, if you don’t put yourself into what is before you went you walk into Bishal Nagar neighborhood and overcome the portal of the Pandey’s family.

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