Memoirs from Nepal- by Miuccia Halim
“Where you sit depends on where you stand.” As our team huddled together in the dimly lit dining hall of Machhapuchchhre Village Inn in Nepal, we attentively listened to our mentor, Samrat Katwal, emphasize our roles as outsiders of the rural community we were aiming to help. Even today, this phrase continues to resonate in my mind, reminding me of my background, my privileges, and the extent to which I am capable of impacting the lives of people with values, cultures, and mindsets different from my own.
This meeting took place a few days before Christmas, and our team had arrived at the village a few days prior to begin executing projects we had been planning since October. For 3 weeks, as part of a University of California, Davis Study Abroad program, my project team and I worked with the Women’s Development Committee in Machhapuchchhre Village to propose an income-generating enterprise the village women could take on.
When I first returned from the trip at the beginning of January and peers inquired about my travels, I found it a bit difficult to summarize my experiences. It feels as if so much has occurred in only 3 weeks! From bouts of stomach flu (this is a whole other story) and 8-hour bus rides from the bustling city of Kathmandu to the rural village of Machhapuchchhre to active observation sessions in villagers’ homes and intense bargaining discourses at the city market, I had involved myself in a vast array of new experiences. However, I’ve recently been able to sit down and reflect on 5 key learnings from my journey:
1. Listen… actively.
The key to collaborative relationships involves active listening: listening not to respond but to understand. When we practice active listening, we understand other people’s perspectives, goals, and motivations. We build trust and rapport and develop authentic, sustainable relationships. It makes the biggest difference when we pay attention to someone, acknowledge their viewpoints, and wholly engage with them.
While I was in Nepal, I discovered that dynamic listening enabled me to fully immerse myself in my interactions and understand my team members on a more individual basis. When my teammates and I cared personally for each other, we were able to bond and establish a personal connection, contributing to a productive and enjoyable work environment.
2. Step outside of your comfort zone.
For most of my life, I’ve grown up in – what I admit is – the bubble known as the Silicon Valley as well as attended university close to home. That’s why I’m grateful for how Nepal has widened my global perspectives and understanding of privileges. There were occasions during the trip when I experienced extreme discomfort – whether it was from sickness, traveling to an unfamiliar environment 7,548 miles away from home, or interacting with individuals whose viewpoints and communication styles differ greatly from my own.
However, I came to realize that it was during these moments of unfamiliarity when I learned to become more resilient, challenge myself to overcome those struggles, and appreciate the opportunity I was given to equip other women, who may not have experienced the same privileges that I’ve had growing up, with the encouragement and knowledge to pursue their passions. When we step outside of our comfort zones, it can be scary because we’re enabling ourselves to be vulnerable. But how can we ever experience life and come to understand how fortunate we are and how we can help others if we don’t expose ourselves to the unknown?
3. In order to help someone, you first need to understand what they need.
Often, when non-profit organizations look at rural community development, they seek to influence entire communities without taking into consideration what the community members already know, what they need at that present moment in time, and how they can collaborate together to sustain change after the non-profits leave.
When we initially arrived at the village, my teammates and I had to sit down and determine our roles as outsiders and observers before proceeding to establish an active understanding of the villagers’ current scenario. During the project planning phase, we uncovered how imperative it was to remain critical of our understanding of the villagers’ needs and interests. Only when we understood what the villagers needed were we able to present a feasible and sustainable business proposal.
4. Conflict is inevitable. What matters is how you approach it.
When it comes to working with team members from different cultures, it’s important to recognize that conflict is inevitable. In fact, conflict can be healthy because it fosters collaboration, open discussion, and productivity in a work setting. By learning to recognize conflict, approach it with an open mind, and work as a team towards a solution, we educate ourselves on how to efficiently solve disagreements in the workplace.
There were occasions when my teammates contradicted in work communication styles and methods for approaching assignments. It was when we recognized the conflict and collectively worked together to manage it that we were able to arise at a solution and move onward to accomplish the project’s goals.
5. Adopt a growth mindset.
The world is a vast arena of information, and we have plenty of room to learn and grow as intellectual beings. By adopting a growth mindset, we generate a natural drive for challenge, knowledge acquisition, and self-development.
Even though I arrived at Machhapuchchhre to assist the village women, I feel as if I’ve gained a whole lot more from them—from listening to their life stories to observing how hard they worked to support their families. By maintaining an open mind throughout the trip, I acknowledged gaps in my knowledge and worked to fill them in by engrossing myself in my work and striving to learn as much as possible from both my teammates and the villagers. Only when we embrace the fact that we don’t know anything do we appreciate the joys of discovery.
Ultimately, where you sit does depend on where you stand. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution, and often, there is no one right answer to resolving real-world problems in international societies. By practicing patience, humility, and empathy, we can understand not only ourselves and what we’re capable of achieving but also the individuals we interact and form relationships with. And when we accomplish that, we are well on our way to discovering ourselves and inspiring those we help to realize how much potential they have to represent their interests and accomplish their goals.
Miuccia Halim is a senior at the University of California, Davis graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Managerial Economics and minor in Communication. She is currently the Marketing Manager at Aggie Reuse Storeand the Career Development Director at Davis Women in Business.
This blog was taken from author’s linkedIn.