A career in service of others

May 7th, 2020   |   COVID-19, Nepal, SIT Study Abroad

SPRING FORWARD
What SIT students brought with them from their
spring 2020 study abroad experience

Boudhanath Stupa -- a dome with crown and prayer flags

I would wake up earlier and walk to the Boudhanath Stupa. There, I would either sit in quiet contemplation or circumambulate the stupa along with elderly locals

Sim Xi Zhe (Bob)
Rising Senior, Yale-NUS College
SIT Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples

I was born and raised in Singapore and my time studying in Kathmandu allowed me to get a different perspective – that life doesn’t always have to center around productivity. Although Kathmandu is undeniably urban, life here felt a little more languid, like a nice morning stroll compared to the fast-paced and competitive marathon of a global city like Singapore.

In Kathmandu, I would wake up earlier and walk to the Boudhanath Stupa. There, I would either sit in quiet contemplation or circumambulate the stupa along with elderly locals. Sometimes, I would run into a classmate from the program and we would chat before heading to class together. I loved these moments of unstructured time when you get to really be in the moment.

A family of three people and the study abroad student in a Nepali home
Bob with his homestay family

... there are so many memorable smells and sounds: the intense yet fragrant scent of incense in my host family’s house as I wake up in the morning; the quiet murmurs of prayers and mantras from the elderly locals as they circumambulate the stupa, the laughter of my classmates as we tackle the Tibetan language together in morning Tibetan classes, the dusty cold evening air as I head home for the day ...

Even now, there are so many memorable smells and sounds: the intense yet fragrant scent of incense in my host family’s house as I wake up in the morning; the quiet murmurs of prayers and mantras from the elderly locals as they circumambulate the stupa, the laughter of my classmates as we tackle the Tibetan language together in morning Tibetan classes, the dusty cold evening air as I head home for the day, the casual chats with my host brother over dinner, and the joy of falling asleep in my bed having all of these things to look forward to the next day and beyond.

Living in a different culture made me aware of certain toxic cycles that were present in how I lived my life back home. These include the need to feel productive all the time, being beholden to my phone and laptop, and an unhealthy attachment to relationships and material things. I resolved not to fall back into them.

My experience abroad has made me rethink what success means, and how prestige and profit are meaningless if they don’t give me fulfilment. It has not necessarily changed my course of study or career path, but definitely strengthened a belief that my career should be geared towards serving people or a greater cause.

Prayer flags against the city of Kathmandu

My experience abroad has made me rethink what success means, and how prestige and profit are meaningless if they don’t give me fulfillment. It has ... definitely strengthened a belief that my career should be geared towards serving people or a greater cause.

The coronavirus was already a growing problem when I left for the program, but it really only hit me halfway through the semester when the Singapore government recalled all of the Singaporean students abroad. It was a really hollow feeling, I thought I was one of the only ones heading home early, but the next morning we all got an email from SIT informing us that everyone on the program would be returning home. We were all in class together and it was a really somber moment. Everyone was struggling to process it.

One month after returning, I am still processing all that had happened. We all went from living one week at a time, to a day at a time, to an hour at a time, because the situation was changing so fast. Finally, on our last day in Katmandu, it really felt like we were all living five minutes at a time.

The weekend before the program was cancelled, my classmates organized a house party and rented an Airbnb bungalow for a night. That was before we knew we all had to go home. The coronavirus pandemic was already becoming serious. Things were very unsure at that point and some of us had already decided to leave the program early, but that day was the last halcyon day we had together before things really started going crazy. We cooked together, ate together, laughed together, and although bittersweet, it was a beautiful memory that will stay with me.