Exploring the Himalayas on my international placement

My international placement in Nepal was by far a highlight of my time at university. From the experience I gained practical skills which I will take with me and use throughout my professional career, and created memories which I will cherish for a lifetime.

As soon as we left the airport it was a huge culture shock, as we were surrounded by locals experiencing poverty. Whilst very confronting, the experience reminded me of how blessed my life has been, and how fortunate I am to have access to basic needs and services. My placement taught me to appreciate things which I previously took for granted - such as clean drinking water, a safe house, and unpolluted air to breath. 

Travelling and living in another country really opens up your eyes and allows you to form new perspectives on the world and its issues, and to think of ways to address them. My placement in Nepal provided me with the opportunity to practice my skills in a setting that lacked many of the resources and stability that I was used to; this taught me to think outside the box, to be adaptable to situations, and to work with the resources you have available.

I arranged my placement through the Nepal Australia Friendship Association (NAFA). NAFA is a small non-government organisation that targets rural projects in Nepal focusing on alleviating poverty through the access of health care, education and resources.

There were two projects which I participated in during my placement; they were aimed at empowering women by providing economic stability and practical skills. Evaluating projects is a fundamental component of community development as it allows organisations to assess the outcomes and effectiveness of their projects. I was involved in the evaluation of a “goat project”. Not as cute as it sounds. This project required me to interview women and facilitate group meetings in order to assist females in creating an income for themselves. Working directly with the locals taught me the importance of putting yourself into the shoes of your clients in order to assess their needs and respect their cultural practices.

Nepali culture is a collectivist culture and everything is done for the greater good of the community. I had the privilege of experiencing this firsthand whilst living and immersing myself in the heart of community development. It was an amazing opportunity to be a part of the village community of Tawal, with the Nepalese culture being extremely hospitable, offering what little they had in honour of my presence in their community. I was grateful for everything and quickly learnt the importance of effective community engagement and participation when working with local communities cross-culturally.

The most challenging situation I encountered was the culturally ingrained inequities evident within the Caste System.  This is part of the local belief system and the Nepalese way of life, but it challenged my personal values and I found myself questioning and battling my emotions. The structural oppression evidently trickles down to those who are most vulnerable within Nepal’s society, and I found this difficult to accept.

My placement in Nepal is one I will never forget. The scenic views of the Himalayan Mountains that surrounded me were captivating and the warm friendly faces of children always smiling still melt my heart. Nepal is a wonderful country filled with beautiful people and I know I will return there again in the near future.

If you’re unsure where to do your placement I would encourage you to grab your passport and push yourself to look beyond the norm. An international placement teaches you so much more than just clinical skills and it’s more valuable than any holiday you can take. The experience will change you both personally and professionally for the better and I cannot recommend it more highly. The learning opportunities I experienced in Nepal were incredibly enriching and I am so grateful that I get to take these invaluable skills home with me and apply them in my future profession as a social work practitioner.

Last updated:
21 March 2017