Lai Lin's Experience
My Mountain Trust Experience
I had always been curious upon hearing about people embarking on international development projects on their gap years or summer holidays. This curiosity, coupled with my own interests in social work, travel and writing, led me to my month-long internship as a travel and lifestyle journalist for the Nepali Times. I had stumbled across the opportunity through the Cambridge Careers Service website while browsing for an internship to participate in over the Easter vacation. There it was, Mountain Trust, the NGO that tailor-makes internships for students according to their interests.
My internship entailed being attached to the English weekly, The Nepali Times, as a correspondent based in Pokhara, the second-largest town in the country which is also a popular tourist hotspot. I was to write for the "buzz" section of the paper, the lifestyle section featuring up-and-coming events or feature articles on things to do around town to encourage tourism in the area, especially since the readership of the weekly was the English-speaking expatriate community living and working in Nepal. I was received warmly in Kathmandu by Mr Kunda Dixit, the editor in chief of The Nepali Times and was given a tour of the headquarters, introduced to other members of the team and briefed on my role. My colleagues seemed highly envious of the fact that I was to be based in Pokhara and I soon learnt why - it was a charming little town at the foot of the Annapurna Mountain Range, far from the dusty stress of Kathmandu.
In Pokhara, I stayed at the clean and safe Fuji Guest house which was conveniently located on the main tourist street of Lakeside and right across the Mountain Trust office. This was the first time that I was living alone and I soon learnt that the key to starting off on the right foot was to develop a routine, especially since I was left to sniff out my own stories, which gave me a great sense of responsibility. Most days I would wake up in the mornings and pay a visit to the office before setting out to do some research or fieldwork. There, I would chat to Kisan and Bandana, the two very helpful administrative staff which helped to run the Mountain Trust office in Pokhara. It was with their guidance and expertise that I gathered ideas and inspiration for my stories. I also befriended Barburam, the driver, with whom I had great fun travelling with as he was very fond of blasting Nepali pop music while driving with the windows down, cruising through the streets of Pokhara. After a light lunch, I would then set off to pursue a story or get down to some writing in one of the cafes along lakeside. At tea-time, I would join in another group of volunteers who ran a class helping local street children with their English by playing language games with them.
Over the span of a month, I managed to write seven articles including: two museum reviews, a piece on yoga tourism, a restaurant review, a piece of paragliding, a piece on a local-run trekking company and a piece on a local photography company. What made work engaging and meaningful was the people I met in pursuit of my stories- from a retired Gurkha soldier who stood guard and told me of his experience while serving as a soldier, to the three Chettri sisters who had set up a trekking company training local women how to be guides, to Miranda, an inspiring young British girl who had decided to kickstart the arts scene in Pokhara by setting up the town's first very own photography company. Although living on my own, I was never much short for company. I met many travellers and other young people on internship like myself and it was great to be able to trade stories and experiences.
It is always amazing to be able to visit another country as a tourist, but being able to stay somewhere different for a prolonged period of time allows one to understand the place much better. In Nepal, the pace of life is very much slower and it leaves much room for error. Having grown up and lived in an urban setting all my life, it was definitely an eye-opening experience for me waking up everyday to a little lakeside town with cows wandering across the streets, which had no traffic lights! One very important lesson that I learnt about international development was that it isn't about going to a developing country and imposing what one believes it needs upon it. Instead, it is about empathizing with the local people and trying to understand what they need, to listen to their stories so that we may be able to serve their needs appropriately. In the scope of my work, I realized that there was so much potential in the little lakeside of Pokhara. I felt it was a pity that this was all severely underpublicized. I felt a great sense of purpose in being able to help spread the news about it and when I received the edition of the paper with all my stories in it a month later, a great sense of hope that I may have encouraged the appreciation of such a beautiful place!
Nepal may be one of the poorest countries in the world due to its severely corrupt government but it is also one of the most naturally beautiful. The people are generally helpful, peaceful and more than willing to stop to chat to foreigners. I highly recommend taking up an internship with Mountain Trust for it is a great way to see the country while pursuing a meaningful personal project!