Two weeks ago, Melissa Griffin '12 returned from Nepal, where she volunteered as a teacher of English to second graders for five weeks; hiked with her father through one of the most beautiful and remote regions of the Himalayas of Southern Asia; met many Nepalese families; and visited several different villages.
Griffin knew nothing about Nepal until Eastern's Psychology Department advertised a summer study abroad program in 2011. She was reading a book called "Half the Sky," about the oppression of women all over the world, including Nepal, which sparked her interest in going there. She wanted to see what life was like in the developing world where the problems are way beyond anything she'd experienced. Once there, she fell in love with the country and its people, and decided to go back after graduation and experience more Nepali life.
"In the mountains, I stayed in several different villages where the houses were made out of concrete, clay or stone. The toilets were porcelain holes in the ground. The people looked Tibetan. You had to walk for hours to get to the next village or any other civilization, and resources were very scarce, especially water."
Griffin learned how to live without running water; enjoyed what she described as the most beautiful scenery in the world; communicated with people who didn't speak English; ate food that she saw get killed; danced to traditional Nepali music; and taught English in a classroom with 40 children ages 6-8. She became acquainted with poor and rich families of Nepal, and everything in between. "I learned how the different classes live and how they treat each other. I'm still not totally certain how this experience has changed my life, but I know my eyes were opened way more than I ever thought possible."
One specific incident will always stick with Griffin. She joined a Nepali family in a traditional friendship ceremony, when she went trekking with a man named Tika and members his family. Many people told her she looked like Tika's daughter Anita. "They kept saying we look, 'same same.' I didn't think anything of it, but apparently it's a really big deal in their culture when two friends look alike. That means they are 'mitinis,' which means almost like soul-mates for friends. Anita started doing my make-up and giving me a traditional Nepali outfit. Next thing I know we're having a ceremony to unite us as mitinis. It was really cool. The entire village sang songs and played traditional music for everyone to dance to. I felt as though I became a part of that village and their family."