Meeting scientists in Kathmandu

No matter where you go there are curious people who are keen to learn and discover new things.

On my way to trekking Annapurna Base Camp last year, I flew into Kathmandu where I stayed for one day before transferring to Pokhara, and, of course, I could not miss this opportunity to check out the city.

Whenever I visit a foreign city I try my hardest to do sightseeing on foot and apart from key tourist spots, I really enjoy immersing myself in the city in less touristy areas. Despite Kathmandu’s reputation in terms of its pollution (one of the dustiest cities in the world), I could not deny myself strolling down its streets. During such a walk I spotted an interesting looking building (pictured above), and, in accordance with my habit of checking out the interiors of such constructions I soon identified it as a university (Tri-Chandra Campus, Tribhuvan University). Inside, I found students playing table games in the sports hall, and I walked up and asked them about the university and its faculties. They were extremely friendly and told me the chemistry school was on the other side of the road.

Sports hall at the Tri-Chandra Campus, Tribhuvan University

The chemistry building was not in great shape, to put in euphemistically. I walked inside and found a student working on his master’s thesis in a very dim and seemingly abandoned lab. He was visibly surprised to have a clearly foreign visitor, but was nonetheless very welcoming and chatted with me; he even invited me to wait for faculty members to return.

Greatly surprised, the professors spontaneously invited me to a masters thesis seminar in 20 minutes. I could not miss such a great cultural and academic experience, so I happily agreed to join. I was kindly asked to listen to the students present their reports in English, and then provide feedback — they also asked me to say a few words about my science and how to reach out in the scientific community. I spoke for about 30 minutes. No preparation, no slides, just me talking, and I have to admit it was a very exciting experience.

The students were, to my pleasure, positive about my presence. Once they had left, I chatted with one of the professors, Surendra, after which he invited me to come see him again when I returned from my trek in the mountains. After leaving the building that evening, a group of students were actually waiting for me outside and wanted to keep talking to me. We exchanged emails as well and I encouraged them to reach out to me about science and opportunities.

After my (very tiring) trek, on the day I was leaving Kathmandu I met Surendra again for lunch and we decided to stay in touch and exchange contact details. I will remember him; he was extremely nice, and after 2 hours listening to him I could see what a passionate and dedicated teacher he is. He spoke great English and had a great repertoire with the students. He easily could have left Nepal, having had experience in Germany and Korea, and found better job opportunities (with a higher salary), but instead stayed in an underprivileged university, trying his best to mentor and teach students the science for virtually no money.

On the way back from Annapurna base camp (with a small detour:))
The next time you find yourself travelling or visiting an exotic place, consider approaching the local university or academic institution. They’re relatively straightforward to find with some Googling, and you can easily create a connection that normally would never have taken place. There’s no pressure because it’s likely they’ve never heard of you, and neither you of them, but a great opportunity to globalise the scientific community.

This experience has taught me that making science part of my travels will always enrich the meaning of my trips. Instead of just sightseeing and exploring, I’m able to connect more deeply with locals not only on a tourist level but with the students and scientists in that country. I’ve become more aware of the very different and diverse challenges they face compared to me.

The students I met had a totally different upbringing, life experience and education to me, yet still, they shared my passion, motivation and curiosity about the world. Having this in common makes the conversations and meetings all the better because although we come from very different places, we share a motivation to discover and share knowledge. Bringing together communities like these is highly rewarding and could make a big impact on a developing young scientist, and of course on myself.

Science is independent of geographical cultural education differences, infrastructure, opportunities and institutions; you can always find people who have the same passion for science and curiosity and teaching the younger generations. I believe this small-scale communication and linking of the global scientific community is one of the stepping stones to eliminating the barriers and obstacles for anybody to pursue science.

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