Throughout this past summer, I spent my time in the bustling city of Kathmandu, Nepal. I lived with a Nepali host family while I interned at the city’s Teaching Hospital assisting Physical Therapists during the week. While I was there, I was taught how to properly stretch patients, document their exercises and correctly show them how to use equipment.
Nepal, a small, third world country located between India and China, is home to Mount Everest and the Himalayan mountain range. I have heard of Nepal a few times before, but was unaware of exactly what I was getting myself into. The travel channels and textbooks explain to the best of their ability what it’s like to visit this country, yet nothing really prepared me for a journey like this. To have immersed myself in a country half way across the world where English is only spoken in some parts of the city, and not at all in the villages, was the first and biggest barrier. Hindi and Nepali both derive from Sanskrit, and most Nepali people understand Hindi. So having taken two semesters of Hindi at the time, I knew just enough to make my way around the city.
It was a huge eye-opening experience to live in a third world country for two months, as one can imagine. I lived with a host family right in the middle of Kathmandu Valley. One of their daughters did not understand English, so it was quite difficult to communicate with her using my limited knowledge of Hindi and hand signals. For dinner, it was usually lentils and rice– a traditional Nepali dish. During my time there, I do not doubt that I ate more rice in the span of two months than in the last 21 cumulative years.
The commute to work consisted of a walk of about 15 minutes through the city, passing one Hindu temple after another, all ranging from small and dainty to massive and ornate. I took a series of winding roads alongside buses, cars and motorbikes, which often weaved in and out, dodging city traffic. After arriving at the “bus” stop, a minivan pulled up, sometimes with the side door swung open, people holding on to anything they could grab as 10-15 people squeezed in for their daily commute. There were men that had sacks full of potatoes on their backs with straps wrapped around their head, women with children, school girls and medical students all packed like sardines in this small vehicle. The most interesting experience on the bus, though, was the sense of community between people despite their different walks of life. When a woman holding her child did not have room for the child to sit on her lap, a nearby woman sitting gladly cared for the baby until the mother had reached her stop. Moreover, anyone holding a bottle of water was subject to have it borrowed by another who needed to quench their thirst. Of course, the bottle was returned afterward, but for the time being my water bottle thus turned into community drinking water.
At the hospital, a wide variety of patients were admitted: young and old, male and female, locals and foreigners, stroke patients to back aches. There, I learned how to properly stretch patients, conduct muscle stimulation, use a spinal and neck traction machine, and perform ultrasounds. Although, as stated before, the language barrier was a bit difficult, patients were more than happy to work with me and did their best to carry out their exercises. In America, there are different facilities for various branches of physical therapy and it was fascinating to see that this clinic accepted all conditions for a small fee. The patients came motivated to improve their strength and lead healthier lives and I everyday I came into work overwhelmed with joy, happy to be where I was.
All of these experiences, and much more, truly opened my eyes to the different mindset of the Nepali people. They are caring, comical and extremely curious, especially when it comes to foreigners. In my time in the hospital, locals were constantly asking questions about my life in America. They wanted to know about my family, my job, if I went to school and if so, what I did. It was such a refreshing experience to have so many people who are genuinely interested in your life and where you came from. It also made me realize how in some aspects, their culture was extremely different from ours, yet no matter what they always attempted to make me feel welcomed and right at home.
I experienced a once in a lifetime journey travelling through Nepal and working in a physical therapy clinic. I have met amazing people, received incredible opportunities and learned much more than I ever could have if I stayed in Ohio. I left my comfort zone and tried new experiences that only Nepal could have offered. Learning so much in Teaching Hospital assisting physical therapists has solidified my decision to continue my path onto graduate school and pursue physical therapy.