Life's a Voyage That's Homeward Bound: Former Students of Lincoln School Speak Their Minds

Features Issue 32 Aug, 2010
Text by Baishali Bomjan / Photo: Thomas kelly

It was that joyful time of year again when a cherished annual celebration of success is re-enacted at the Megha Malhar Hall at Soatee Crowne Plaza. The music, pomp and ceremony, the procession of graduating students, uniforms and family gatherings reminded me of a traditional rite of passage, commemorating the noble transition from youthful dependence to adult life and liberty.

I am talking here, I should be clear, not about some mediocre gathering but rather Lincoln School’s Class of 2004 Graduation Ceremony on June 8th 2004: the most extravagant, exceptional and touching ceremony I have ever witnessed in Nepal. Thanks to Thomas Kelly, we came to know about the event in the nick of time. He also went to great lengths to photograph all these ex- Lincolners during and after the event, which I must say must have been a humongous task.

What can we say about this year’s graduating class and what does it tell us about the Lincoln School academia’s scorecard? Statistics reveal much, as do some stories from the past years. This school, a hive for students coming from all over the globe, with varying cultures and backgrounds, shapes and sizes, color and creed has not only given them the best all round education but has also instilled in them a sense of belonging to Nepal, a home away from home and also life-long friendships which these students will cherish for as long as they live. Well enough of that for the moment. Let us begin the real story here.

A bunch of expatriate as well as cross cultural kids, all ex-students from Lincoln (who are now in some of the most reputed universities abroad, excelling in their various capabilities) were here in Nepal for the graduation day celebration. They have been hanging out together almost everday, playing pool, going for swims and most of all just spending quality time with each other.  What was more interesting, was to find out what made Lincoln School or for that matter, Nepal so special for these kids who have taken a tiny, yet valuable piece of it to wherever they are and will be in the future. For most of them, Nepal is the only home that they know of and the Nepali way of life, the only guide to living. And while hopping from country to country, and adapting to cultures other than that of their parent’s home country during their young and tender years may not have been as easy as it may sound. Although experiences that come from living in various places with diverse cultures are supposed to be enriching, and parents seem to have greater expectations of their children (growing up to be multilingual with intercultural interaction skills), they have adjusted to their new environment with panache. It was surely a great opportunity for them to learn the Nepali way of life. Even though they had the opportunity to take the best of both worlds they have chosen to embrace Nepal and its ways in their daily lives. Who knows, perhaps the small reasons they enjoyed while living in Nepal, were the same reasons why their parents chose to stay back and make Nepal their home.

Today, they have become a blend of cultures with their sense of belonging determined not by being born at a particular place but by the relationships with people they have the strongest affinity with. These kids have found their niche amongst diverse cultures and have learnt the most valuable principal of life: respect and appreciation of diversity.

To find out more about what these cross-cultural kids had to say about Nepal and its impact on their lives read on….

  •  BB: Why did you come back for the Graduation Day this year and what was it like?

Jesse: One of my best friends (Sam Davis) was graduating and also because I hadn’t been to Nepal in two years due to the political situation. I also wasn’t sure when I would be able to return again. So I felt like it was time I came to Nepal, a place I consider home for a long time now.

Forrest: Because three good friends of mine graduated this year, one of whom I have known since I was 6 years old. It always feels good to come back for the graduation and have been coming back every year since I graduated except for one time.  It’s just really an honor to see your friends complete a chapter in their life. Then it’s also good to catch up with other alumni who are in town, and parents and teachers.

Luke: First and foremost because my brother, Sam Davis was graduating this year from Lincoln and also because I have been coming back to Nepal every June, as my parents still reside here. It is always so wonderful to come back and this year was especially poignant because of Sam’s graduation. It was great to witness the whole ceremony, which brought back a lot of Lincoln memories. I could not believe that it had been three years since I was up there on the stage receiving my high school diploma.

Dierdre: I wasn’t back for graduation last year, and since my graduation was a lifetime ago and I have changed so much since then, I wanted to attend the function this time. The graduation reminded me of everything I went through and felt when I graduated and I also met a million people from school whom I had known for most of my life. It was great, but overwhelming to see everyone in such a rushed hectic environment.

Monica: Graduation Day happened to coincide, as it usually does, with the summer vacations when at least some of us are back in Nepal. I was actually invited by a graduating friend for the Graduation dinner. Graduation Day is arguably the most special day in the Lincoln calendar, and as an alumnus, it was a matter of pride and attachment to the Lincoln family that brought me back to watch and cheer as a new generation sent their hats and tassels flying in the air. I was surprised to see how the younger kids had changed and grown, sometimes almost unrecognizably so and how my own classmates were, apart for a beard here or a couple of pounds on or off there, exactly the same under the surface. It was as if everything, yet nothing, had changed.

Cecile: I am working in Nepal at the moment, and wouldn’t have missed Graduation for the world--it is probably the biggest day for any Linconite. Not only is it an honor to help the seniors celebrate their moment, it is always followed by a great celebratory night out.

  •  BB: What does Nepal mean to you and what’s so special about this country?

Jesse: Nepal means everything to me. It’s the place I was brought up so I feel extremely connected to it. Everything about it is special. It’s the little things you take for granted when you live here that make it such a unique and special place. The Nepali people are so loving and happy, the expatriate community is like no other in the world and if you can look past the dirt and pollution, the city is amazing.

Forrest: Where can I start? Nepal means everything to me, I first came right after I was born in 1981, and then I came back again in 1994.

Luke: Well, this place is my whole background, my entire history. I grew up here and it has given me so much. There was a reason why our parents decided to live here and bring their children up here. Nepal opens up our eyes, helps us practice empathy and compassion and, especially in the context of today, patience. I do not really understand how a country so sacred, so full of ‘spirituality’ could be in the state it is today. People are generally extremely kind and one receives a much more genuine smile from the people here in comparison to the west.

Dierdre: Everything… the people, the culture, the mountains. This is a magical country.

Monica: Nepal is home, a place where I have grown roots, a place that has defined who I am. After a year of being away, some of the most special things seem to be the simplest – dal bhat, blue hills, and familiar faces.

Cecile: Nepal is a special and sacred place and it has given me more than I could ever ask for. The cultural diversity, appreciation for family, spirituality and people makes it a very special and sacred place.

  •  BB: More on the friends you’ve made in Nepal.

Jesse: It’s something words can’t describe. It’s a bond so tight that nothing can break it. Even though we now live in all corners of the world, we still keep in touch through e-mail and online chatting. Often we have bhojs (feasts) in different cities, for example when I was in Portland, we usually had 2 or 3 a year where we have had up to 10 ex-Lincoln students meet and make Nepali food and hang out till dawn. There were some friends, whom I hadn’t seen for 2 years until this last trip to Nepal and it was amazing how we could just pick up where we had left off and were still best friends.

Forrest: The friends that I have made here are the friends that I’ll keep for life, they are more than friends, they are brothers and sisters; family.  Many of us have already committed to living in the same areas.  Currently there are a number of ex-Lincoln student living in Portland, Oregon, but as that chapter in slowly phasing out due to people graduating from college and moving else where, it seems like there is going to be a mass exodus of Lincolners to Melbourne, Australia, myself included.  It’s just the fact that as friends we cannot get enough of each other’s company, because each one of us went through so much growing up in Nepal.

Luke: The friends I have made here are also a huge reason for the love and attachment I have to this country. We all seem to share this incredibly strong connection or bond, which means that although we are now spread out across the world, going to different universities, we still keep in touch all the time and even when we have our yearly, or even half-yearly reunions, nothing ever seems to have changed between us. I think part of this connection is due to the fact that we do not really feel that we belong completely to the western country that our passport says we are a part of. We go back to our ‘home’ nations to continue our studies, yet do never really feel at ‘home’. Instead, home for us is Nepal, although we can never be considered Nepalese. Thus, the vital point is that this group of friends is, in a sense, its own society, its own country; we are not Australian, American, or Nepali, but instead belong to this identity of the Third Culture Kids of Kathmandu.

Dierdre: I’ve made only a few friends here with whom I still keep in touch regularly. As for others, I’ve lost touch but as soon as we meet each other, it seems like old times again. It’s always wonderful to see everybody to catch up on the old times. It is like no time has passed.

Monica: My Lincoln friends are a diverse group of very interesting individuals, people I love to just listen to. They may be Nepali, Dutch, Belgian, Canadian or American, but they all have great stories to tell, a great sense of humor, and mostly, they all call Nepal home. My fondest memories are of traveling together with my class to Bhote Koshi for our senior class trip, and traveling with the Basketball and Volleyball teams to various tournaments. Now, two years later, we’re still traveling together, to Bhaktapur, Nagarkot, to the corners of Kathmandu, if not Nepal, savoring all that makes this place special enough for all of us to call home. I am really lucky for my three years at Lincoln.

Cecile: The chemistry between Linconites is hard to explain. Graduating in different years has no bearing on how close we can all still be. When it comes to my friends from Lincoln, they are the ones I travel furthest to see and the ones I con-sider most dear to me.  It is about more than just friendship, it is about family.

  •  BB: What was it like growing up in Lincoln School?

Jesse: Lincoln School was a great place: from the great academics to the great friends we made there. It was a one of a kind education that I would not trade in for anything. I think I appreciate it more now than I did during my time at Lincoln.

Forrest: Lincoln school was good, it was a great school, and I got a great education there. But what I have come to realize, is that it is just such a small part of my experience; to some people it was a mold, but to me it was just a school, and although I appreciate it, when I now reflect back on my years here, it doesn’t rank too high, besides the fact that many of my friends came from there too.

Luke: Lincoln School has been a wonderful environment that enabled us to create these so powerful bonds. The teachers are very caring, culturally aware, and they really help us flourish as individuals and as a community. There is a very strong school spirit at Lincoln and this is especially illuminated during sport competitions and art, drama and music conventions, where we travel around South Asia, competing against other American International Schools.

Dierdre: Lincoln school was a great place to go. It was so small that it gave everyone a chance to participate in whatever they wanted. Explore Nepal was great, SAISA was too. It was a great place to make friends.

Monica: Lincoln school can really be defined as a family. It provided me with a world of opportunity. It offered me diverse, engaging classes, a range of extracurricular and social activities, and a very supportive, instructive, and nurturing environment. It’s a place open to dialogue and exchange. It really helped me build my confidence and sense of potential. It taught me the ethos of teamwork and the importance of diversity. I loved it.

Cecile: Incredible in so many ways. Lincoln has given me an opportunity to blossom as a complete person. First and foremost it has given me the ability to develop in all spheres of life, secondly it has taught me the art of appreciation of cultural diversity and sensitivity and lastly, it’s a global family. Unlike the west, where you specialize in only one field, at Lincoln they encourage you to participate in everything from sports, to drama, to singing, to all other extra curricular activities. I owe my complete gratitude to Lincoln for what I am today.

  •  BB: What are your plans for the future?

Jesse: I am going to finish college. Then it’s very much up in the air. I would love to come back to Nepal someday and help the people as much as I can, but it really depends on the political situation and what job I end up doing.

Forrest: I have already alluded to that in the first question, but a bit more. After I am done in the states after a year or two more, I hope to come back to Asia. Hopefully it’s Nepal, but it depends on where the work will take me.  But, I do not see myself living in the
states for much longer.

Luke: In the future, I have actually thought of coming back to Lincoln School and teaching English Literature, as that is my major in university. Whether or not this will happen, I don’t have a clue. But it would be nice to give something back to a place and a country that has, itself, given me so much.

Dierdre: Ideally, I want to go to graduate school at the University for Peace in Costa Rica. I hope to study international law and human rights.

Monica: Totally undecided. Maybe journalism!

Cecile: I want to complete my Masters in Political Science at the Institute for Political Science in Paris. I plan to focus on Human rights and work in an international organization, may be spend some years at UNESCO in Paris. Since Nepal is my greater passion, I hope to one day return and devote myself to helping the people.

  • BB: What do you like about the Nepali culture and what have you taken from it to where you are right now?

Jesse: The respect for elders is something I feel America has lost and it makes me sad to see that. Also, joy and happiness that Nepali people get out of living is something very special.

Forrest: Friendliness, respect for people, respect for community, and family.These are just a few things that I have adopted. There is so much more, both in-depth and shallow.  Everything, from my extreme fondness for dhal-bhat to the way that I view life. Nepali culture has  given me so much and has
shaped who I am today.

Luke: Previously, I mentioned words such as compassion, empathy and spirituality. I think these are things that Nepal and the people of Nepal really help open one’s eyes to. There is so much suffering in this world, but in Nepal this suffering is more visible to the eye then other countries, and consequently, one is more easily able to cultivate these caring sentiments, as well as a belief in hope, prayer, and the extraordinary.

Dierdre: The people are so kind and friendly.

Monica: Well, I am a Nepali through and through, and I must say that I have taken every nuance of Nepali culture and attitude to wherever I am right now.

Cecile: Nepali culture teaches the appreciation of family and utmost respect for elders. It has taught me to love life, enjoy simple pleasures and embrace peace. From it, I have taken gratitude, compassion and respect.

  •  BB: What have you been doing in Nepal this time?

Jesse: I did a lot of the things that I took for granted when I lived there, some of the tourist attractions, like Boudha and Pashupati. Also I just kicked it with my friends a lot and talked about old times. We went to a lot of the restaurants and bars that we used to go to.

Forrest: This time just vacationing, visiting friends and taking it all in, because sadly I think this will be the last time I come back for a few years. Usually I get involved with some sort of NGO work, like with HIV/AIDS or something similar. This time I am also investigating possible job prospects for the future.

Luke: This June, I have just been spending a lot of time with my family and the friends that I grew up with in Nepal. It is a wonderful time in the year for all of us, now that we are together again.

Dierdre: Seeing old friends; Enjoying Kathmandu. I want to volunteer somewhere for a while.

Monica: I am trying to do some research on Nepali history, in between meeting family and old friends. I am trying to rejuvenate myself and take as much of Nepal back with me, as the current political situation will allow.

Cecile: Though I‘m working in Anti-trafficking at USAID all summer, I make a big efffort to spend time with the Lincoln crew. It’s like the good old days...hanging out, kicking back and enjoying each other’s company. Having been away for three years, I’m using this time to gain work experience, prepare myself for grad school and mentally and physically refresh.

  •  BB: Do you plan to settle in Nepal ultimately?

Jesse: If it works it would be great, but I want to leave the door open so that my mind doesn’t get set on moving back here. That’s another thing I have taken from Nepal, is to keep an open mind and not get caught up in the every day hustle and bustle of America, where everyone is a dollar short and a day behind.

Forrest: Prospective, but not sure, I would like to because there is so much for me here.

Luke: In response to the question if I have any plans to settle here, I feel I answered that when I said I would like to come back to Lincoln, or at least Nepal, to give something back to a people and a country that have helped me so much.

Dierdre: Hopefully, eventually for a few years. But I will always come back to visit.

Monica: Most likely.

Cecile: I want to first gather enough experience working for various organizations throughout the world, but I could definitely see myself coming  back to Nepal to settle. There is a lot of work to be done and they need dedicated people.

  •  BB: How was it growing up in Nepal?

Jesse: AMAZING...again, I didn’t appreciate it for what it was until I left it behind.

Forrest: The best experience ever, it had its ups and down, but that’s youth.   But I would not have traded it for anything else. Living here has led  me to see life clearly, and shown me a positive way of looking at the world.  Growing up here has helped me to see that money and material possessions should come after the general well being of society.   These are the outlooks Nepal has helped me develop. Nepal has helped me to mature quickly, yet still it has enabled me to hold on to my youthfulness as well.  In college in the states, I felt a lot older than my peers because of my experiences, and now even though I have graduated from university, I still feel very young at heart.  Growing up in Nepal has given me a balance in life on all fronts.

Dierdre: Nepal was the best place where I possibly could have grown up.

Cecile: Precious and invaluable. One could only be so lucky to grow in Nepal.