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Cornell-Nepal Studies Program weathers a civil war and looks to the future

A peaceful political resolution to the civil war in Nepal should boost enrollment in a unique study abroad program here at Cornell. The Cornell-Nepal Study Program, founded in 1993, saw its enrollment nose dive when the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning to Nepal in 2003 and placed the Communist Party of Nepal's Maoist insurgents on an international terrorist watch list.

The Nepal initiative is Cornell Abroad's only campus-administered program and is limited to 15 undergraduate and graduate students from Cornell or other U.S. colleges and universities. At least 10 students are needed to sustain the effort. Today there are six.

"We're hopeful that enrollment will go up now that there seems to be an end to the conflict in Nepal," said Kathryn March, professor of anthropology, who coordinates much of the program planning. "After the U.S. lifts the travel warning and takes the Maoists off the terror watch, we should be okay."

The U.S. State Department appears ready to do just that. And Cornell Abroad has agreed to support the program for another five years, said Richard Gaulton, Cornell Abroad director.

Cornell-Nepal Study Program (CNSP) is a pioneering joint venture between Cornell and Tribhuvan National University of Nepal located in Kirtipur, near Kathmandu. Courses are taught in English by Nepalese faculty from the Tribhuvan University Departments of Botany and Sociology/Anthropology.

Madhab Prasad Sharma, vice chancellor of Tribhuvan University, recently visited Cornell to meet with administrators as well as faculty, staff and student members of the Nepal program. During an information session at the anthropology department on May 1, the vice chancellor expressed his appreciation for Cornell's continuing support of the program during a very unstable period in Nepal's history. He also discussed the need to expand access to electronic resources and for CNSP to develop a dual degree for graduate study.

David Holmberg, professor of anthropology, who has done extensive field work in Nepal since 1971, said that while the program lasts only one semester, the emphasis is on scholarship, not cultural tourism. Each student chooses a major theme, focused on either the cultural or ecological diversity of Nepal, and completes 15 hours of course work.

"Students have to have a very good idea of what they want to do there and be willing to undertake rigorous field research and adapt to Nepali culture," he said. "This is not about how cool it would be to hike the Himalayas."

The program includes studies in anthropology, rural sociology, religion, education and culture, ecology, environmental sciences, natural resources, plant sciences, architecture, and urban and regional planning.

CNSP is the first and only study abroad program in Nepal to draw together students from American universities to live and study with Nepalese peers in residential program houses.

"Involvement with the CNSP has been and will continue to be an integral part of my graduate school endeavors at Cornell -- in addition to being a lot of fun," said Courtney Wallace, who is working toward a master's degree in public administration at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. "My concentration is in environmental policy, and I am going to Nepal in spring 2009 to study community forestry."

Preparatory course work includes classes in elementary Nepali, taught by Shambhu Oja, a senior lecturer in Asian studies.

"That class is fantastic because the class size is small, there is a lot of Nepali culture thrown into it, and Shambhu is an amazing teacher," said Paul Josephson, a sophomore majoring in global health who has a minor in South Asian studies.

Other prep includes the course Peoples and Cultures of the Himalayas, taught by March or Holmberg. For now the focus is on "recruitment, recruitment, recruitment," said March. And now that the Maoists have entered the political mainstream in Nepal, the Cornell program looks forward to a robust future, she said.

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