Professor shares experiences from Nepal

Photo by Nicole Smith

Seven years ago, Dr. Betsy Palmer traveled to Nepal to climb the Himalaya’s Island Peak, but became tied to the area after meeting the man she would eventually marry. This led her to take a year long break from teaching at MSU to conduct research in Nepal.

Palmer is an associate professor in the College of Education, Health and Human Development, and mainly teaches graduate students in education. This spring, she will be leading an Honors Program course called “Great Expeditions” in which students will travel to the area in Nepal where she stayed.

From the fall of 2011 to the spring of 2012, Palmer took a sabbatical in Nepal. She lived there with her husband and two kids, allowing her to become an insider to the village.

As a researcher, she visited local schools and took photos of kids. This put her in the unique position of being both a mother and a researcher in the village.

Doing the research was a challenge, because there was no way to receive informed consent from the locals. Palmer explained that her goal as a researcher is to give a voice to these people, but when their culture is so different, the implications of her research are “completely out of their frame of reference,” she added.

This is not to say the villagers are uneducated, Palmer said; it is just that they live in a different world.  “I’m a newcomer to where they live,” Palmer explained while describing her time there. She said it was difficult to live “where daily life is so challenging.”

While living in the village, Palmer had no electricity or running water. There was a system in place for exchanging goods, which was the main form of economy for the villagers. Money did exist, and teachers were paid on salary, but most transactions happened without money.

Palmer said students taking her Great Expeditions course should expect a challenging and unique experience. After taking an introductory seminar class during the spring semester, the students will be spending nearly three weeks in Nepal.

When they finally arrive at their destination — after several plane rides and a hike over mountain paths — they will need to negotiate with local farmers for a place to set up their tents and sleeping bags. For food, they will pay a local family to cook their meals, because there are no restaurants.

The course will be a new experience for Palmer as well, as it is the first time she will be able to travel and share her experiences with a group of students. She commented, “I’ve taught students before. I’ve been abroad before. This will be my first chance to combine the two.”