Rosalie conducting her fieldwork (top photos) and with a very young member of her host community (bottom photo)
April 15, 2015
It was my very first time on an airplane, watching the clouds swallow the Chicago skyline as my flight banked eastward, toward Nepal…
I thought it would be a simple thing, writing about my Fulbright experience, but the trouble is that it's difficult to write a story in which the author of the beginning is not the same author of the end. Every student who has wrestled with "group projects" will understand this—everyone writes their own fragment from their own viewpoint, and the assembled product is often disjointed. But it's a startling moment when you realize you're struggling to put together the different fragments of yourself.
So, before embarking on your own adventure, a warning! If you're satisfied with the way you see the world, if you're comfortable in a snug matrix of thought in which your roles are well-defined, then perhaps you'll want to think twice about the Fulbright. It's a frightening thing, to be transformed, to discover things about yourself you'd never have imagined. The Fulbright isn't a "resume builder"—it's a quest that will change you and rebuild you into something different. It's a beautiful journey, and I highly recommend it, but don't expect it to be easy, because it won't be.
For the first month after arriving, I stayed in Kathmandu with the family of a Nepali student I had befriended at the University of Illinois. Nepali hospitality can be smothering to the uninitiated, but the family's generosity allowed me to adjust to the local diet and environment while I made arrangements for my stay in Pokhara.
In October of 2012, I arrived in Pokhara, a small city nestled by a lake in the shadow of its most famous landmark, the snowcapped Machhapuchhare (Fishtail Mountain). My host institution, a nonprofit called Animal Health Training and Consultancy Service (AHTCS), was headquartered in a neighborhood on the east side called Ramghat. I was able to rent a room in one of the neighboring buildings in a "paying guest" arrangement. It was wonderfully convenient—all I had to do was walk to work.
My project sought to measure the prevalence of mastitis (inflammation of the udder, usually caused by a bacterial infection) in dairy cows/buffaloes in the villages surrounding Pokhara (Kaski District). My research assistant, Rameshwar, was instrumental in developing a questionnaire to evaluate the farmers' practices and perceptions with regards to this common ailment. There were many delays, especially in the procurement of our California Mastitis Test (CMT). I hadn't realized the difficulty of obtaining such materials in Nepal. To future Fulbright Students who are considering fieldwork in the developing world, this is my advice—if you think you'll need it, bring it!
During the intervals when I could only wait for supplies to arrive by post, I had the privilege of teaching brief portions of AHTCS' Village Animal Health Worker (VAHW) curriculum in the nearby village of Arva. I taught a session on nutrition, another on vaccine handling, and I was scheduled to teach another about mastitis before I became sick and had to cancel. I taught the classes mostly in English (translated as needed by Rameshwar) and some Nepali. During the graduation ceremony after the month-long training was completed, I was approached by several students who expressed their disappointment that I'd been too sick to teach the class about mastitis as planned.
"At least your substitute was able to teach you in proper Nepali," I offered, "instead of my broken speech."
"She spoke better Nepali," one of the students answered, "but we couldn't understand her! It's easy when you teach."
That was one of my most fulfilling moments in Nepal, especially when so much of my work wasn't panning out as I'd hoped. I'd like to go back to Nepal, and if I do, I think I'd like to do more teaching/mentoring work. In February of 2013 I was able to visit the veterinary college in Rampur (Chitwan District). Practical experience for students is limited due to an extremely small caseload. The physical decay of the campus was rampant, but the pleasantly maintained library was reminiscent of what I'd known in undergrad, and everyone I spoke to agreed that what the school needed most wasn't money (although it did need that)—it needed instructors, mentoring/tutoring for students, and better access to online resources and textbooks that were not outdated.
It wasn't until March/April of 2013 when our fieldwork finally got into full swing, by which time many of the cows and buffaloes whose owners we'd interviewed had stopped giving milk for the season! Still, it was a great adventure riding on the back of the motorbike with Rameshwar to carry out the California Mastitis Test. Since the test involves a color change (all samples turn purple, and positive samples become thick and gelatinous), we attracted an entourage of children who wanted to catch a glimpse of the purple milk "that looked like snot." The village where we took most of our samples, Hemja, lives in my heart as my favorite of all the places I've visited in Nepal.
Indeed, as one of my advisors in the U.S. had cautioned, by the time I finally started to feel adapted to my new surroundings, it was time to go back. I started veterinary school at the University of Illinois in the fall of 2013. I am now a second-year student, and I am preparing to apply to the dual DVM/MPH (Master's of Public Health) Program. I haven't decided what I'll do after graduation, but I am very interested in the "One Health" approach that connects human, animal, and ecosystem health. In Nepal, I discovered that it's difficult to separate individual problems from an entire system that is imbalanced. I came to appreciate the necessity of "big picture" thinking. There is a pressing need for people who can reach out across disciplines and bring individuals from different backgrounds together to solve the big problems of the world. I hope that my future efforts toward that vision will once again take me abroad. Thanks to my experiences as a Fulbright Student, I won't be afraid.
Rosalie Ierardi graduated from the University of Illinois in 2012 with a B.S. in Animal Sciences, before taking up her Fulbright grant in Nepal for the 2012-2013 academic year. Her project in Nepal and current pursuit of the DVM/MPH follow from a lifelong commitment to working with animals, and from her more recent interest in the inextricable links between animal and human well-being.