There are very few people--at least that I’ve come across-- who are so fortunate as to be absolutely certain of what they want to do in life. I’ve never been one of them. Meaning that for much of the 30 years that I’ve been alive, I haven’t had a fixed, clear idea of where I’m going exactly, only a general sense of the direction I’m headed in.
That was one of the reasons I believe I was always drawn to the Social Sciences—the flexibility it offers you to explore and customize your studies to meet your particular needs, the way it doesn’t lock you into a specific path, but accommodates whatever your evolving career plans might be.
I started working at a fairly young age--from high-school itself--with writing and copy-editing stints at a few local magazines. I enjoyed it and was keen to take it further, so I elected to pursue journalism in college, following which I got a job as a sub-editor for the Features desk at a national daily newspaper.
As much as I enjoyed being part of the world of the media--built to keep you on your toes--some years down the line, I felt a distinct desire to return to the classroom. Part of this was the wish to take my studies onto the next logical milestone; but another, more important, factor was the hankering I had to examine my own context and history. If journalism had opened my eyes to the way things were in Nepal--the persistent inequalities and inequities that determine how life is led here--I wanted now to go deeper into understanding how these conditions had emerged in the first place. I wanted to learn more, in a nutshell, about why things were the way they were.
Another reason was that growing up in Kathmandu, there was always a sense of living within a bubble. I knew that if I aspired, in whatever modest capacity, to contribute to positive change, it would require a far broader acquaintance with the realities of the rest of the country. And having heard about the Development Studies degree at Kathmandu University’s School of Arts from some people who had just completed the course and who highly recommended it, it seemed like a good first step towards trying to puncture that bubble.
It was an intensive two years, to say the least, but rewarding as it was rigorous. Under the guidance of a terrific faculty, the programme essentially sought to help us attempt to unpack the complex contextuality of what “development” really means. In this regard, we were provided a run-through of the fundamental concepts and theories of development— including both an overview of the historical evolution of the discipline, and the major present-day issues and debates within development discourse in Nepal and beyond.
The curriculum also drew liberally from the realms of economics, anthropology, political science, environmental science and even management, among others, making for a broad-ranging and very comprehensive course of study. A fine balance was also struck between laying down a strong foundation of conceptual knowledge, and equipping us with the tools for the practical application of that knowledge in actually effecting desired transformations.
For instance, although the 2015 earthquakes--which arrived right in the midst of our first year--did derail our classes and planned fieldwork for a time, in hindsight, the disaster offered an invaluable case-study insofar as the planning and practice of development in Nepal is concerned. I’m greatly appreciative of not just how committed the university was to bring our studies back on track so soon after the disaster, but also in the way our teachers worked to incorporate learnings from recent events into our coursework, including the research component, where we were able to examine first-hand the impacts of the quake on already-struggling communities around Nepal.
I’m presently working in UNDP in the capacity of a Communications Support Officer--a position that represents a happy confluence of my backgrounds in journalism and development. And while I still can’t say for sure what I might be doing five or ten years down the line, for now, I feel like I’m at least a step closer to finding how my pecific skills-set and aptitude could contribute to our broader, collective efforts to create a better, more equal world.
Preena Shrestha is Kathmandu University (KU) graduate and professional. She is currently working in UNDP, as Communications Support Officer.