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Gap year student, Isabelle Berman, travelled from the USA to Nepal to volunteer with Projects Abroad at the conservation project

Isabelle BermanAfter hearing about Projects Abroad from several classmates, Isabelle knew that a project in Nepal was a great way to spend  her gap year. Growing up hiking in the Ramapo Mountains, she always had a love for the outdoors. However, it was not until  a summer college course in environmental science that Isabelle realized she would pursue environmental studies.

As a conservation volunteer in Ghandruk, Isabelle spends her days between various wildlife survey projects, focusing on data collection for species protection. Between mammal surveys with camera traps, butterfly surveys, and reptile pitfall traps, she is learning a great deal about the inhabitants of the Himalayas. But it is not only the animals she is connecting with.

“Though the village is small, we have a wide exposure to Nepali culture,” she stated. “Being here during festival season has been an incredible gift. We have been able to understand the local culture from the perspective of the family, and our host parents Die and Didi have been generous in sharing so much of themselves.”

“I have always been interested in Asian cultures, particularly Eastern philosophy and religion. The combination of Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal seemed so fascinating, and it is,” Isabelle said of her choice of conservation in Nepal. “I also wanted a conservation project as far from my  home as possible, to truly push me out of my comfort zone.”

The conservation site in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project is a world away from Isabelle’s home in the States, but that has not prevented her from finding similarities between her duties as a Projects Abroad volunteer and former volunteering. Having spent time in an environmental cleanup of a Native American reservation near her home, Isabelle was familiar with many of the principles of larger ecological conservation. She has also noticed a fair amount of similarity between Native American culture and the local Gurung ethnicity. “Both cultures have a striking connection to nature, and respect for the earth,” Isabelle reflected. “Both peoples lead incredibly humble existences, while welcoming foreigners to understand their spirituality, their many gods, and their belief in the divinity of animals.”

Outside of Ghandruk, Isabelle has had the chance to explore other areas of the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. She hiked to Jhinu with several other volunteers for a weekend at its hot springs, and has also spent free time in the lakeside city of Pokhara. At the completion of her project, she hopes to trek to Annapurna Base Camp. “I’m currently training,” she said, “as we often hike as much as three hours to survey wildlife in Ghandruk.”

As she plans to enter university this coming fall, Isabelle has been greatly impacted by her time as a Projects Abroad volunteer. She has learned that she already had many of the foundations needed to do successful environmental conservation. She has also delighted in meeting many likeminded, young internationals with passion for ecology, and has created a new network of colleagues and friends.

Yet her biggest takeaway is the splendor of her experience in Ghandruk. “Living in Ghandruk, you are confronted everyday with views of the snowy Himalayas, with a magnificent display of nature,” she declared. “I have learned that there is so much life at such a high altitude. Not only is it surprisingly green at 2400 meters, but there is great life in the passion of Projects Abroad’s volunteers, staff, and the locals who welcome us to their beautiful village.”

We hope great stories like these inspire others to help Projects Abroad continue to make a difference, and by doing so, learn something themselves along the way.

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