Alumni Spotlight: Leah Arnold

Leah Arnold is a 25 years old and from West Sussex. She currently lives with her boyfriend in Cambridge and works in a nursery. She begins her primary PGCE course at Cambridge in September. She enjoys working with children, cooking, cycling, and socializing with friends.

Why did you decide to enroll with Oyster Worldwide in Nepal?

Leah and her Nepalese mother at a wedding

Leah: I chose to go to Nepal with Oyster Worldwide firstly because I have always been fascinated by the diverse cultures within Asia, and wanted to go somewhere unique and beautiful.

Looking at other gap year organizations I found that so many offered trips to India, but Oyster offered something different; I could go somewhere that wasn’t, to me, a typical ‘gap year’ destination.

The second reason I chose Oyster Worldwide for my trip was the support the company offered. As a fairly small company, I got to know all the staff and everyone was friendly and personable.

This held such importance for me on my first trip away. A third reason for choosing both Nepal, and the Oyster program in particular, was that the cost included numerous organized trips.

I really had the best of both worlds, from being able to delve into the culture as a volunteer teacher, while also enjoying the more touristy highlights of Nepal.

Oyster organized two fantastic treks which I took along with the rest of the group, as well as a safari, white water rafting and three weeks (during the school holidays) working at a women’s foundation. For all these reasons and more, I am thrilled that I chose to go to Nepal with Oyster.

If you could go back and do something different, what would it be?

Leah: I had a fantastic time in Nepal and there is very little that I would change. If anything, one thing I would change would be to spend more time with my Nepalese host family at weekends.

The Oyster group were so close that we liked to meet up in Kathmandu every weekend to catch up and socialise. While this was fantastic and brought us together as a group, I do feel I could have spent a few more weekends getting to know my Nepalese family even better than I did.

What was the most interesting cultural difference you encountered?

Leah in teacher's uniform with one of her classes

Leah: For me the most interesting cultural difference was what we choose to eat at certain times of the day.

One of the biggest challenges for me initially was getting used to eating dal bhat (a lentil curry and rice) for breakfast at 8.30 am.

Lucy (my housemate) and I found this a real struggle at first but wanted to be polite so we ate it all up – only to have another portion piled on by our very happy Nepalese mama!

We had dal bhat twice a day every day, morning and evening. However, while this was monotonous and hard to bear for the first week or two, it soon became addictive!

I completely fell in love with the dish and ordered it all the time on weekends, when there was pizza and all sorts of other food on offer in the tourist district. This is one of the many cultural differences which I came to love in Nepal.

Tell me about one person you met.

Annapurna base camp

Leah: One of the most memorable people from my trip, along with my now close friend Lucy, has to be my Nepalese brother (dai) Rajesh.

Rajesh was such an interesting character and so different to a typical 30 year old Nepalese male. For a start, he was not married – this was incredibly unusual at his age.

Rajesh was in many ways a Westerner. He enjoyed a drink. He had traveled most of Asia, and he spoke better English than me!

However, he also had a fantastic understanding and love of his country, and I learned a huge amount from him. He is very sensitive and I’ll never forget how much he cried when his pet turkey died!

Rajesh took us on lots of adventures including treks to temples and shrines in the area. I am still in touch with Rajesh through Facebook, and as he is the only member of the family to be on a social network, this is a great way of keeping up to date with all the family.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Leah: My experience in Nepal will stay with me forever. It has hugely impacted my future. Firstly on a personal level it made me grow up! I grew in confidence and maturity and felt extremely prepared to start university away from home when I returned.

I have heard some people say “don’t take a gap year, you’ll never go to uni." For me I think without a gap year I may not have gone to college!

I was that bit older and had bags more confidence that I knew how to balance my time. I had a great social life and also worked hard at university, particularly inspired by the value put on education in poorer countries, like Nepal.

Volunteer teaching in Nepal also shaped me professionally. In all honesty when I chose Nepal as a destination, teaching was not the reason. I had never worked with children before and was far more inspired by the trekking, the culture and the beautiful scenery – teaching was just a bonus.

Now six years on I have been a Teaching Assistant for 2 years and I am starting my Primary PGCE at Cambridge in September, in order to become a teacher! I am convinced that without the 4 months of volunteer teaching in Nepal, I would never have known how much I loved teaching and working with children.