James Durgin, ANSWER Sponsor, Golden, CO
Last October, my wife Carolyn and I joined 6 other ANSWER sponsors on a month-long trip to Nepal that included visits to a handful of schools. Having heard of these bi-annual school visits from Earle for a number of years now, I was eager to see the program in action. And as a recently retired high school counselor, I was particularly interested in hearing from the students themselves their hopes and plans for college and work. What I saw at these visits both inspired me and alarmed me. Our students in ANSWER are energetic, eager to please, and willing to work hard, but have almost no understanding of the world of work, the demands of training and education, nor of their own strengths and interests and motivations. Back home recently, I spent an entire afternoon online looking for career education resources, or even reports, from the Nepalese government’s department of education and from the websites of some private career colleges in Kathmandu. I found nothing of benefit, which is exactly what Earle and Bal both said that I would find. Distressing, to say the least.
At our first visit to the Answer office, the sponsors all had the opportunity to sit in on a group advisement meeting with about 7 or 8 “seniors” – students who were 17 or 18 years old and who had just finished their exams, but had done well, but short of needed requirements for program acceptance or scholarships. Most had wanted to study “medicine,” a few wanted “engineering”. (Pretty much the same stated goals of nearly all ANSWER students when we visited them on our school loop). Now the students were up against a deadline to apply for other college programs, but had absolutely no idea how to redirect themselves. With questioning and prodding from Earle, Bal, and sponsors, most of those students came up with minimally palatable alternatives, but I saw little evidence of passion or commitment. Clearly, they had not considered alternatives prior to that meeting.
Enter Somita and Apsara, two awesome 3rd-year college students in Kathmandu who have seen and experienced this need and want to do something to assist the entire ANSWER student group. Both of them, in fact, had thought they wanted to be doctors (8 of 10 ANSWER students say this!). Although they are both very bright, neither scored high enough on their exams to qualify for medical school scholarships (only about 40 available for 100,000 applicants each year), leaving them both to scramble for re-direction as deadlines approached. Somita is now studying, and loving, social work, and Apsara is studying law. I sat down with both of them and administered a couple of online career and personality surveys, and they were amazed at the results. We have since worked through a few other instruments in hopes of settling on a couple that we can take with us on the school visits in March and April of this year. Now, in the past month, they have helped two other younger students with these same inventories, both students exclaiming how positive and personally validating were their results, and how they could now embrace a few alternatives. Given that there is a glaring lack of computers and spotty Internet, especially in the more rural areas, we are using paper versions of these inventories. Hopefully, your student will share their results with you in their future letters.
HOW YOU CAN ASSIST:
Share your own career journey with your student – did you know from an early age (like, grade 9 or 10) what you wanted to do for work as an adult, and did you actually follow that path? Or, as more of us experienced, did you have only a vague idea as you lumbered through high school and even college, and have you taken multiple stabs at career satisfaction? Can you remember and share your own hopes and anxieties during those turbulent years of growing up? For me, I recall thinking how boring it would be to do the same job for the rest of my life; I wanted to try so many different jobs, how could I possibly settle on only one career, and if I studied and trained for that one career, what would happen to me if I “didn’t make it”?
Ask your student about school and life, but try to avoid “fill-in-the-blank” type questions. Students approach their sponsor letters much like they do school work: questions are answered in the most concrete manner possible, likely so as not to get it wrong. So, if asking about career dreams, prod your student into more expansive thought than, “I want to be a doctor, because I want to help people”. Ask things like: What attracts you to the medical field? Have you thought of other jobs in medicine besides doctor, such as lab technician, or X-ray, or physical therapy? I wonder if you could still help people if you go to a different field like business, or teaching, or construction, or agriculture? The goal is to help them fill in the picture that they have of themselves and expand how they see themselves fitting into the world of working. If your student is struggling academically, avoid using phrases like “plan B” or “backup plan” – keep them in the driver’s seat with questions like “What did you want to be when you were a little kid? What else could you enjoy doing as a career? When have you had to push yourself extra-hard to reach your goal?”
And, if you have the inclination, time and resources, go with Earle and visit this awesome country and your student’s family!