Nepali Students in the US

I was reading the Chronicle of Higher Education today at work, and last week’s paper had a lot of information on international student trends based on the newly released Open Doors reports. I was particularly interested to see reports of the number of Nepali students studying in the US.

I know I am kind of biased, since I am now seemingly “tapped into” the Nepali community (at least while around P)… so I feel like I run into Nepalis all the time (case in point—I went to get my eyebrows threaded with R over the weekend in Connecticut and she was “Nepali ho?”-ed), whereas growing up I never would have imagined bumping into someone from this small Himalayan country. Anyway, regardless of the connection, recently I have felt that I see more and more Nepalis around. I guess Open Doors confirms the phenomenon (at least from the student angle, I won’t even get into the DV Lottery).

According to the Chronicle, Nepal was number 11 out of a list of the top 20 countries of origin for foreign students in the US during the 2008-2009 academic year, with a reported 11,581 students studying here. I guess 11,581 students doesn’t sound like a whole lot, particularly compared to the number one and number two countries India (103,260) and China (98,235) but I was surprised that Nepal even made the list considering it is such a small country (only 29 million compared to India’s and China’s billion plus populations). The article continues that in 2008 there was a 29.6 percent “surge” over the number of Nepalis studying in the US in 2007.

I have mixed feelings about the large number of Nepali students coming to the US. Of course I feel that it is important for everyone to have access to quality education, however with the exodus of so many young Nepalis to other countries I wonder what will happen to this nation which is still struggling to keep itself out of further civil war.

I’ve had this conversation a few times with P’s dad, who is firmly of the opinion that everyone and anyone possible should study in the US, and most likely stay here afterward to work and have a “better life.” My argument to him is that if the “brain drain” keeps all the best people away who will help to rebuild the Nepal of tomorrow? Friends of mine often talk about how when they visit Kathmandu most of their high school buddies are gone, not many seem to be around anymore… most of the young and educated have seemingly left to study and start a life abroad.

I know I have no right or place to judge people who leave as students and stay abroad, Nepal certainly has its many many problems– but I have a lot of respect for people who go back, I can’t help but feel it is impressive and courageous. Heck, perhaps one day, a few years down the road, I’ll be one of those who goes as well!

I have no illusions to the fact that the decision to stay or return home is a tough one, and the whole later section of this post could be a post in and of itself, so I won’t really get into it further than this—I am sure it could be a heated discussion anyway.

For those who are curious, the full list of 20 countries are as follows:

Top Countries of Origin of Foreign Students in the United States, 2008-9

1)      India 103,260                                     11) Nepal 11,581
2)      China 98,235                                       12) Germany 9,679
3)      South Korea 75,065                         13) Brazil 8,767
4)      Canada 29,697                                   14) Thailand 8,736
5)      Japan 29,264                                      15) Britain 8,701
6)      Taiwan 28,065                                    16) Hong Kong 8,329
7)      Mexico 14,850                                   17) Indonesia 7,509
8)      Turkey 12,263                                    18) France 7,421
9)      Vietnam 12,823                                 19) Colombia 7,013
10)   Saudi Arabia 12,661                         20) Nigeria 6,256

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education

14 responses to “Nepali Students in the US

  1. So many of my cousins and friends are here – only a handful that I know have returned after they finished their studies. And for some it was mostly because they had visa issues. S and I always talk about this, we really want to go back after he’s done with school and all but it’s easier said than done… people have told us that once you start a family, going to Nepal would be too difficult a choice. We will see how it goes, but for now both of us are looking forward to a future in Nepal.

  2. I applaud S & R for wanting to go back but as much as I like the idea of going back home and starting something, the reality of the situation is that a good education and a desire to do something can only take you so far in Nepal. Eventually, not having the right connections always trumps any other positive qualities that you may have to offer.

    A lot of people have tried going back and starting something. To be fair, there are a lot of options available in terms of well paying jobs and such. A degree from the United States obviously helps as well. However, personally for me (and I cannot stress the PERSONALLY part enough), I cannot imagine a life back home, at least not with the current conditions. I even wrote about possibility of Kathmandu being a tech-startup hub ( but the general sense on that issue is that you need to have an option to get out of Nepal when things become unmanageable with the civil war or governments sheer incompetence or lack of basic needs such as electricity and water.

    As per the number of students coming from Nepal rising, it is because the situation back home is getting worse and whatever hope people had a few years ago once the Maoists signed the peace accord is gone because very little progress has been made since. I know it sounds very opportunistic of me that I would only want to go back when everything is nice and comfy for me but that is exactly why I stressed that this is something that I personally feel.

    With that said, I do feel that there are a lot of people unlike me who want to go back. So it is only matter of time when the opportunities that are not there will start emerging. There are already people who are going back and working towards making that possible and their efforts & courage is definitely commendable.

  3. This is a touchy subject for most of the diaspora from the developing world. People can make a difference either way. Having the courage to go back to an uncertain social and political climate and giving up the comforts of life for oneself and the family to try and make a difference to one’s own country is very commendable indeed.

  4. From this blog, I think that the Nepali students are coming from a more aristocratic background than Indian students

    Let me clarify
    Indian parents on Indian salary cannot afford 4 years of tuition and board for Undergrad

    So many do GRE and those who score over
    1400 V+M, usually get tuition waivers, fellowships, TA / RA to do MS / PhD
    So there is no cost to middle class Indian parents
    except air fare

    Some rich Indians pay 1 or 2 years for MS, MBA
    almost no Indian. except super-rich comes for BA-BS, since financial aid is not available for BA-BS

    Whereas the impression I get from this blog is that there is a lot of undergrad Nepalis, and only the very wealthy Indians ( Nepalis ) can afford to pay the 4 year tuition and boarding

  5. Why in the world would you think that financial aid is not available for undergraduate degrees like BA/BS? My husband had an almost full ride (all tuition + 90% of housing costs) covered by our university for undergrad. He got similar offers from other universities when applying for undergraduate admissions. Other international students at our university (or others that I know) got complete full rides. This is not atypical for undergraduate programs, particularly smaller liberal arts colleges. They want international Hediversify the student body, and they’re willing to pay for it.

    • Same thing with P… lucky for us almost 100% of his undergrad, masters and phd were paid for by universities so that we don’t have major loans to repay for two people in the household, only one… me!

      There might have been a few friends of ours who come from “wealthier” backgrounds, but most are from the middle class, struggling to get by, just like the rest of us.

      • Also… many Nepali students come to the US with the determination to “work”… now, as an international student advisor I have to say that per federal regulations working without authorization could jeopardize your student status and could pose possible immigration issues down the road, but I know in reality it happens all the time.

        One of my friends from undergrad actually spent one summer working close to 90 hours a week so that he could save enough for his tuition and board. Luckily he transferred from the other school to my school which gave a more generous financial aid package and he didn’t have to do this 3 summers in a row, but I am sure some people do.

        Living in New England, I am relatively close to Boston… a city teeming with students, and many “illegally working” international students. I was once served at an Indian restaurant by a Nepali who confessed he was a student at a university across town. That is just one example. Gas attendants, convenience store clerks, fast food workers… many of these people might be international students saving money to pay for school and you don’t even know it!

        I am not saying that this system of “working under the table” is a positive one… it makes the students vulnerable, but often it is a necessity (to work) and students aren’t left with many legal options.

        However another issue is that there is a common misconception (at least amongst some in Nepal) that once you come to the US it is “easy” to find work and “make a lot of money.” I remember P’s dad once talking to a family friend who wanted to come to the US for school. The friend was about to go to her visa interview at the American embassy and his dad wanted me to talk to her to give her some pointers. This student would have had to pay $10,000 per year, and I *know* her mother (single parent household) didn’t have that kind of money… but his dad said, “you could make $10,000 over the summer…” I almost choked on my tea when I heard him say that. Inevitably the consular officer also saw this discrepancy and she wasn’t awarded a visa.

        Anyway, I’m babbling on… my point is that there is a lot going on behind the scenes, so I think it is unfair to assume that since the students are here in the US they must be rich and/or aristocratic. The parents may not be peasants, but they don’t own mansions either.

  6. The brain drain issue is a crisis of Pakistan, too. I think for the upper class or elite Pakistani families who send children to study abroad, it is not always the case that they want their kids to stay in the US.

    Nowadays in Pakistan all of the best jobs require a Western degree to acquire. But obviously a lot of people do end up staying on in the US. There are positives and negatives to living in either place, too. Like these people are so far away from their families and social networks, and also especially for the type of people who go abroad to study, they are now in the DIY, home-assemble product USA where at home they have cooks, drivers, housekeepers and so forth—obviously there are negatives like load shedding, political issues, corruption, gender issues, etc, that make it attractive to be abroad.

    And then of course there is the issue of choosing betterment of family over sticking around to better the situation of the nation. I think it is a really hard choice to make and quite frankly as an American with all my privilege and advantages, I can’t judge people who choose to emigrate to better their family’s situation.

    We live near to Pakistan and my husband has gotten very good job offers in Pakistan and brought up the question of moving there to me…he works in the telecom field and would be contributing to that infrastructure in Pakistan. I have always said no. It would be very hard for me there and also I feel my daughters will have better life opportunities in the US…so I have selfishly influenced a Pakistani who could contribute to building his society to stay abroad…anyway, my point is that it isn’t so simple to be self-sacrificing.

    • You bring up a good point about raising children. Would I feel comfortable raising children in Nepal? I think in some ways there are positives to it… it would be easier to pass on culture and language, the family connections and community oriented-ness of the society would help with childcare, it would be nice to raise children in a place that isn’t so overblown with commercialism. But there are definitely downsides… political turmoil, access to infrastructure and opportunities, health care, etc. I’m not sure how I will feel once children are in the picture, and that is something I’ll have to confront at some point down the road.

      I’ve really gone back and forth in my mind about living there. To be honest I’ve never really imagined staying there “forever” but I could definitely see being there for several years maybe more. I don’t know though. When P and I were there over the summer he went to several organizations to gather data for his research… I remember we went to one government agency and it was a bit ridiculous… people were sleeping at their desks, their was no electricity, nothing was really happening, barely anyone was around and people had trouble answering P’s questions. After we left P said, “I’d love to come back here and help… but I could never work in an office like that… nothing is getting accomplished… what would the point be?”

      So I definitely agree that it is a tough choice. But I still admire those who go home and try.

  7. I think brain drain isa problem for most of the developing countries. It could be really hard to go back especially having all the facilities one have in US. Check out this news about India.

  8. In addition to the brain drain, I think it’s hard on families. My husband has 8 siblings…and only one sister lives in Nepal. He lives here in the US and the other 7 live in England. Since he’s been in boarding schools since he was child, he’s sort of used to being seperated from his family. But, that doesn’t nullify the sense of responsibility he has for them. When he left Nepal, his younger brother was still there and that eased his mind a bit. But, his brother has since joined the British army and is now living in England.

    My husband is constantly worried about his parents…what if something happened to one of them…what if they need him and he’s thousands of miles away? It’s so stressful for him and contributes to the uncertainty of life. I try to understand, but it’s hard to truly comprehend, I think, since I’m not in his situation. I mean, when I moved an hour and a half away from my father, I felt a little selfish…I can’t imagine what I would have felt like if I’d moved halfway around the world!

    BTW, my husband worked (yes, illegally) to pay for his own grad school here…luckily, his university let him pay in monthly installments and he managed to scrape by, sharing an apartment with a bunch of roommates. Yes, his family has a better standard of living than most Nepalis and would probably be considered well off. However, translate his dad’s income to the US and it’s a completely different story. They couldn’t have afforded to support him here in the US and still live their lives in Nepal.

  9. International students cant work off campus
    Almost all in-campus undergraduate jobs are reserved for US citizens / permanent residents

    For a variety of reasons, at the graduate level, these jobs are open to foreign students

    To my knowledge, in Engineering fields,
    tuition waiver and living costs are provided by RA-TA-Fellowship for doing MS / PhD

    There are thousands of Indians in Engineering fields, and probably most Engineering colleges have too many Indians already and probably there is no need for more diversity

    The traditional Indian method was to compete hard against millions at 12th grade to get BSEE in Indian college ( not recognised by US companies ), then do GRE with over 1400 V+M, get TA-RA for MSEE at US college ( which US companies recognise )

    If an Indian guy could do BSEE for free at a US college, there would be thousands here on a free ride
    But I only see thousands at the MSEE level
    on a free ride

  10. Hey,
    Thanks for this write-up (and links).

    Living in Nepal is not easy; but who’d even care about living when leaving is so easy.


    C, If you could understand this piece of writing, everything will be clear with the issue of brain drain you raised here. Sorry I didnt find the like to the original source. Btw, you are very courageous and adventurous, the way you do not deny the possibility of you and P settling down in Nepal.

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