The Pursuit of Knowledge
Doctorate student travels from Nepal to Nacogdoches
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 12:02
It hangs in plain sight on his office wall, but is often overlooked by visitors. It is stamped with poetic words, imprinted with a square picture of a man and measures 8.5 by 11 inches. It is simple, but for Chetanath Gautam, an international student from Nepal, the meaning behind his poem titled “My Leader” is profound: It is the reason he is in America studying education.
“My father was not educated, but he worked for education and he dreamed for that. So when I reflect on that I ask, ‘Do I qualify myself to be my father?’ He never told people that he did good things. He would always say, ‘No that is not sufficient. We still need to go ahead and it’s not me, it’s you all,’” Gautam said. “That is the lesson I got from him.”
Gautam came to America from Nepal in May 2012 to study in SFA’s doctoral program for education. He began his first semester in June and continues to work as a doctoral research assistant. Co-worker Anthony Walker says he enjoys working with Gautam.
“Chet brings a heightened sense of what it means to be a developing scholar practitioner. He takes his work very seriously and seeks to exceed any and all expectations others have of him,” Walker said.
Gautam works as an assistant for research projects, collecting data, reviewing and finding articles and sometimes writing them. His goal is finishing this program in three years with his Doctorate in Educational Leadership.
“I want to work for not only one part of the world, I want to work for a bigger population of people in education,” Gautam said. “I feel there is a need to make education better. Is today’s education making us good citizens, real good human beings, or not? I don’t know.”
Traveling from Nepal to Nacogdoches was nothing short of a culture shock.
“My country is still not very developed. Before I came here, my imagination was seeing pictures of different downtown areas like Dallas, New York or Washington D.C. Watching some movies and other things, I had made a picture that things would be like that. It was completely unknown to me,” Gautam said. “As soon as I landed in the Houston airport my sister picked me up and I was like, ‘Is this really America? Where are all those big buildings I was imagining?’”
His Hollywood vision of America was further shattered when Gautam arrived in Nacogdoches.
“I used to live in my country’s capital city. You have big buildings and narrow streets and crazy traffic. I found it was cool that you don’t have that much traffic,” Gautam said. “My imagination and my real feelings were very different.”
City life was a mystery to Gautam until he turned 16.
“I was born in a place in Nepal which was a 36-hour walk to the nearest bus station. It was that rural,” Gautam said. “Though my parents were uneducated, my father was kind of a social worker in the village.”
As the eleventh child in his family, Gautam attended the school established by the villagers, his father being one of the school’s initiators.
In Nepal, secondary education ends at tenth grade and eleventh and twelfth grade are considered higher secondary education.
“I was 16 when I passed my grade ten exam. I had to leave my village and go to the city for higher education,” Gautam said.
In pursuit of higher education, Gautam said goodbye to his family and life as he knew it.
“I knew this place and all of a sudden I had to go out of there. My parents were sending their smallest son to the city to study, but they were proud of me because I was going for a good thing,” Gautam said. “At the age of 16, I left my home and walked 36 hours. It was a 12-hour walk for three continuous days with my backpack and drinking water.”
His 36-hour trek landed him at his first bus station in his life. After a 13-14 hour ride, Gautam made it to Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu.
“I did not know anything about the cities, so for the first time I saw electricity,” Gautam said.
He began to work and study to make his living in the city. He graduated with an Associate Degree in Science and Mathematics Teaching in 1999 and his Bachelors Degree in Curriculum and Instruction in 2003.
Gautam worked for six years at various schools and education services to save money to attend school for his master’s degree. During this time, a team of educators including Gautam established the KMC school (Sankhamul, Kathmandu, Nepal) with 225 students and 20 staff members.
“In five years’ time the school became one of the biggest and one of the most renowned schools in the country,” Gautam said. “When the school got its first results I was told that it was one of the best. I decided then it was my time to go back to study again and follow my dream.”
In 2006, he applied to study in the U.S. but was rejected due to a lack of qualifications.
“I dreamed to come to the U.S. I thought the U.S. is the best place to study for higher education,” Gautam said. “In 2006, I tried for the first time, but I was told that I was not qualified because my grades were not that exciting. I was rejected and told not to apply. I again carried the dream; ‘How do I go study in the U.S.?’”
Balance became a key ingredient to Gautam’s life as he juggled working as a principal and studying for his second master’s degree.
“I did two things together. I went to school and I was a school principal,” Gautam said. “This time I was more dedicated that I [would] make good grades so I [would] not have any kinds of questions to apply to come to the U.S. I had so many things to do. Several nights I did not sleep in my second masters. The aim was not only understanding, but being eligible to go study and develop in the U.S. “