Interview by: Ananya Gupta
September 23, 2017
Bikalpa Baniya is a third year at Oberlin College, majoring in Economics. He’s an international student from Nepal and is dedicated to education in Nepal and everywhere he can leave his mark. He’s a Bonner scholar, Ninde tutor, and often teaches at Langston Middle School. He is currently working on connecting Maya University Academy, the first free private school in Nepal, with Oberlin College through fundraising and volunteer-based exchange programs.
Q: What have you gained from your volunteer work in Oberlin that has impacted your life?
A: I feel like people in Oberlin are people with heart. That’s not necessarily true everywhere. Big colleges like Stanford, Harvard, they want to change the world but it’s all driven by something else, here it’s driven by people.
Q: What is distinctive about your experience in the Oberlin community as opposed to volunteer experiences you’ve had elsewhere?
A: I’m a Bonner scholar so I’m required to do ten hours per week of service and one thing I’ve found is that people are welcoming here. You do have to follow rules and they do let you know what the rules are. For example, when I used to work in Langston the first meeting we were bombarded with rules. But they’re important. I do realize that I’m an outsider and to help people here I need to follow the rules. But once you get passed that, get used to the rules, the community is really welcoming.
"People in Oberlin are people with heart."
Q: What is your favorite project that you do on campus?
A: On campus it must be Ninde. I’m a Ninde tutor. I work with high school students and basically help them get into a good college. I really like that one-on-one connection. It feels like I’m mentoring and all the knowledge that I’ve gained, all the experience, I get to pass it down and it feels nice.
Q: What surprised you most about volunteering in the Oberlin community?
A: I’m an international student from Nepal. Back when I was in Nepal we had a perception of the US. We have movies and sitcoms and a perception [is born from that]. Once I came here and started working with real people in Oberlin I was like ‘huh, not what I thought.’
Q: In that they’re like you or different from you?
A: [I experienced a] change in perspective. [The ideas] that are projected in movies is not reality and I felt more connected to the people here. I know I have very different experiences from the people here. There are a lot of things that don’t overlap but then again, there are a lot of things that do.
Q: What causes or organizations do you feel most committed to in this community and why? In the Oberlin community, around campus or even in the city? Is there any particular organization that is closest to your heart or a particular movement?
A: I feel like it’s more about people than organization. The people that I am closest to are people in Kendal, teachers in schools, some of the high school students and some of students from Langston that I know.
Q: Do you feel like this community has a strong identity? How would you describe it?
A: Oberlin college people who are affiliated with the college in one-way or another definitely have a strong identity. I wouldn’t like to label anything because people are different. [But like I said earlier] people caring, and how the goals are people driven [give Oberlin it’s identity.]
Q: Are there any other people we should interview regarding their commitment to the environment, the economy, community relationships, sustainability, who are people you look up to on this campus. It could be faculty, staff, anyone.
A: There are many people, mostly professors and faculty. For me personally the people that I look up to are Professor Roose, who was a professor of education; Ana Brandt; John Gates, a very good guy to talk to; Mary and Steve Hammond from community peace church, and people from First Church are good people to talk to; those are the people who come to my mind first.
"Hope can be very powerful."
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add about the work you do here or in Nepal, or how you’re joining those two communities together?
A: In terms of joining, there are a lot of things that are wrong with the world. Things are bad and things are wrong. But there’s also hope. Hope can be very powerful. Connecting the work I do in Nepal with the work that I do here [is through] fostering this hope. People here support my work because they see hope and people in Nepal that I work with they see hope in the kids. So it’s about fostering this hope. Hope goes a long way.