Breaking Barriers: Student Living in Kathmandu Monastery is Reaching His Goal of Formal Education through GCC

May 30, 2024

In a world where access to education is often taken for granted, Phurba Gurung's educational journey at Greenfield Community College stands as a testament to the transformative power of determination and opportunity. Born in a remote Himalayan village in Nepal, where formal education was a distant dream for many, Phurba's path to learning was anything but conventional. Yet, fueled by a relentless thirst for knowledge and supported by unwavering friendship, he embarked on a remarkable path that has led him from the serene halls of a monastery to the digital classrooms of GCC.

Phurba's story is one of resilience, resourcefulness and the profound impact of human connection. In the following interview, Phurba shares his inspiring narrative, tracing the pivotal moments that shaped his educational journey. From chance encounters with English-speaking tourists to the generous guidance of a lifelong friend, each chapter of Phurba's life illuminates the boundless possibilities that emerge when passion meets perseverance.

The following interview occurred via email between Phurba and GCC’s Marketing Team.

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and where you live? We heard that you live in a monastery outside of Kathmandu.

A: My name is Phurba Gurung. I was born in a rural area in the Himalayan region in Nepal where most children did not have access to school. I did not receive a formal education, but in my early 20s, I decided to learn English. I moved to a place in India where I would often encounter many native English-speaking tourists. Once I started learning English, I felt I wanted to be an English teacher and help others learn a new language. Most of the teachers of the English classes where I learned English were tourist volunteers mainly from Western countries who volunteered for several days, some weeks, or a few months. It was mostly a discussion class. I looked for the help of volunteers outside the classes and sought casual discussions for many years in many situations. One of the tourists I met during my study is my sponsor for this course. In 2016 I moved back to Nepal and started teaching English at IBA (International Buddhist Academy), a monastic institute just outside Kathmandu city. At the same time, I planned a pathway to take the CELTA course to become an ESL teacher. Even though it was a huge challenge - the whole thing was a completely new environment for me since I had not received any formal education - I was determined to complete the course. I worked very hard and completed the course successfully in 2019.

Q: What inspired you to pursue an education online, and how did you find out about GCC?

A: As I did not get a chance to attend a formal school when I was a child, I have always had the feeling that something very important has been missing in my life. I brought up my wish to receive a formal education with my sponsor. While we were trying to figure out what possibilities I have to pursue a formal education, I started teaching online English classes to some students in Taiwan, Thailand, and China in 2022. It gave us the idea of taking an online course to see where it leads me. My friend lives close to GCC and he visited GCC to see the college; then we decided that I should take the Accuplacer tests to register for the English 101 course.

Q: Can you share more about the friendship that led to your opportunity to study online at GCC?

A: In 2010, I met my friend John when he was on a trip to South Asia, since then we have become very close friends, and we have kept in touch almost weekly basis. When I thank him for his help with my studies, he always says that it is our human responsibility to help each other in their capacity and asks me to help others if I can in return for his help. He often encourages me to continue my studies and says he would be willing to help me with my further studies financially. When he found out that there was a chance that I could take the English 101 course online at GCC, he was very happy and offered to pay for the course. I chose English 101 because I have always wanted to be an English writer one day. Writing is one of my great passions.

Q: How has your life in the monastery influenced your perspective on education and learning?

A: Prior to teaching in the monastery, I believed that my English was good enough to teach others English. However, when I started teaching English in the monastery, I realized that my English was not at a standard level to teach others professionally and I decided to continue working on improving. I also learned from teaching Buddhist monks in the monastery that there is no age limit for studying and that most Buddhist monks are supposed to continue studying Buddhist philosophy throughout their lives.

Q: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while studying online from such a unique and remote location?

A: One of the biggest challenges I had during the course was that I was very unfamiliar with almost every aspect. I felt like I reached a new world, due to my lack of formal education. For example, in one assignment ‘Figuring the Truth Out’ I had great difficulty with the assignment not because of my English level but because I did not have any science study background. Another big challenge was the technology. It took me some time to learn how to use the GCC Moodle account and Google Drive to check new assignments and post them in the correct place. I missed one deadline of an assignment not because I did not complete it on time, but because I posted it in the wrong folder. I had to reach out to a classmate for help two times to locate some instructions for assignments, she was very helpful. Regarding the location and time zones, the light went out frequently in my place and the WIFI was off when it happened, and it hampered my work constantly. I really wished to participate in a Zoom meeting with other classmates and I wanted to see them, but because of the different time zones, it is past midnight in my place when it is mid-day in the US.

Q: What has been your favorite part of studying at GCC so far?

A: I enjoyed every part of the course very much and I had many chances to talk with Professor Scott Herstad, which helped me a lot. His instructions on the assignments and responses to my questions were crystal clear. It was the greatest chance in my life to learn from him and my classmates. I have many favorite parts, but one of them is that everyone I came in contact with at GCC since I decided to take the Accuplacer tests was very helpful. I greatly appreciate it and I would like to thank each of them. Another favorite part of the course was that I received feedback from Professor Scott on my assignments and I participated in discussion forums sharing my comments with other classmates and receiving theirs on my assignments. I loved it and learned a lot from these activities.

Q: Are there any particular classes or subjects that you’ve found especially interesting or impactful?

A: This is the only class in a college environment I have taken.

Q: How has the support from your friend and GCC faculty impacted your educational journey?

A: It was a great experience. Everyone at GCC has been very helpful since I started on this journey, and my friend always encouraged me. It has given me the confidence to continue my education.

Q: How do you see your education at GCC influencing your life and your community in the monastery?

A: The opportunity of taking the English 101 course at GCC has widened my horizon in the education field and brought me to the understanding that I must continue to pursue a formal education to teach English more professionally in the future. Some of my students in the monastery were inspired and encouraged to study hard since they saw that people like us, from one of the most undeveloped countries in the world, could study at a college in one of the most developed countries in the world.

Q: Do you have any plans to continue your education at or beyond GCC? If so, what are they?

A: Since I was very young, I have believed that education is the most precious thing in human life. Most people my age in my region ended up spending all their lives looking after animals or living in monasteries, but I did not bow down to my fate and fought very hard for the life I wanted. I want to continue this college education at GCC first. I talked with my friend and sponsor, and he would continue to support me financially to continue my education. We have not planned out everything in detail, but I am hoping to attend GCC in person. I mainly want to focus on writing. I did some translations from my native language to English, and one of my translations was published last year. There are two things I wish to achieve: to become a professional English teacher and a good English translator.

Q: What advice would you give to other students who are considering online education, especially those in unique or challenging circumstances?

A: My advice for those who are considering online education is ‘go for it’. It is a much easier and better experience than you might think if you commit yourself to the course completely. No matter where you live or what challenges you face, if you trust yourself that you can do it, you definitely can do it.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience that might inspire or
inform others?

A: I spent almost all night around 6 hours to finish the Accuplacer tests in one sitting, and when I was informed that I passed the tests, it was one of the greatest joys in my life. People like me, without a formal education, would not have a chance to take a college course in my country and many other countries around the world. I heard some US Presidents saying that the US is the land of opportunities, and it truly is. This is a golden experience for people like me to move closer to whom I want to be and what I want to achieve in life. With this opportunity, I would like to thank Professor Scott Herstad, staff at GCC, and my classmates. I am indebted to their kindness and support.