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Alumni Spotlight: Jocelyn Powelson (’10)

July 27, 2017 / Catherine Nicholas / Blog

As an eighth grader, Jocelyn Powelson (’10) was particularly interested in the advanced math classes and the variety of foreign languages offered at Maggie Walker. She remembers noticing on her shadow day the “intellectual curiosity that the students embodied,” and decided to commit to joining the MLWGS Class of 2010. Of her time at Governor’s School, she particularly remembers Bear O’Bryan’s English class. “The Personal Anthology assignment was a life-shaping experience, and I still rely on the self-reflection tools that I learned in that class,” she says. “I also loved my math classes with Dr. Barnes, who taught me for three great years.” Jocelyn was very involved in the Environment Club, as well as the cross country, track teams, swim, and tennis teams.

After graduating from Maggie Walker, Jocelyn attended Dartmouth College where she double-majored in ‘Chemistry modified’ and Environmental Studies. “I really loved the flexibility that Dartmouth offered me in terms of both my studies and my term schedule,” she says. Because Dartmouth allowed her to modify her Chemistry major, she created her own interdisciplinary approach to the subject. Dartmouth’s ‘D-Plan’ and quarter system allowed her to take an extra year’s worth of ‘leave terms’ during which she did internships in in New Zealand (2.5 months), Lesotho (6 months), and Tanzania (4 months), all with funding and grants from Dartmouth.

Jocelyn stayed at Dartmouth the summer after she graduated to work as a student assistant for the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), a six-week State Department program that brings young leaders from all over Africa to universities in the US. Afterwards, she spent nine months on a Dartmouth post-graduate fellowship interning with Helen Keller International (HKI) in Nepal, where she worked with HKI and Save the Children on a country-wide nutrition program. Jocelyn was responsible for “designing and conducting a qualitative research study examining the impact of gender and caste dynamics on the ability of young mothers to implement a set of key health and nutrition behaviors.” She knew she wanted to return to Nepal to conduct her own independent research after her visa expired and started meeting with organizations that could potentially host her research. After returning to the US, she backpacked the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico with a college friend.

It was on the PCT that she began the process of applying for a Fulbright through Dartmouth. An advisor from the Dartmouth Fulbright committee who was Jocelyn’s former professor worked with her to refine her rough proposal and application. They corresponded whenever Jocelyn could pick up internet in a small trail town. “I actually wrote my entire Fulbright application on my phone in google docs offline mode, from the comfort of my sleeping bag after about 30 miles of hiking every day!” she says. She submitted the final application in October of 2016 and was notified that that she was a semi-finalist at the end of January. In February of 2017, she returned to Nepal to explore the country and improve her Nepali while she waited to hear if she would get the Fulbright. She took a short-term job with the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), an intergovernmental institute based in Kathmandu and conducting research related to mountains and development across the Hindu Kush Himalaya. During that same week of March of 2017, she received notice that she’d been awarded a Fulbright. Because the job relates so closely to Jocelyn’s anticipated Fulbright research, she received permission to delay the start of the grant until next February or March while she finishes her current job with ICIMOD.

Jocelyn is currently hoping to get into the mountains for a multi-day mountain biking trip as well and also hopes to climb Ama Dablam, a 6,812 meter peak in the Himalayas. She is “already starting to dream about doing a long bicycle tour through either Central Asia or South America after I finish my Fulbright project at the end of next year.” Below, she answers our questions and gives excellent advice to current Maggie Walker students and anyone thinking of applying for a Fulbright:

Describe the research you’re been conducting for your Fulbright.

Once I start my Fulbright grant, I will be researching climate change adaptation and gender in one or two specific mountain communities in Nepal. Widespread out-migration, particularly of working-age men, has resulted in huge demographic shifts across rural Nepal, leaving many rural communities with very few men and resulting in women taking on more responsibilities and work burdens. Environmental change is also having serious impacts on the functioning of ecosystem services and availability of resources in these areas, making adaptation strategies very important for future household and community resilience and development. Combining these two issues, I plan to look at whether women have knowledge of, access to, and control over the resources and services needed to implement adaptation solutions. I also want to look at how women are engaging in decision-making processes about how to manage community-based resources. The ultimate goal of this research is to identify some of the barriers women are facing in adapting to changes and to identify which adaptation strategies and solutions might be most appropriate and effective for women in Nepal’s mountain communities.

What have you most enjoyed about living in Nepal?

Nepal is an incredibly unique country, because it is at both a geographical and cultural conflux. When people think of Nepal, they often think about the Himalaya mountains, but a lot of people don’t realize that Nepal also has vast plains in the south. Geographically, Nepal is right in the transition zone from the low, flat plains of India to the high mountains of the Tibetan plateau. This results in a huge diversity of landscapes across Nepal’s Terai, Hill, and Mountain zones. Similarly, Nepal is also a confluence of cultures, with ethnic groups from more Indian backgrounds coming up from the south and merging with ethnic groups from more Tibetan backgrounds that have come down from the north. These influences have resulted in a huge number of different cultural and minority groups across Nepal as well as really interesting mixtures of religions, mainly Hinduism and Buddhism. As a result of all of these phenomena, Nepal is an incredibly interesting place to live. It has been amazing to explore the diversity of the landscapes as well as learn about the diversity of the people. I feel very intellectually engaged in everything around me and feel that there is always more for me to learn about this country.

The other aspect of Nepal that I really love is the sense of community that you can find here. The people of Nepal are incredibly welcoming, and I have made many amazing friends here. I especially have loved being a part of the very active and vibrant outdoors community here, and I regularly join local friends for mountain biking, climbing, trekking, camping, and other outdoors activities around the Kathmandu Valley and beyond. But the sense of community doesn’t just extend to friends and known acquaintances; I have had a number of experiences in the more rural, off-the-beaten-path areas where I have arrived at a random village and someone welcomed me into their home for the night. It’s very comforting to know that I can travel just about anywhere in Nepal and even complete strangers will take care of me if I need any help.

What has been the hardest part about living abroad?

In Nepal (and in the other developing countries that I have lived in), the most difficult aspect of life here is staying healthy. The air pollution in Kathmandu is quite bad, so I wear a face mask whenever I’m outside in the city. Additionally, I have to be really cautious about food and water; I really miss being able to eat raw vegetables without having to be really careful about where I buy the vegetables and how to wash/peel them properly to make sure they are safe to eat.

I have also noticed that in order to not get frustrated on a daily basis by life in Nepal, I have had to readjust my expectations for everything. For example, I expect things to not work properly (e.g. ATMs, internet, electricity, etc.), and then if they do work properly, it’s very exciting. Or, if I go for a long time without having any stomach issues, then I feel very accomplished. It might sound a bit silly, but most other Westerners I’ve met who have lived in the developing world for any significant period of time agree that you need to shift your attitudes and expectations a bit and learn to never take anything for granted. But, I view this as a positive aspect of living abroad; it is always good to have a reality check and learn to give proper appreciation for everything in your life.

What would you tell a visitor to Nepal not to miss?

Well, the Himalaya are, quite literally, one of the high points for any visitor to Nepal. The opportunities here for outdoors recreation are pretty amazing, so I would highly recommend that all visitors should do some trekking or climbing or at least go to an area where you can see the big mountains. They are really huge.

The other thing that all visitors should experience is the culture. There are lots of important cultural, historical, and religious sites to see around Nepal. But in addition to seeing the typical tourist attractions, visitors should also try to experience the more authentic Nepali culture by going into the more rural areas, especially further away from the popular trekking routes, and staying in villages. Stay in a local guesthouse, sit around the kitchen fire with a cup of hot milk tea in your hands while you watch your hosts cook, eat daal bhat (the staple meal in Nepal), sleep on some very firm mattresses, wake up bright and early to the sounds of animals, and enjoy the simplicity and slowness of the rural Nepal lifestyle.

What advice would you give to current Maggie Walker students?

Take advantage of all of the great opportunities that you have at Maggie Walker. You are in a really unique position to study languages that almost no other high schoolers in America have access to. You also have the privilege to be taught by some amazing teachers who care deeply about your educational experience; take the time and initiative to form meaningful relationships with those teachers because they will help to guide you many years beyond your graduation from Maggie Walker.

But I think the biggest piece of advice that I wish someone had given me when I was in your position is: don’t be afraid to think outside the box and follow your own path beyond graduation from Maggie Walker. I think that there are way too many outside influences pressuring young people in the US to follow the standard path of finishing high school, immediately going to college, and then immediately jumping into a career or into a path for further education. If you have a very clear idea of what you want to do in your life and you think that that pathway is the best way to get there, then great! But, if you’re like me and don’t really know what you want to do with your life, you might have better success if you take a little extra time to explore different possibilities and try to find the direction that will lead to your meaningful life. Maybe this means taking a gap year after high school and spending that time working on a project in your community or visiting a different country. My friends who did something like this almost always went into college with a much greater maturity and global perspective and often with a better sense of purpose and intention in their educational pursuits. It can be scary sometimes to stray away from the well-trodden path, but I’ve found that in every instance when I’ve created my own path, it has been a meaningful and transformative experience.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about applying for a Fulbright?

Do it! The Fulbright is a really great opportunity for you to choose a research topic that you are interested in and then have the support system in place to help you achieve success but without limiting your independence and control over your project.

The application process is competitive, and you need to take it seriously. Start thinking about possible research topics and contacting potential host institutes well in advance, and give yourself plenty of time to write and revise your application. I was lucky to have a great advisor from Dartmouth who read through my application and gave me very constructive and honest feedback throughout several months of editing and revision. I’d highly recommend that any applicants find a mentor or advisor who has knowledge and experience in your proposed research field to help you refine your research topic and give feedback on your application.

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