Posted July 1st 2010 at 4:13 pm by
in Boston, Nepali Classes at MIT

Stitching the Nepali Community Together with Language

A Nepali language class session at MIT

From what people say, the Nepali community in Boston is probably close to three decades old now. The first wave was mostly students who came to places like MIT or Harvard on a scholarship.  U.S. schools contained one or two, maybe four Nepali students, so everyone knew everyone else who was abroad.

Word spread, and others followed. Most of them intended to, and did leave Boston eventually. By the mid 1990’s though, Nepal had become a democracy, and travel was easier. Private schools opened up there. The flow of students studying abroad increased. Consequently, the Nepali community in Boston also grew.

The nature of the Boston Nepali community had already begun to change around the late nineties when my high school cohort filed their college applications. From then on, everyone, not just students, seemed to be going abroad at some point.  U.S. Diversity Visa applications (the DV lottery a.k.a. green card lottery) had become the “big thing”, and civil war was making life violent in the country. The new arrivals clustered in the old haunts and a decade later, the greater Boston area had close to 10,000 Nepali individuals from various strata.

The masses of people leaving the country strengthened my generation’s resolve to do something about it back home. “One day, I will go back and do something about the lack of development in our country,” or some variant of that phrase motivated many of us through our college years. So, we started NGOs to sponsor children, provide scholarships, and build schools. It is still a common sentiment.

However, with a large Nepali community in Boston now, I believe there are now also opportunities to do things to serve Nepali people locally. This is the idea behind this summer’s experiment: offer twelve weeks of Nepali classes free of cost to children between the ages of three to fourteen (most of whom grew up here),  recruit university students  as volunteer teachers (most of whom grew up in Nepal and came here to study), and see what happens. There will definitely be much to learn.

There are 12 volunteers and 19 children. The first handful of volunteers came on board through word of mouth. Friends told friends and others quickly followed as word spread. Since the pool of volunteers is volatile during the summer months with travel, vacation, visitors, and cook-outs – we needed as many as we could get to cover 12 weeks with at least four volunteers at each session. Every Sunday from 10 to 1, Nepali students across the Greater Boston area unite at MIT!

This series of blog posts will document weekly reflections on this journey to reconnect the fraying ends of an immigrant community’s fabric through the teaching of its language.

Learn more about these Nepali classes at MIT by clicking here.

Atul Pokharel is a PhD candidate in the International Development Group at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT. He is in his third year in the program and focuses on law and economic development. This summer he is in Boston watching the World Cup.

One response to “Stitching the Nepali Community Together with Language”

  1. Christophe says:


    Your reflection struck a familiar chord, as a son of immigrants who was sent (some might say forced) to Korean-language school at any opportunity my parents found. I think what you’re doing is great, especially as you say, language is a connector to one’s own mother culture. Even though I may have gone to Korean school kicking and screaming as a kid, in retrospect when it comes to connecting with my cousins in Korea, or hearing secrets about my parents from my grandparents, I’ve come to realize that the language of my parents is invaluable.

    I remember volunteers teaching me, and I only now thank them for it. You’re doing a great work, which I’m sure your students will be thanking you for (maybe not directly) in the future. Best of luck!