"Knowing where our feet are and how we got there": A reflection from Pulitzer Student Fellow and Research Intern Nicole Brigstock

Nicole Brigstock is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences with a major in Political Science. Thanks to a grant from Penn Abroad's Global Internship Program and funds from the SAC Pulitzer Student Fellowship program, Nicole was able to particpate in the South Asia Center (SAC) Summer Research Internship Program in Kathmandu, Nepal. Here is what Nicole had to say about her experience working with Samrakshak Samuha Nepal (SASANE):

Over the summer I had the privilege of traveling to Nepal as a South Asia Center research intern. With the help of the SAC, I received a student fellowship with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to research and write about the anti-sex trafficking movement in Nepal.

I was living in a part of Kathmandu called Dilli Bazaar. This shopping area had easy access to restaurants, cafes, clothing stores, markets, and a mall. It was a 30-minute walk to Thamel, the tourist hub of Kathmandu.

The internship placed me as a volunteer at Samrakshak Samuha Nepal (SASANE). SASANE is a survivor-led organization that empowers and protects trafficking survivors by providing them with jobs and education. SASANE also fights for the rights of women and children by advocating against child marriage, promoting awareness of human trafficking, and sponsoring girls’ education.

My primary research project was a story for the Pulitzer Center titled Nepal: Behind the Anti-Sex Trafficking Movement. Over a two-month period, I researched Nepal’s issues of sex trafficking while also conducting interviews with NGOs, survivors, police, and lawyers. This provided me with a holistic view of Nepal’s anti-trafficking movement. My final story includes an article about NGOs’ efforts to empower trafficking survivors, an article about legal and social justice for survivors, and a short video about Nepal’s anti-trafficking movement. The story is published at http://pulitzercenter.org/projects/nepal-behind-anti-sex-trafficking-movement.

I was very lucky to be volunteering with Samrakshak Samuha Nepal. Those working at SASANE are dedicated and compassionate, and they are always willing to both learn from and to teach the volunteers. The SASANE workers who lived with us in the volunteer house went out of their ways to accommodate us, and we all became close friends in the process.

As a volunteer at SASANE, I contributed in a variety of areas.  I helped with SASANE's weekly cooking classes, helped apply for grant funding, and helped advertise their trekking services on a variety of platforms. I used my photography skills to take photos of their programs to be shared on social media. Some of these include photos taken at a paralegal training program, photos of their paralegals working at police stations, and photos of travelers receiving cooking lessons by SASANE's workers.

A personal highlight of my trip was expanding the experiences and knowledge of the women at SASANE, whether this was by sharing my American culture and cuisine, helping them with their English confidence, or by taking the women on hikes in the nearby mountains.

An intellectual highlight of my trip was becoming a published student journalist through the Pulitzer Center. Although I've known for many years that I wanted to pursue human rights as a career path, I had never seriously considered human rights journalism. This experience taught me that I really enjoy human rights journalism because it combines my interests of human rights and writing, while allowing me to share knowledge with a wide audience and advocate for human rights.

This journey taught me many things about myself and about life, including the importance of human connections and taking chances. Living and working in a new country can be a situation to adapt to, but with the right friends by your side, it becomes home.

I also learned more about the natural beauty of Nepal. Every other weekend we went on hiking trips to the mountains around the Kathmandu Valley. It was a wonderful experience to bond with the other volunteers and workers while challenging ourselves physically. Although the clouds often obscured our views at the summits, I learned that it’s not always about the view at the top, but about knowing where our feet are and how we got there.

At the end of my internship, a close friend who was working in India through Penn’s Global Internship Program came to Nepal and we went on a five-day trek to Poon Hill. Standing at 3,210 meters above sea level, the clouds cleared up and we had the most remarkable view of the Himalayan mountains that I could have ever imagined.

I would recommend this program to anyone considering it. If you end up interning in Nepal, I would advise you to keep an open mind, take chances, and to befriend the people around you. Dedicate yourself to the work you are doing, but also make time to go on hikes and treks, check out the monasteries and religious sites, and eat momos.

This program will take you outside your comfort zone and teach you things about the world and about yourself that you would never be able to learn otherwise. You will find that Nepal becomes home to you, and I guarantee that by the time you are leaving, you’ll already be planning your next trip back.