“An education of our own making”

SIT student Joshua Ginder explores Sherpa culture

Joshua Ginder, 22, is no stranger to experiential learning — for the senior at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, learning happens just as much in the classroom as it does in the outdoors, where climbing to the top of a mountain is as taxing and rewarding a feat as acing a final exam.

He was drawn to SIT Study Abroad’s Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples study abroad program after having read John Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air during the summer of his freshman year, which he says piqued his interest in Sherpa culture and the Himalayas.

For Ginder, the opportunity to go to Nepal was, “a chance to get to a different part of the world,” he said. Ginder had traveled abroad before, but had never been to a developing country — an experience he called “eye-opening.” He chose SIT because of its experiential model.

“It allows you to charge of your own ideas, and take some sort of a leadership role in your own learning,” Ginder said.

The Anthropology and Globalization Studies double major took his proclivity for learning-by-doing to a new horizon when he made a film in Kathmandu about the younger generation of Sherpas and their relationship to the dying Sherpa language.

During his semester in Kathmandu, Ginder made the film “We are Sherpa,” which explores Sherpa culture and identity. The preservation of the Sherpa language is a constant thread among Ginder’s subjects, and their concern about the younger generation’s relationship with it. Through a series of interviews and colorful shots of daily life in Kathmandu, the viewer is witness to Ginder’s own experiential classroom and desire to apply his interest in mountaineering and anthropology to living subject matter.

The making of “We are Sherpa,” Ginder believes, is a prime example of experiential education — for him, the process was an opportunity to apply his studies in Anthropology to explore a very present sociological change.

“The focus of my film ended up being about the fact that, for Sherpas, it’s problematic that they are just considered mountaineers — they are proud of that — however there are other parts of their culture that they find important,” Ginder said. “One of the big things that came up in the film was Sherpas trying to preserve their language…especially the younger generation.”

As a student of Anthropology, Ginder left Nepal more convinced than ever of the simple notion “that people aren't that different from one another.” For him, spending time abroad, “tears down a lot of walls between different ethnicities, different backgrounds. You experience a lot of things where you realize that you're not very different. You laugh about the same things, you cry about the same things.”

He credits studying abroad with SIT in Nepal for his personal growth, expansion of worldview, and the opportunity to delve deep into a subject about which he is passionate.

“The experience of study abroad — simply being in another culture — it doesn't have to be as drastically different to ours as Nepal, or Sherpa culture — opens your eyes to many different things, whether its those ‘ah-ha,’ transcendental moments or just my own realization that I needed to be more level-headed in the way I reacted to things. It is a good reflection on who you are, and what your values are, and how you relate to the world.”

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