FVCC Photo Show Highlights Study Abroad Experience

By Beacon Staff

For the Flathead Valley Community College students and instructors who spent last spring studying abroad, the art photography show on display in the school is a reminder of an education unlike any they could have received at home: A six-week cram session in Nepalese culture, religion, and history.

But with the photo show, the students and instructors aim to share a bit of their experience and those lessons learned with the broader community as well.

“Looking at these photos now, several months after we’ve been home, it’s like, ‘Wow. I really took students there and we really climbed this mountain and visited all these places,’” Mick Stemborski, coordinator of FVCC’s multicultural services and the trip’s lead instructor, said. “It’s a flashback, for sure.”

“Hopefully, the people who see these photos will get a glimpse at what these students experienced and what this culture is like,” he added.

Heather Gerhard browses photographs on display during the Flathead Valley Community College’s art photography show.

The free show will run through the month of October at FVCC in the lower level of the Arts and Technology Building, and then will travel to the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish for the first two weeks of November and finally to the FVCC campus in Libby.

For six weeks in February and March of this year, 22 FVCC students and the group’s instructors lived in Nepal, taking part in a full-immersion program. The first part of the trip was spent living and working out of a local family hostel in a residential area of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital and largest city.

Students had the option to take several different classes in conjunction with the trip, including interpersonal relations and communications, digital photography, anthropology of comparative religion and multi-cultural issues. The courses happened in stages – before, during and after students’ travels. In Kathmandu, classes were held on the roof of the hostel, where students watched the activities of the city below as they studied.

Flathed Valley Community College digital photography instructor Marita Combs, right, photographs Eric Pei Ruicheng, top left, as he uses photographs in the student art photography show to tell stories to students in his Chinese class.

“The minute you got to the airport you absolutely knew you weren’t home anymore,” student Angelica Negri, 19, said. “We were wondering if it was even really an airport.”

In fact, on the way to the hostel, students asked Stemborski if he had intentionally planned the bus route to show them the craziest part of the city. “I hadn’t,” he said. “They were just so overwhelmed – in one bus trip they were seeing poverty, art, street vendors, everything. That first hour stimulated every sense.”

In addition to course work, students participated in community service work, explored religious temple sites and ruins, visited a rural agricultural-based community, toured Kathmandu and experienced the spiritual culture of Hinduism and Buddhism.

For the second part of the trip they made a trek into the Everest mountain region. The entire group made it to the Namche Bazaar area, the gateway to the high Himalaya. Seven students ascended to an 18,200-foot Everest base camp.

Each stage of the trip is represented in the photo display: portraits of Hindu holy men, Buddhist monks and smiling self-portraits of students surrounded by Nepalese children. There are views of the sights from mountain peaks and the streets of Kathmandu, food vendors and street entertainers.

“The photographs tell the story of the students’ experiences in a new culture,” FVCC photography instructor Marita Combs said. “One of my students burst into tears after seeing all the photos in one place, because so many memories of the experience and the friendships that were built came flooding back when she saw the pictures.”