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Dal Bahadur Sunar brings change to education in Nepal

Posted: 14 August 2023

Nepal, Alumni, COVID-19, Experience, Impact,

Dal Bahadur Sunar received an Australia Awards Scholarship in 2020 to pursue a Master of Education at the University of Adelaide. Dal is a development professional working primarily in the education sector for national and international organisations, including Search for Common Ground and Global Action Nepal. He is currently working as Area Manager for ChildFund Japan. While he was in Australia, we met with Dal to hear about his Scholarship experience.

Dal returned to Nepal in 2021 after completing his studies, and he recently shared his reflections on his return to Nepal and his time studying in Australia, which coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. His responses below highlight that the pandemic has only strengthened his passion for education.

What did you study in Australia, and what led you to that course?

I studied a Master of Education at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. Having worked in the education sector, I had experienced and witnessed contextual realities of classroom practices, teaching pedagogies, and teacher and school needs. Therefore, I wanted to enrich my research knowledge and skills. For this reason, I was looking for scholarship opportunities internationally where I could learn more about global education policies and practices, so that I could contribute more to my country in terms of teacher professional development, school leadership and policy influence through research work. A friend of mine informed me that Australia Awards – Nepal had organised an information session about the Scholarships. This session motivated me to apply for the Scholarship opportunity.

What made you passionate about your area of study?

After I completed my bachelor’s degree in education from Tribhuvan University in Nepal, I worked in different national and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that work to improve the quality of and access to education of all children. During my eight years’ experience, I observed schools from the mountains to the plains (Terai region), and saw children, particularly from marginalised communities, face difficulties going to school and completing their education. The reasons for such challenges vary, but often relate to the school environment and school leadership. I wished to have a better understanding of policies and global practices related to school education, so I applied for an Australia Awards Scholarship. I was new to my job at the time and was not eligible to take study leave for two years. Therefore, once I was selected, I decided to quit my job to take up the Scholarship. I believed I would be able to give more to my country after developing my knowledge of education policy and practices by studying in Australia.

Can you tell us about your experience in Australia, both at university and off campus?

I joined the University of Adelaide in January 2020 and undertook an Introductory Academic Program for a month. After this, the formal university study portion of my course began at the end of February 2020. My university life began incredibly fruitfully: I had achieved a big dream of my life by being in the classroom of a world class university to secure a world class degree. Unfortunately, COVID-19 made my life difficult (just like it affected everybody else), because the world went into lockdown and I had not brought my family with me. This affected the lives of both me and my family in Nepal. Therefore, my life as a student was not satisfying during the first semester. However, the university environment, the services and counselling I received, and the academic staff (Professors) hugely assisted me in focusing on my studies and living a normal life. At the same time, I and other people from around the globe who had come to Australia for their studies shared our experiences and became more resilient and able to cope with the situation. Overall, my experience was mixed; however, I managed to complete my course during this critical time. I also provided some financial support for those who were severely affected by the pandemic in Nepal. In conclusion, this experience taught me to build resilience and prepare for unexpected circumstances in life.

Dal enjoying his time as a scholar in Australia.

How has your Scholarship helped you develop your professional network?

This is an amazing experience because it fulfilled my dream of achieving an international degree from a world class university while coming from a very marginalised community in Nepal. This opportunity opened the door to various professional networks. The most important network that I built is that I am now a member of the Australia Awards alumni, which is a global network. I have also been an executive member of the Association of Nepalese Alumni from Australia. Furthermore, I am now an alum of the University of Adelaide. Apart from this, I built a strong connection with my professors in the University of Adelaide.

How did you adjust to returning to Nepal?

It was a rejoicing moment for me to be with my family again. Not only was I apart from them for two years, but I was also not with them during the most stressful situation of our lives: the COVID-19 pandemic. My parents, wife, children, relatives and friends were very happy to see me after a long gap. I had missed celebrating local festivals with my family during those two years. I also went through some culture shock travelling between both countries. For example, my food habits changed while I was in Australia. I was a typical student again, in my late 30s. When I returned home to Nepal, I also missed my university culture, my friends and being in Australia. However, I gradually adjusted myself to the daily lifestyle of my family and surroundings.

How has your Australia Awards experience supported your career enhancement?

It is a life-changing opportunity to receive an Australia Awards Scholarship. My experience in the development sector was boosted by the master’s degree I achieved with the support of Australia Awards. Now, I have more networks and connections with universities, academics and government officials. Since I returned from Australia, I have actively been leading an NGO and working as Area Manager for an international NGO. I also started delivering training sessions to teachers in rural Nepal on teacher and student wellbeing, positive psychology, strength-based education, and school leadership.

Dal conducting a training in Nepal.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I wish to do my PhD on teacher wellbeing and contribute to Nepal’s broader education system so that teachers’ voices are heard and their policies are practiced. As a result, teachers will impart knowledge and schools will provide the best learning opportunities to children.

What is your advice for someone thinking about applying for an Australia Awards Scholarship?

An Australia Awards Scholarship is a wonderful opportunity for aspiring professionals who want a world class education and experience a different life. The universities in Australia are so caring and provide the best experience to students. Receiving an Australia Awards Scholarship is not only an end goal; I realised it is a pathway for you to achieve many more goals in your life.

To become a successful applicant, one should be well prepared; if so, there is an excellent chance that you will be chosen for this opportunity of a lifetime.