Student Travel Series #5: Lessons from living in military-enforced Nepal

Nepal Student Travel Series | Bel Around The World

Lance from Travel Addicts shares about his out-of-ordinary experience in Nepal – living in a military-controlled country, and experiencing sex tourism first-hand. He also offers some very wise advise to have fun before our responsibilities set in, and how different the world is outside what we know!

1. What’s your name, age, occupation and country you are from?

I’m Lance Longwell. I’m from the United States – originally from Colorado, lived in New York City for a number of years, and now live in Pennsylvania.  I’m in my 30s and work in the field of communications and public relations.  I am a lover of strong coffee, good wine, meat in tube form (an adamant ex-vegetarian), and have a deep love affair with chocolate.  I live for taking long road-trips around the world with my wife and partner in crime, Laura, where we share a love for scuba diving, beautiful sunsets, and sleeping in late.


2. Why did you decide to study overseas?

My parents instilled in me a love of travel, so going abroad just made sense. They had never had a chance to travel overseas or graduate from college, so they were supportive of my ambitions.

3. In which country did you study and how long?

In college I had originally begun studying a regimented pre-med track. At some point, I decided med school probably wasn’t going to be for me, but I still enjoyed science.  I ended up meeting a professor who was studying the physiology of the Sherpa people in Nepal – specifically their amazingly oxygen-rich blood and their feats of near super-human strength.  When the chance to accompany him to Nepal came up, I jumped at the opportunity.  It would give me a chance to complete one of my science electives while studying Buddhism.

4. Share a favourite photo taken while you were studying abroad!


My study abroad was nearly 20 years ago – before the days of digital cameras and social media sites. This gritty picture of a half-naked child running through the streets sticks with me.  It brings back so much about my experience in Nepal:  the colors, the smell and the grit in the air, the lingering effect from the fires the previous evening to burn trash.

5. Describe an unforgettable/ scary experience you encountered.

My trip to Nepal came during a very delicate period in the country’s history. An 18-month long protest by the Maoist-inspired minority had increased tensions throughout the country.  As it turns out, during my time in Nepal, these tensions would escalate into a full-scale civil war.  Much of my time in the Nepalese capital was under a military-enforced curfew. Every day, sirens and gunfire would ring out throughout the valley. 

In hindsight, I probably should have left the country when the State Department issued warnings.  I stayed.  And I’m glad I did.  Yes, I had close calls sneaking out in the evenings in search of food and dodging the military.  It wasn’t smart, but it happened.  And I will always remember that experience.

6. How did studying abroad make you change your perspective of life?

I grew up in a decidedly lower middle class family in suburbia. In school, I was the kid who couldn’t afford new clothes and was the one who got laughed at when I showed up with my “new” clothes from the flea market or thrift shop (this was long before Macklemore and Ryan Lewis made it cool).  Despite those modest beginnings, I was wealthy beyond measure when compared to my neighbors in Nepal.  It was a deeply humbling experience how extremely wealthy I was compared to them.  It makes you appreciate all that you have.


7. Did you witness something that touched you?

There were so many events that stick with me:  the funeral pyres floating on the river, the monks leading our daily incantations, and even the simple events of daily life.

But there is one event that really sticks with me.  I’d always believed that travel was a good thing.  I believed, naively, that travel brought economic advancement to pool countries.  And Nepal is desperately poor.

At the time of my visit, Nepal ranked about 4th from the bottom in per capita incomes.  I had a 10-year old host brother who went by the name “Charley.”  Being a bad influence on him, I’d occasionally spring him from school and we’d pal around the Kathmandu Valley and work our way through military check-points.

One day, we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bhaktapur.  We were having a pizza for lunch, his first pizza ever, when we were approached by an older man with a strong European accent.  He wanted to know where I had gotten “my little friend.”  His question and his look told me everything.  This was sex tourism and he thought my young host brother was on the market.  I left a little bit of my innocence in Bhaktapur that day.  Sometimes travel changes the places we love…and not for the better.  The experienced touched me, but not in a good way.

8. What’s your favourite travel website, whether it be for travel planning or travel inspiration?

My favorite travel website other than own site, Travel Addicts? When I find myself experiencing wanderlust and dreaming of travel, I frequently pop over to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and pick a random location.  I just love learning about new cultural wonders.

9. If you had 2 tips you could share from your study abroad experience to students feeling apprehensive about taking this leap, what would they be?

First, I’m coming at this from a more “advanced” perspective (let’s not call me “old”…yet).  I’m nearly 20 years out of college and I’ve had the chance to reflect on the experience for a long time.  College is arguably the best time in most people’s lives…and it flies by in the blink of an eye.  Relish those days!  Take the opportunity to be a little irresponsible.  Before rushing out of college into the big job, grab the chance to study abroad and experience a little of the big world…before you have responsibilities (relationships, jobs, kids, and bills).

Second, being apprehensive and nervous is normal.  You should be worried if you don’t have any concerns about moving overseas for a term or a year.  But that’s all the more reason to do.  So many people go through life and their world is very small.  They still in the same town, go to the same college where they parents went to school and they are friends with people who are just like them.  There’s a huge world out there that isn’t like your home town.  Go out, experience it and see things from someone else’s perspective!

To find out more about his adventures, you can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Student Travel Series seek to showcase travel stories from students, for students. The aim of this series is to inspire more youths and students to take the leap and discover a world outside of your own!

What do you feel about Lance’s story? Let us know below!

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