Why is Experiential Learning So Important?
85°East places a high value on experiential learning (i.e. learning via direct access to/engagement with your subject) because we know there is a limit to what theory can teach you. While theoretical constructs are helpful for understanding the macro-level context, history, and background of a given situation, they sometimes break down in when it comes time to apply them to a particular situation. For example, while a theoretical understanding of the last 100 years of economic best practices in the US non-profit sector may give you a good way to asses the value and legitimacy of existing or emerging nonprofit institutions, it might not give you all of the tools necessary to actually start and run your own NGO in Kathmandu. At 85°E, we strongly believe that a person is better positioned to make an impact if they possess both the practical skills and theoretical knowledge of their chosen field.
We also know that it is never too early to begin acquiring this practical understanding, as it throws into sharp relief the difference between the theory you may learn in class and the actual struggles and experiences of people affected by larger political and economic shifts. How might an IMF/World Bank intervention affect a subsistence rice farmer living in the Gorkha region of Nepal? How might international aid organizations guard against—or contribute to—instability in Kathmandu? In fact, to what extent do the actions of any international organization actually affect the quality of the lives of ordinary Nepalis? The act of living and working in Nepal may not answer every question you have, but it will give you direct access to many of the small scale, daily practical problems that plague international entrepreneurship and economic projects, and a closer, more nuanced look at how people in the country deal with these problems every day.
The world needs people who who are willing to listen closely and think critically about the particular needs and situations of the populations they wish to serve. Our hope is that, armed with a practical understanding of Nepal’s politics, culture, history, and development status, you will think more deeply and critically about the theory you are learning in class, and apply it in a useful way to your future development and entrepreneurship work.