May 05, 2014 | Connor Sterchi

In Ekatappa, a rural village of Nepal near Mount Everest, a ceremony at the local school was planned to begin at 11:30 a.m., celebrating the visit of Herb '94 and Shelli DeWindt Fynewever '92.  But the two honorees were not going to be on time. It was already 12:45 p.m., and the Fynewevers were still drinking tea down the road. Their Nepali friend with whom they were staying was insisting that the Fynewevers visit many old friends, neighbors and villagers, chatting, laughing and sipping tea at leisure. Shelli, a former Peace Corps volunteer, speaks Nepali and translated their conversations to English for Herb. Herb was feeling worried about being late.

Finally, more than an hour and a half past the scheduled start time, the Fynewevers arrived at the ceremony. They needn't have worried.  Only a few villagers had even arrived—not because it was a modest occasion, but because nobody was planning on being on time.

Gradually, more villagers arrived, unhurried, along with some musicians and instrumentalists who began to play music. Villagers danced and brought gifts, bracelets and a wooden replica of the Nepali flag. At last, the ceremony officially began with long and flowery speeches from many village VIPs—the principal of the school, the head of the school board, the owner of the mill—in honor of the Fynewevers. A plaque which the school presented to them said, “Your work in our village and school will be remembered beyond the end of the earth; your work will continue to be effective even beyond the destruction of the world.”

A different pace, perspective

“This whole ceremony takes most of the day,” said Herb Fynewever, recollecting his experience in Nepal in January 2013, “and the whole time I’m thinking, ‘can’t we just get on with this, get to the point?’ But I was really missing the point. The whole point was the coming together. It was the long process, it was the ceremony, it was the small gifts, it was the decorations. The whole thing was to celebrate our relationships, to show honor and respect.”

The prolonged ceremony in the Fynewevers' honor was characteristic of Nepal’s relationally oriented culture, in contrast to more results-driven cultures like the United States.

“There are being cultures and doing cultures,” said Fynewever, professor of chemistry at Calvin College, who will be spending seven months at Kathmandu University in Nepal starting in January 2015. “The U.S. is very much a doing culture … Everything starts when we say it’s going to start. We can set appointments and plan on people being there…We have agendas for meetings and we go linearly through the agenda. And a successful meeting is one where we get through the agenda and everything’s settled. So that’s a doing culture. Nepal is much more a being culture. So a successful meeting for them is one where relationships are cemented, and built on, and people are heard, and there isn’t necessarily an agenda.”

A new laboratory

Fynewever was just awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant, a national cultural exchange program designed “to increase mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries, through the exchange of persons, knowledge and skills.”  Fynewever’s Fulbright grant will comprise about 80 percent teaching and 20 percent research. He will teach general chemistry at Kathmandu University and research various subjects concerning culture, teaching and student-instructor interaction.

How do college instructors teach science? How do they communicate with their students? How do they measure what their students are learning? How do they give their students feedback? How do they communicate? These are some of the questions that Fynewever plans to probe while in Kathmandu.

“And then to look at how [these questions] change in a different cultural context will add a whole new dimension to my research,” he said.

While he has plans and ideas for research—such as observing science instructors, collecting syllabi and exams, and interviewing professors to learn more about formative assessment—he also realizes that his agenda might have to adapt to Nepal’s relational, tea-drinking, “being” culture.

A second home

Fynewever’s initial interest in applying for a Fulbright grant to Nepal was spurred by his wife, Shelli, who had lived and worked for two-and-a-half years in the village of  Ekatappa as a Peace Corps Vounteer from 1993-1995. "She has a second home and second family there. They cared for her like she was their own. We want to go and renew those relationships. And build on them."

“We liked the idea of living abroad with our family, especially in a place that is so near and dear to Shelli's heart,” Fynewever said. “I think this will be so good for our family. Nepal will be very different. It’s a developing country, one of the poorest countries. Going to Nepal gives us and our children, so much: new eyes again to see the American way isn’t the only way, and not even always the best way. It gives us an opportunity to appreciate the material prosperity that we have, and recognize the relational poverty that we live in sometimes because of our wealth.  Living there, we can be immersed in another culture, get a chance to be a minority and nurture a compassion for those who are minorities in our country.

More to the mission

“And we can spread the love of God. A huge part of our going, too, is that the gospel is spreading quickly in Nepal, and because of Shelli’s relationships, and the respect that the folks in Ekatappa have for us, we think the village may be open to hearing the story of the gospel from us. Shelli also wants to work with Crossway Church and Higher Ground ministries (founded by Calvin Theological Seminary alum Arbin Pokharel and Calvin College alum Bimala Shrestha Pokharel '99) which sends out mission groups and does tremendous work to raise awareness and funds for preventing child trafficking through education."

Fynewever anticipates the overseas experience to cultivate his future interaction with international students at Calvin.

“When I bring that back to Calvin, that will personally help me when I’m working with students from a central-Asian culture, or even similar cultures to the central-Asian culture, so that I can recognize and value the advantages of their way of doing things, and then also help to accommodate them into how we do things here,” Fynewever said.

While living and teaching in Nepal, Fynewever also hopes to learn about both the advantages and drawbacks of its educational structure.

“In many other countries…the way that they do education is much more specialized early on,” Fynewever explained. “Liberal arts is pretty much unknown in a country like Nepal. So when students are still in high school, they’ll be tested and tracked…And the reason is, if you can specialize, then your citizens can go faster and farther within their specialization, because they don’t spend time taking history and English, and they can just take more advanced science and math courses.”

But since there are pros and cons to both approaches, Fynewever hopes that his immersion in Nepal will equip him with insights that will contribute to future conversations at Calvin about core curriculum and liberal arts.

“As the world gets more and more globalized, we have to think about how we best prepare our students,” he said. “Do we want to pursue this philosophy of earlier specialization so they can go faster and farther within their discipline, or do we need the breadth to prepare them for careers that will be more at the interface between disciplines, and give them the soft skills so that they can not only have the technical knowledge, but then know how to explain their technical knowledge, and persuade people with their technical knowledge, so they can communicate about technical areas?”

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