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News - Students' summer in Nepal: Monks, robes & iPods

13th March 2012

When two QUT law students decided to spend their summer break teaching children English at a Nepalese monastery, they weren't quite expecting teenage monks with mobile phones and iPods. "I expected a month of these reverent monks meditating all day, but they were very much 21st century teenage boys who just happened to wear robes," Clare McDonald said. "They would walk around with their iPods and mobile phones and play fight at lunch. But they would also chant for four to five hours a day." Clare and fellow law student Tom Armstrong spent a month in Kathmandu teaching children aged six to 17 at a stone temple monastery, after Clare googled "volunteering in Nepal" and found a United Kingdom organisation that arranged visits. "There's about 30 monasteries in the area - there's one on every hill you look at," Clare said. "The local families send their children there for education and food." Clare and Tom's monastery was a very picturesque stone temple with no heating and limited electricity - which made the zero-degree nights a bit challenging. Tom said he enjoyed his Nepalese experience immensely but wasn't quite ready to swap his Brisbane lifestyle for Kathmandu on a permanent basis. "There's not enough hot showers or food variation!" he said. "It was a little bit extreme eating rice and lentils three times a day. "But the kids seem happy though. Some of them were as young as six years old and they were getting up at 5am every morning and chanting for hours, attending lessons with us and then chanting into the night until 10pm. That's a big day for a little kid." Tom said he believed travel and volunteering helped improve communication skills - which had to be a good thing, whatever area of law he went into. "Trying to get across your meaning to a bunch of screaming Nepalese boys is a challenge," he said. "But it's understanding how to explain things, which is a skill whatever you do." Tom said their trip to Nepal included a short homestay with a local family, a two-day jungle safari and even bungee jumping. He would thoroughly recommend the experience to everyone. "I'd say definitely just do it, even if you think you're not qualified or prepared, because there's a lot of support available and it's an experience that everyone should have," he said. Clare and Tom, both 19, are both Vice-Chancellor's Scholars and part of QUT's College of Excellence for high achievers. They are both doing double degrees at QUT - Clare is studying law and media and communications, and Tom is doing law and journalism. The two experienced travellers already have plans for their next overseas adventures. Clare is off to Copenhagen for a second semester exchange and Tom is planning a Glasgow exchange. RELATED ARTICLES: Young Indigenous lawyer ready to take on the world International experience gives students career edge Media contact: Mechelle McMahon, QUT media unit, 07 3138 9449 or

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