It’s about 7,820 miles from Kathmandu, Nepal, to Fort Collins, Colo., if you were to fly an airline’s polar route, for no crow flies that distance. The distance spans two continents, two massive mountain ranges, and numerous languages, countries, and cultures. Niroj Bhattarai’s journey between those two points is more than a simple travelogue, though it does have a bit of serendipity that all good travelogues have.
Niroj, who teaches economics at Front Range’s Larimer Campus, was born in Kathmandu, Nepal, in the shadow of the Himalayas, into what he, an economist, calls a lower-middle-class family. His father was an insurance agent. His mother, who had some college, stayed at home, as was the custom in Nepal.
Emphasis on education
“My parents put a lot of emphasis on my education,” Niroj says. So, when Niroj was in the third grade, the family learned of an opening at Budhanilkantha – “the British school,” Niroj calls it. The school takes students from all over Nepal. At that time, the principal and most of the teachers were English. So, as a third grader, Niroj sat for the entrance exam. He was one of 75 accepted. Among his classmates was a prince from the royal family of Nepal.
Niroj spent seven years in this boarding school in a northern section of Kathmandu. “It was a superb education,” he recalls.
Then, Niroj sat for another entrance exam to another top school in Nepal – the American-run St. Xavier’s College.
“After experiencing British education, I saw the American side of things,” Niroj says. He received an “intermediate” in physics at St. Xavier’s – the equivalent of a diploma.
Nepal to Ohio
When Niroj explored educational opportunities for college in the United States, he chose Hiram College in Ohio, which offered the best scholarship. He found his academic love – economics.
“In hindsight, choosing Hiram College was the best decision I could have made,” Niroj said. It was small, it was rural, it was welcoming of his culture, there was personal attention, and he could work in the coffee shop and dining hall to pay for what his scholarship didn’t cover.
‘An American Dad’
Here is some of the serendipity – through an extra job as a “dog sitter,” Niroj was befriended by the dog’s owner, an American doctor. “He’s been a big part of my life,” Niroj says. “He’s my American Dad.”
Because of this doctor, Niroj’s “extended American family” has grown. When it came time for graduate school, Niroj went to San Diego State University and lived with the doctor’s mother.
His graduate work was his introduction to teaching.
Teaching economic theory in a fun way
“It was daunting at first to stare at 60 kids and to have them stare back,” Niroj says. “But I enjoyed it. Everyone thinks of economics as dry and boring. I love when I can explain complex economic theory in a fun, understandable way. I love it when students come back and say they changed their major to economics because of me. It’s just great being with students, discussing things.”
Niroj is working on the dissertation for his doctorate in economics at Colorado State University. His dissertation attempts to identify the factors that impact school attendance by primary and secondary students in rural and urban Nepal.
And he maintains another connection with Nepal through a project started with the Phi Theta Kappa chapter at the Larimer Campus in partnership with Rotary.
His American Dad, his brother and adopted brother also now live in Colorado.
Fort Collins may be 7,280 miles from Niroj’s first home, but with family close by and the Rocky Mountains to remind him of the Himalayas, here, too, Niroj has found a home.