Nepali Times
The grass is always greener



TIME OFF: Nepali tourism students in a rare moment as
customers rather than waiters.

Krishna sits quietly in a corner, earnestly taking down notes written on the board. Together with him are 20 other Nepali students paying close attention to their lecturer.

It seems like an ordinary class on an ordinary school day, except that he is at least a decade older than his classmates, and the setting is 5,000km away from his home in Nepal. The 37-year-old flew to Singapore a year ago and has spent a total of Rs 350,000 in order to study hotel management in a private school here.

The number of Nepalis studying tourism and other related subjects in Singapore has continued to increase in recent years. The country is particularly a popular study destination for Nepalis because many of its colleges issue internationally-recognised certificates, which make it easier to apply for further studies in Europe and North America than if they applied straight from Nepal.

Singapore also has an abundance of employment opportunities and a relatively good average wage. Tourism courses are especially popular because they offer both the chance to get a good qualification and, as they include On the Job Training (OFT), the opportunity to work and earn money.

Most tourism students on OJT earn about Rs 260 per hour as waiters at restaurants and hotels. Even though this money can only offset part of the large expenses they incur in coming to Singapore, most see the hardship as worth bearing for the prospect of a brighter future.

Mani Prasad, a student at the Tourism Management Institute of Singapore, says: "My parents have made a big investment to help me be financially independent." He is working as a trainee but finds it harder than he expected to meet his everyday expenses.

Together with his cousin, he rents a room at Little India hostel in central Singapore. Besides them, there are more than 20 other Nepali students staying in the hostel, with three to five of them crowded into each room. He can't afford to go out very much, so to pass the time he stays in the room and watches DVDs. He's not sure what he should do next: "I might take another course, go to another country or head back home. Nothing is fixed yet," he says.

Binod, another hotel management student, studied mass communications in Nepal and aspires to be a journalist. Currently working as a waiter on his OJT period, he has applied to study journalism at another school after his course finishes. If his application is successful, he will be one step closer to his dream, but he will also have to fork out another large sum of money for the school fees. When asked if he would return to Nepal, he nods his head without hesitation. "But only when I have name and fame," he adds.

Many Nepalis in Singapore have spent most or all of their savings to come here. Krishna had originally wanted to go to the US or Canada but despite the fact he holds a degree from Tribhuban University, both his applications were rejected. Singapore was a more reachable destination for someone of his means.

"My friends said Singapore has many hotels, easier to find a job," he says. Having faced many difficulties to make ends meet as a student, he has now managed to secure a work permit to begin after his course, which will allow him to work full-time and earn between Rs 50,000-65,000 per month.

He is currently satisfied with his situation, but he still hasn't forgotten his dream: to try again for America or Canada. But his life-plan, like many other Nepalis in Singapore for now, is to stay put until the chance comes up to move to greener pastures.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)