Skip to main

5 Questions for a Luce Scholar in Nepal

young man hiking in a fog
Share this page:

We’re asking students, recent grads, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Makana—a Luce Scholar from Hawai'i who holds Bachelor's degrees in Marine Biology & Chemistry from University of Hawai'i at Mānoa.

1. Congratulations on being named a 2023-2024 Luce Scholar! Could you share more about what this entails and about your current work overseas?

Thank you! I’m very grateful to be a part of this program. The Luce Scholars program has allowed me to work anywhere in Asia for a year. I have been living in Kathmandu, Nepal since July 2023, working for two organizations: Karkhana and United World Schools (UWS).

Makana in the Gulmi District, Nepal.

These organizations are aimed at improving the quality and availability of education across the country. Until January of this year, I was working on designing lessons for Karkhana. This is a social enterprise that makes interactive lessons for primary and secondary school students and packs these lessons into kits that serve as their STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education for the whole year. The concepts can be challenging to learn, but the mission of Karkhana is to make learning them fun and engaging.

Recently, I’ve started working with UWS Nepal, which constructs schools for grades 1 through 8 in Nepal’s most remote areas. My work with UWS has brought me to Nepal’s Gulmi district, which is about a 16-hour westward bus ride from the capital. I am working with four schools in the district to set up co-curricular STEAM clubs using Karkhana’s materials.

2. Please tell us a little about your Hawaiian name. We'd also love to hear about your earliest experiences learning languages at an immersion school!

Everyone calls me Makana (although my formal name is Caleb-Matthew) which comes from my Hawaiian middle name, Kuʻumakanamakamaeokalani, meaning “my precious gift from the heavens.” Makana means “gift.”

I started learning Hawaiian at an immersion school, which I attended until 5th grade. I would spend the day at school learning Hawaiian, and when I got home, I would speak in English with my family. Nowadays, there are very few Hawaiian speakers. So being a part of this group made me develop a special attachment to Hawaiian culture and my Hawaiian identity. Because I never learned formal English until middle school, the most challenging part of being in the immersion program was adapting to an English medium in the classroom after I left the Hawaiian immersion school.

3. You worked as an ESL tutor during college: What would you say were your biggest takeaways from helping other students learn and use their language skills? What advice would you share with current language learners or those considering studying a language?

Laughter, politeness, and respect can be understood in any language. Often, I found that ESL students were afraid to practice English because they were shy or embarrassed. However, I found that engaging students in these ways made it possible for me to gain their trust, which created a favorable environment for learning.

Remembering these things helps me build connections in Nepal. Now, I am a student learning from people living their day-to-day lives. Having people engage with me in Nepali is a bit more difficult, but the steps are the same; it starts with laughter, politeness, and respect.

My advice is to try finding someone you can learn with. One of my most valuable learning experiences in Nepal came from meeting a Japanese college student studying abroad. He started learning Nepali around the same time as me. We picked up a lot of new vocabulary from each other and kept each other accountable for learning the language.

4. What has been the most rewarding part of your language journey to date?

It is always rewarding to see how native speakers react to me speaking their language.

Even though my Nepali has many problems, the people I meet always lighten up when I try to speak with them. This has helped me make many genuine connections during my short time in Nepal.

5. We’d love to hear an anecdote about a time you’ve relied on Nepali language and/or cultural skills to communicate with someone!

People in Nepal always ask if my hair is real. Some children will say that I’m wearing a wig. So, when I’m working with students, and they seem a little tired or distracted, I’ll say in Nepali, “I’ll let you pull my hair if you get this question right. You can check if it’s real.” It works to get their attention, but they do tend to pull a bit hard!


Complete this thought: "Learning another language means..."

...making mistakes. I was very shy about speaking Nepali a few months ago. I convinced myself that people would be offended if I made a mistake. But I thought about how I would feel if I heard someone trying to learn English or Hawaiian; I would have nothing but respect for them. When I got comfortable with making mistakes, I found many more opportunities to learn the language with native speakers.

Check out our Connect with Languages or Language Programs & Funding pages to explore language scholarships, university programs, testimonials, and more! And, as always, visit @LangConnectsFdn on social media to share your story with us.