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Education spurs Nepal woman to go above, beyond routine
Posted 03/27/2017 01:41PM

By TERRY DICKSON terry.dickson@jacksonville.com

BRUNSWICK, GA. | Growing up Erina Bista always questioned why her brother got to do things she didn't.

He's a boy, everyone told her, things are different for males. As an adult, the prospects looked even worse, the 34-year-old College of Coastal Georgia student said.

"If your husband beats you, if your husband cheats on you, it's your fault. If your husband dies, you can't remarry. The women fast so their husbands will have a long life,'' she said.

Then with her dark eyes smoldering, she adds, "They don't do that for us."

Such are the ways of Nepal where the culture is based on the Hindu religion and its culture of male supremacy. She grew up in Dharan, a small town close to the mountains.

"I love it," she said. "I love this more. I always said when I grow up, I want to go to America."

Her parents didn't try to dissuade her and instead encouraged her.

"I questioned these things," she said. "They said you should be in America."

Her mother even packed her off to Kathmandu, the only place in Nepal where English as a second language is taught. She loves more than the country where she landed with a student visa in 2002, a country where she can live and work independently without anyone's permission.

She loves learning, especially math. She will graduate in May with a degree in mathematics and a minor in economics — having made the president's list every semester since she arrived — and move on to pursue a graduate degree.

She attended college before, first at the University of South Alabama and then the more affordable Bishop State Community College in Mobile. She had been working in a convenience store and at a motel front desk to support herself.

"I started this job with a 1-year-old son, no car, no job," she said of her studies and work at Coastal Georgia where she tutors.

That was after she had fled back to Nepal for a while with three-week-old Garo because she needed her mother's help.

"I didn't know how to bathe a baby. I was scared to hold him," she said. "I always run to her." In her language, Garo means, "My pride."

Back home, however, the pressures resumed.

"A mother's role is to take care of your child. Find a man," they said.

She was instead intent on getting her education, and she came to Coastal Georgia where she admits she was scared having arrived "without touching a book for a decade." Her last math class was pre-calculus in 2004 at Bishop State.

One of her Coastal Georgia professors, German Vargas, a naturalized citizen himself, worked to boost the confidence of a student with little faith in her abilities.

"He said you can take calculus, and you'll be fine," she said.

Vargas put together an online class where she could do some of the homework and classwork to prepare.

Asked how much she finished, Vargas said, "All of the classwork for the entire class." He didn't expect her to, but she did.

While at Coastal Georgia, she has sat in on a lot of classes with students she tutored, said Niki Schmauch, coordinator of Academic Services at the college.

"I stalked her for a year and she finally gave me a job," Bista said.

"It's a proactive learning intervention. They live the experience with the student," Schmauch said.

She attended several Field of Dreams conferences for mathematics each year and eventually applied to Washington University in St. Louis. She wasn't just accepted: She was given a full scholarship for five years worth about $73,000, a stipend of $23,000 a year and health insurance.

"That's a pretty remarkable amount for a college to promise," Schmauch said.

That's also a remarkable leap from College of Coastal Georgia, which conferred its first bachelor's degree of any kind just a few years ago.

Speaking of field of dreams, Bista said of her Washington University scholarship, "I haven't believed that yet. I'll believe it at orientation."

Asked why she chose to become an economist, Bista said, "It is a beautiful application of mathematics to change the economy of the world, not just this country."

That's not all that she wants to change. She wants women in her homeland to know they can do what she did. "They don't know it now, but they will," she said.

She has no doubts she can do it. She said as much in a statement of purpose she had to write.

"I don't give up," she said. "I know someone can take my money, break my heart, but they can't take my education."

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