Blazing Sun Of The East

August 8, 2013 , by Sewa Bhattarai, Leave your thoughts

Dr. Surya Subedi is a professor of International Law at Leeds University, UK. Currently United Nation’s special Rapporteur for Cambodia, he is one of only eight such country-specific UN experts. He is alumni of the University of Oxford, and also a member of Human Rights Advisory Group to the British Foreign Secretary.

Surya Subedi (PPP)

Dr. Surya Subedi never planned to settle abroad. At first he just went to the UK for a master’s degree because there was no Masters degree in Law in Nepal at that time. He even returned to Nepal after his doctoral degree, but went back in order to excel in life through higher education. “I realised that it was difficult to develop myself as a proper professional with a high degree of integrity in Nepal at the time” says Dr. Subedi. His career grew in leaps and bounds as he went on to do a doctoral degree in UK, then to teach at University of Leeds, become member of advisory team to British Foreign Ministry, and elected unanimously to become UN’s special rapporteur for Cambodia. 

Though his success story may look like a fairytale, like every student abroad Dr. Subedi faced a lot of struggles at the beginning. He had to learn not only general English but also technical legal English as well as law all at the same time. It became even harder when, in the middle of his doctoral studies, his two children were born. Even though Dr. Subedi considers securing admission with a scholarship to Oxford for his doctoral degree and passing the PhD with a prize for an outstanding thesis the most significant step in his career, it was also his toughest phase. He credits the Oxford degree for opening many doors and making him a confident person. But having to support the family with a single scholarship while trying to finish his degree in three years, because that was how long the scholarship lasted, was a challenge.  

When asked how his struggles were different from those of colleagues, Dr. Subedi replied that many of his native colleagues lacked vision, stamina, determination, dedication and commitment. “I am not after small things and petty gains. I look far and work accordingly. Above all, I maintain a high level of personal and professional integrity which is very much valued in the West” he further explained. Being an Asian youth, he came from a system designed to apply the knowledge produced by others. As a result, he also had to struggle to fit in the British education system, which is designed to produce thinkers and creators. “I also am fortunate to be living in a liberal country such as the UK which is largely a meritocratic and competitive society where my work has been recognized by my university and the government” said Dr. Subedi, thus giving his host country a part of the credit for his success. 

But Dr. Subedi attributes most of his success in UK to his drive, to the fact that he took his responsibilities seriously, and wanted to go as high as possible. He wanted to prove that a Nepali can perform well in the international arena if he/she is given an opportunity. He was born in an academic family where his parents gave him the freedom to explore everything, including student politics. He even remembers going to prison twice for fighting for democracy and human rights. Dr. Subedi took inspiration from his father, an educationalist with a universal vision, and his eldest brother, an academic who gave him support and guidance during his law degree in Nepal. For the latter part of his life, he has shared his success with his wife, who he calls ‘the Rock for the foundation of my achievements’. “She herself is well educated, understands my aspirations and knows my abilities. Hence, she has been a good wife, a trusted friend and a true companion in the journey of my life” he finished. 

Culture shock was a big problem at first. But Dr. Subedi overcame that by making as many friends as possible from a diverse background and cultures and learning from them. He was always willing to admit his limitations and seek help. That is a formula that he still swears by! But because he was brought up in a multicultural environment believing in universal values, he was open to ideas and receptive of alternative perspectives, which helped him to make friends from different countries to lead a rewarding life. He also credits his openness to his willingness to rise out of narrow nationalism and old-fashioned hill Brahminism. 

Today, he thinks it is very important to hold onto cultural roots, but also at the same time to have a global outlook and universal values. These are the values that he tries to inculcate in his family. “I tell our children to be good citizens of the world, do decent and honorable things in life and have a sense of duty to others, to the nation and to the community around you.” Said Dr. Subedi of the values he cherishes. He considers himself a religious person, but also a global citizen. “Doing good to yourself by doing good to the world” is his motto. 

Having lived abroad for so long, Dr. Subedi has acquired quite an insight into the life on Nepalis living abroad. When asked what he would like to say to NRN youth, he responded that they should not forget their nation and roots. “They can act as goodwill ambassadors for Nepal and by staying loyal and connected to Nepal. They can act as role models and help the nation by investing their skills, knowledge and money” he says of the positive contribution that NRN youth can make to the country. He further advises them to specialize instead of going after general knowledge. “You should not try to know something about everything, but everything about something” said Dr. Subedi, while adding that this helps youth aspire high and excel. And while they are at it, they should learn a high level of work ethic, honesty, integrity and a desire to fight for good causes from western countries. 

Their race should not be a limitation, as long as they compete on an equal footing, as Dr. Subedi has done. “We live in a global village where talents are bound to be recognized” said Dr. Subedi, words which are inspiring to any honest and ambitious student. But for Nepali students to be confident of competing in the global arena, we must “instill hope in the future and the nation and above all, keep education out of politics and improve the quality of education.” 

One would have thought that an OBE (Order of the British Empire) from the Queen of England would be achievement enough for a lifetime. But Dr. Subedi has no plans to rest on his laurels. For him his career so far is just the prelude, he believes he has prepared himself all his life to work for Nepal and promote Nepal’s national interests. All these years, he has kept up his student days’ enthusiasm for politics alive by reading widely about Nepal and writing articles for newspapers. He visits Nepal frequently, and one day plans to go back to Nepal to take part in active politics. He believes most of our leaders are not truly patriotic, lack vision and wisdom, and do not work for the long-term interests of the nation. “Most of them lack the qualities of a statesman. They are so busy running after petty things for their family and party that they forget the interest of the nation” he explained, adding that this is the reason when he returns to Nepal, he aims to clean up politics, revive and revitalize the nation, and basically rescue the nation from the damage that current generation of politicians are doing to Nepal.

After all these years, Nepal still feels like home, because he has no problem of reverse culture shock in Nepal, which many NRNs speak of after living for a considerable time abroad. “That maybe because though I am physically far away from Nepal, my mind is always there” he muses. 



Interview Conducted, Condensed and Edited by Sewa Bhattarai
Image Sources: AP and http://kh-spy.blogspot.com

  • Surya Subedi - Image source AP
  • Surya Subedi (PPP)
  • Surya Subedi (PPP)

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