Niraj: An Academic’s March Towards Excellence

November 12, 2014 , by Aayesha Rai Gurung, 3 Comments
Niraj: An Academic’s March Towards Excellence » My Dreams Mag
Niraj Gurung is the one among many Nepalese abroad breaking the stereotypes. Heading towards a foreign land following a response from a reputed University at a city where dollar weighs heavier than any other currency, abroad education has been an investment for a majority. The investment is expected to give return only after decade-long disguise of a workaholic. But for Gurung the exile from his native land means a leap towards excellence that began with a departure from his hometown Pokhara in 2006 to the handling of multi-million dollar project in Australia.

A humble man from a simple family, Niraj has been successful in doing what he loves gathering recognition for it. Gurung lives in Darwin with his family and was recently awarded the Northern Engineering Excellence Award (NEEA) for outstanding performance over the successful handling of a $14 million IMPEX project. He shared his story, his vision on education and his dreams with us.

He called me exactly at 4:OO PM on Skype as we had agreed. His punctuality was enough to come to a conclusion that he was the man of his words. As the conversation began, he began with a customary introduction and divulged how he grew up in Pokhara. "I was the youngest of four siblings. A very good student. As I grew up with my brothers studying at higher levels, I knew from a very young age that education was important,” said Niraj.

After completing high school from Pokhara, Niraj pursued Bachelors in Civil Engineering from Nepal Engineering College in Bhaktapur. A proactive person coupled with the curiosity of a child, he worked at Pokhara Metropolitan Office for three years right after finishing his Bachelor studies in 2003.

“When I worked at the Metropolitan Office, I had the hunger to study more. I wanted to pursue Masters Degree education in Australia. My wife and I were granted visas. However, my daughter Sabhyata, who was only six months old back then, did not have a visa. It was hearbreaking when we have to leave for Australia leaving her in her grandparents’ care”

We Nepalese live with a misconception that people working in foreign land have their fortunes turned around earning millions right from the onset. What we don’t see is the struggle each and every individual has gone through in ‘bidesh’ (foreign land). Niraj was not an exception.

“It was difficult. A new land, completely foreign to us. We did speak English but the accent made it difficult to comprehend things communicated from the opposite side. But language itself was not the problem. We faced hardships economically speaking, too. My wife used to work all day for a year and a half, until I finally completed Masters in Engineering Management.”

A part-time job at the Department of Infrastructure transformed into a full-time job after his family obtained Permanent Residency in 2008. His career began to soar and he climbed higher into the office hierarchy, one level at a time. By 2011, he was assigned the project manager for a $15 million project. “The project also coincided with my son Sampurna’s birth. Both our children are very lucky to us!," he beamed across my screen.

When asked about his responsibilities there, he explained: “I was in charge of daily supervision, balance of finances, cross-checking and timely completion. We were building a road in the busiest intersection of Darwin. It was hectic, honestly speaking. A lot of work needed to be done during the night with heavy traffic making the work even tougher. I would often go home after a day at work only to get a call asking me to visit site to fix problems. But we pulled it off!”

The NEEA President Award is awarded to the engineering project with the best management regarding time, cost and quality. Niraj got the better of 15 other nominations to walk away with award for his project for IMPEX. “It felt great when we received the award. I felt proud that day. That day, I felt that all my hard work – coming from Nepal and competing with the locals here in Northern Territory — had come to fruition. I felt pride swelling in me because there was a Nepali among them. It was an amazing feeling.”

A completely different facet of Gurung began to show itself midway to our conversation. As much as he is achieving unchartered heights in his career, he is also a family man. He talked fondly about his children dragging towards his perspective of education.

“Sabhyata (his daughter) is learning so much at school. What I have noticed after coming to Australia is that the approach to education here is completely different compared to Nepal. She goes to school and learns life skills at school through out of course activities. The education system here really tries to boost confidence in kids. I was taught differently when I was her age; tons of homework and forced memorization. Sadly, nothing has changed and her cousins studying in Nepal are learning the same conventional way.”

“The elementary school is just a base. When I first attended my Masters Degree class, I was nothing short of shocked. It took me a bit of getting used to the way things were taught here. They have a practical approach to teaching and it really gets etched in your mind. There is so much more to learning than memorizing the syllabus. Nepali students have yet to come to terms with various aspects of learning. Nepal really needs to update its education system.”

Gurung is also an active member (founder) of the Nepalese Society in Northern Territory. “When my wife and I came to Australia in 2006, we were the third and fourth Nepalese here. The number has since then inflated to 1200. We realised that we needed a body with proper structure. Nepalese Association in Northern Territory (NANT) was then founded. We basically try to help each other and guide our new friends. We are one big family.”

Sabhyata is now learning to read and write in Nepali. “NANT has been conducting Nepali reading and writing classes for kids so that they do not lose touch with our culture. Adults in the association themselves teach the children.” With the world running frantically trying to learn all sorts of exotic languages, it really makes you realise how revered our language is when you learn about these little kids learning Nepali every weekend.

As we came to an end of our Skype rendezvous, I had to ask him the most clichéd question of all times asked to NRNs all over the world — “So when do you plan to come back to Nepal for good?" He replies with a wistful smile: “I love my country and I miss my home. However, the instability of the nation is dire. Maybe when my kids grow up and are independent, I would love to come home. I would love to do what I can for my country.”

Words by Aayesha Rai Gurung

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Categorised in: Interviews, People, Technology

3 comments on “Niraj: An Academic’s March Towards Excellence

  1. Niraj says:

    Thank you Ayesha..

  2. prabin says:

    proud to her your success Niraj Dai…….congratulation kept it on.

  3. JS says:

    Congratulation Er. Niraj and proud to be Ex-NEC, Duwakot

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