By Dr. Jaclyn Fowler
Department Chair, English, School of Arts, Humanities and Education
It was the most unlikely of happenings. Based on the population of Nepal, the chances of winning the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, which allows people to enter the United States with a green card, was less than .011%. Each year, only a few people are chosen from Nepal’s population of 26.4 million.
But unbelievably, Keshab Kattel’s fiancé, Puja Timsina, a news reporter in Kathmandu at the time, won this particular lottery. When she called to tell him the news, he couldn’t believe his ears.
Keshab said, “She gave me the website, and I checked it.” However, Keshab didn’t trust his own eyes, so he called on a family member to confirm the news.
Because there is not enough opportunity for a better future in Nepal, Keshab encouraged his fiancé to take the chance to move to the United States. But Puja Timsina was not having it. She said, “If you’re not going, I’m not going. I’m not going to do my struggle over there by myself.”
The Kattels married in Nepal before boarding a plane for the first time in their lives. It was the first of many new journeys they would face together.
Leaving Nepal wasn’t an easy decision, however. Keshab is one of 10 siblings. “When we’re together, there are around 40 people in the house,” he laughs. “I am the only person from my family outside Nepal. It’s hard.”
Although Keshab admits he misses his home especially during times of Hindu festivals, he loves the United States. “Everything is my favorite!” he says about his new country.
Adjusting to American Life in Texas
When they arrived in Austin, Texas, the Kattels were surprised by how hard it was to understand their new neighbors. Although both had studied English – Puja Timsina was an English literature major at university, in fact – Keshab admitted that “everything was different when people were speaking; I didn’t understand what they were saying.”
After a few weeks in Austin, however, he and his wife found a big Nepali community. With the help of fellow expatriates, they were better able to negotiate the culture and expectations of their new country. Slowly, the Kattels began to adjust to their new environment.
Joining the Military
After almost two years of working in a factory, Keshab began to think more about his future plans. “What can we do to secure our future?” he asked his wife one day. Part of his plan was “to do something for this country, too.”
Keshab had always wanted to be a soldier. And once the idea took root, he knew it was the right move.
Although Keshab had to convince his wife, he finally joined the United States Army. He says, “Now I am here serving this country as a United States armed forces servicemember.”
Keshab’s transformation from civilian to U.S. soldier was not easy. But just like in Austin, there was at least one soldier from Nepal wherever he went in the military, and that made his adjustment a bit easier.
“They helped me to do things,” Keshab says. For example, in the beginning of basic training, it took him 25 minutes to run a mile. But with hard work and the help of his new friends, Keshab could run two miles in 14 minutes by the end of training.
It’s just one of many tangible changes that Keshab has faced in the transition to his new life. Just recently, he decided to take a new educational journey and pursue a degree in cybersecurity at American Military University.
Related link: Infrastructure Cybersecurity Should Become a Priority
Pursuing a Cybersecurity Degree
On his way to a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, Keshab is currently taking the “Making Writing Relevant” (ENGL110) course. In a post for this class, Keshab introduced himself to his peers by speaking about his home country, noting, “It’s a beautiful country by nature, but they don’t have enough opportunity for a better future.”
Taking the steps to prepare for a different future was the reason Keshab decided to pursue a cybersecurity degree, and it is the reason he works as hard as he does. But Keshab is still working on improving his communication skills. “When I read an article,” he explains, “I don’t fully understand it. I use Google Translate for every single paragraph.”
Keshab notes, “I don’t feel like I’m failing, or I’m not scared about the failure.” Instead, he is strongly committed to his studies.
With hard work, Keshab will complete his degree, which is a long-held dream and one that may not have happened in his native village in eastern Nepal. Thirteen years ago, Keshab Kattel had to give up his dream of a degree when he gave up his share of tuition for his older brother’s education. He says, “I’m glad to be here to complete my education.”
Professor Terri Poff, Keshab’s instructor for “Making Writing Relevant,” reports that Keshab has “the heart of a learner and the discipline and the vision of what is good about America.” To illustrate her point, she has a story about the time her students were discussing plagiarism. She notes that Keshab once expressed the sentiment of “Why would you plagiarize? You’re cheating yourself out of learning.”
According to Professor Poff, that was the first time she had heard such a point made by a student in her many years of teaching. Of Keshab, she says: “He REALLY wants to learn the way that we wish all our students did. He doesn’t just see it as more money or an obligation or a ‘right.’ It is an absolute privilege and gift to him.”
And it shows. In ENGL110, Keshab spends as much time as he can learning how to write because it “is a skill to share information and ideas in an effective and permanent way.”
By focusing on gaining new knowledge as a cybersecurity major, Keshab Kattel is mapping out his part of the American dream. We’re doing our best to help him achieve that dream.