Humans of Northwest: Arpana Pokhrel

Arpana Pokhrel celebrates Diwali Day, or the festival of lights, with a sparkler as part of the Nepalese Student Association’s celebration Nov. 7.

The saying goes, “you are what you eat,” and for senior Arpana Pokhrel, her cooking helps her stay connected to her Nepalese roots and explore the world around her.

“I started cooking and loved it,” Pokhrel said. “I use it to be creative and make stuff. I also watch a lot of videos. I like to eat quality food.”

Pokhrel grew up in the eastern part of Nepal with her parents and older sister.

The Nepal school system runs differently than America’s, beginning earlier and running later into the afternoons, having lunch around 10 a.m. This coupled with the fact both her parents worked until 5 p.m., Pokhrel learned how to start cooking for herself.

“I used to go to school at seven or eight then come back at like three or four. I’d be home by myself, and I’d be hungry,” Pokhrel said. “My mom always prepared a little bit for me. If I was going to make noodles, she’d boil the noodles then let me cook. Then she taught me how to work the stove and everything.”

After the 10th grade, Pokhrel transferred to a sister high school in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. She also attended college in the city.

“My [high] school had a branch in Kathmandu,” Pokhrel said. “We didn’t have a lot of good high schools around where I lived. So I had to go, and my parents were happy.”

Pokhrel went to a university in Nepal for two years before she learned about Northwest from her cousin who previously applied.

“I was going to college back home, and I didn’t like how they were teaching,” Pokhrel said. “I went to kind of like a Catholic school, and I had teachers from all around the world. The teaching and learning styles were completely different from my high school. College was totally different, and I was just like ‘I can’t do this,’ so I talked to my cousin. Then I looked Northwest up, and I really liked it because it was really small. I don’t like big cities.”

Barely making the deadline, she submitted her application. Once she was accepted, she began her process to obtain a visa.

“First I had to get the acceptance from the university,” Pokhrel said. “ Then I went for an interview, and they ask a few questions like ‘Why did you choose this school?’ and ‘How are you going to afford it?’ Then, after the interview, it’s up to the person who did the interview to decide if I get accepted or not. If they accept, then they’re like ‘Hey, welcome to the United States.’ Then they gave me a piece of paper and I had to pay $200, and then I got my visa and passport.”

Since arriving at Northwest, Pokhrel quickly became involved. She is a member of Student Senate as the civic service chair, the International Student Organization and the Nepalese Student Association.

As the civic service chair for Senate, she helps create community service opportunities on campus.

“Civic service hasn’t done much in the past besides the blood drive, which they did a really good job on, but I wanted to to do a little bit more,” Pokhrel said. “Right now, we did our first blood drive and that was a success. We are helping start a food drive to help get food for the food pantry, we are planning to work with Ben’s Stocking of Hope and we’re looking to plan with Sigma Kappa to do their Noise Home.”

Pokhrel’s friend, Spanish and human services senior Shyla Kallhoff, watched her make an impact on campus.

“Arpana has always been outstanding in everything she does,” Kallhoff said. “She’s super involved with the international office and has worked on policy changes to make the university more inclusive to international students.”

One of those policy changes is housing over breaks.

“The old policy used to say that regardless of if you were staying on campus over break you had to pay $20 a night,” Kallhoff said. “Obviously, international students can’t go home as easily as domestic students. She worked with Student Affairs and Residential Life to make it just $20 for the whole break.”

Despite being so far from home, Pokhrel stays close to her roots through her cooking.

“I think it helps me introduce my culture to a lot of my friends,” Pokhrel said. “It also helps me feel at home.”

Pokhrel’s favorite recipe is momos.

“I can’t always find the ingredients I need to cook,” Pokhrel said. “But I’m really famous for my dumplings or momos. I love to cook dumplings.”

Momos, a type of dumpling, are a popular, fast meal in Nepal and Tibet. It’s usually made from a mix of meat and vegetables, though some momos are fairly elaborate with their ingredients. This is then wrapped in dough and either steamed, fried or steam-fried then served with a spicy dipping sauce, usually roasted cherry tomato chutney. No one is sure when momos first came into existence, but it is now a fast and easy meal made with friends and family.

Prohkel likes to share her food and culture with her friends in Maryville.

“I love her momos,” Kallhoff said. “She makes vegetarian ones and pork ones. They’re just a dream.”

However, Pokhrel’s cooking isn’t just dedicated to Nepalese cuisine.

“I like bacon a lot,” Pokhrel said. “I make a lot of bacon. I like spaghetti with alfredo sauce and chicken.”

As Pokhrel continues her studies she plans to continue sharing her culture by sharing her momos and other recipes to her friends.

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