2022 International Awards: Hima Rawal

Homer Higbee International Education Award

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Published: Wednesday, 23 Mar 2022 Author: Veronica Gracia-Wing

Hima Rawal • Graduate Assistant, The Graduate School; Ph.D. Candidate, Second Language Studies Program, Department of Linguistics, Languages, and Cultures, College of Arts & Letters 

Headshot of Hima Rawal
Hima Rawal

In her capacity as a student, volunteer, graduate assistant, mother and leader, Hima Rawal works to bridge gaps that promote cultural understanding, helping individuals recognize the importance of global awareness. She is an exceptional example of the qualities associated with the Homer Higbee International Education Award.

Rawal is a doctoral candidate in Second Language Studies in the Department of Linguistics, Languages, and Cultures. She also currently works as a graduate assistant for the Graduate School. Hima fosters graduate student inclusion and interconnectedness through her roles as co-host of GTA Teaching & Learning Community sessions and as a Graduate School Leadership and Hub Fellow. 

In addition, she serves on MSU’s Global DEI Task Force, and actively participates in Trauma Services and Training Network’s trauma-informed teaching team. Rawal has served as a graduate student representative in the College of Arts and Letters’ College Graduate Committee, College Curriculum Committee, and College Advisory Council. 

Rawal has represented her international and multicultural identities as the President of Nepalese Students' Association at MSU and the Community Volunteers for International Programs. Her volunteer work includes teaching English to immigrant youth and adults in the Refugee Development Center’s GLOBE program and throughout the Lansing area. 

Rawal earned a Master of Arts degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Michigan State University under a Fulbright Foreign Student Scholarship and a master’s of education in English Education from Tribhuvan University in Nepal. 

—An interview with Hima Rawal—

What led you to Michigan State University? 

Two Spartans whom I admired immensely had helped me feel a sense of belonging even before I applied to Michigan State University as a Fulbright student from Nepal. One of them was Jai Raj Awasthi, Ph.D., a former Fulbright scholar, MSU alumnus, and professor at Tribhuvan University in Nepal who shared with us his wonderful experiences about MSU upon his return to Nepal in a master’s level course he taught. Second, Susan Mary Gass, Ph.D., a University Distinguished Professor at MSU, had gone the extra mile to send me hard copies of her articles knowing that I had very limited access to the internet. In addition, I was planning to bring my two children with me and, therefore, I was looking for a campus community with a very diverse student population that mirrored the global world. And I found my home away from home, a big yet familial space for me to thrive at personal and academic levels.

What was one of the first service or engagement opportunities you took advantage of?

One of the first service or engagement opportunities I took advantage of was volunteering after my first year in the master’s program teaching English to immigrant adults at the Capital Area District Library in Lansing. I co-taught a group of more than 20 adult immigrants from different parts of the world, who ranged from illiterate to college graduates, both having no to very little communicative skills in English to navigate their day-to-day life and transition to their professional lives. It was one of the most wonderful opportunities I had ever had to interact with those amazing souls who were among the wisest and kindest people I had ever known. Ever since, I have tried my best to share with and learn from youth and adults from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds in various settings. I always receive more wisdom, compassion, and kindness than I imagine in such spaces.

A multicultural group of smiling people posing for the camera, some are flashing peace signs.
Gaining Learning Opportunities through better English (GLOBE) Team. 
What motivates your leadership and involvement in your community? 

For me, leadership is one of the many important concepts I had to unlearn and relearn through the process of being willing to know and practice my most authentic self. My understanding of leadership has gradually shifted from an authoritative to collaborative process. 

During my graduate studies, I have been fortunate enough to see great models of leaders who are authentic and humble and who believe in empowering those they work with. One such example for me is Stefanie Baier, Ph.D., the director of Graduate and Postdoctoral Instructional Development at the Graduate School, with whom I have worked for about two years in graduate teaching assistants’ teaching and learning community. When I see her really practicing what she preaches about empowering graduate teaching assistants in their roles, I learn that leadership is more than lip service and holding a position. In my current Leadership Development Fellowship, I am working with another international graduate student in understanding international graduate students’ help-seeking behaviors in leveraging mental health resources on campus. 

From all these experiences and my role as a parent invested in mindful and conscious parenting, I can say that leadership means how I help others see greatness and authenticity in themselves while continuously working on myself. This might even mean pivoting to slightly different approaches and perspectives if the existing ones do not align with my evolving selves.

Of all the programs and activities you’ve been a part of, which do you think has best promoted international understanding? 

In February 2022, I co-presented a session on “Graduate Student Roles: How to Navigate, Prevent, and Address Harmful Situations and Harassment” at Prevention, Outreach, and Education’s graduate student symposium. We approached the topic from multicultural perspectives in terms of power dynamics, gender roles, and cross-cultural understanding of trauma-informed teaching. Since all three presenters embody a myriad of international experiences and hold different roles at MSU, the entire process of conceptualizing, preparing, and presenting was one of the most enjoyable and enriching journeys for me. To continue cultivating, nurturing, and expanding international understanding of cultural differences and power dynamics, we intend to convene again soon in planning workshops and creating spaces where people share with and learn from each other the importance of international understanding.

A woman and her two young children smile for the camera dressed in traditional Nepalese clothing.
Rawal with her children at MSU's Global Festival.
In your program and event experiences, what have you observed as areas with room for improvement? 

There have been so many times and spaces where I have not seen more than one or two international student attendees. In such situations, I wonder what the reasons might be. I would like to request the organizers of every program and activity to reflect and ask themselves: “Who is missing?” while keeping in mind the huge international student population at MSU.

What impact do you hope your work in advancing international awareness has on the communities and people you work with?

I see my roles in advancing international awareness from four different but interrelated works. First, through my dissertation, I am studying immigrant youth’s linguistic, cultural, and emotional understandings in navigating their high school mainstream classes for their overall success and continuation of postsecondary education. I intend to collaborate with high school counselors and teachers in creating dialogues and conversations around resources to help immigrant youth in K-12 settings and to adopt asset-based teaching. 

Second, in my role as a graduate assistant, I help plan and prepare the international GTA orientation and identify important resources to support international students professionally, socially, and emotionally. 

Third, I am committed to promote international awareness through my work in the learning community of MSU’s Trauma Services and Training Network. While understanding trauma in itself can be difficult for anyone, international students who speak languages other than English tend to struggle more in seeking help to heal their traumas due to linguistic and cultural barriers. So, I intend to continue having conversations around making the trauma-informed teaching resources culturally responsive. 

Last but not least, in my role as a graduate student representative on the Global DEI Task Force, I hope to continue engaging in conversations on making DEI training for students more culturally relevant and in raising awareness of international understanding through language and images used in various spaces.

“I have tried my best to share with and learn from youth and adults from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds in various settings, helping others see greatness and authenticity in themselves while continuously working on myself. I always receive more wisdom, compassion, and kindness than I imagine in such spaces.”
Why is cross-cultural understanding important to you? 

Building cross-cultural understanding is a must in today’s global world with interconnectedness manifesting in ways never conceived before. At a personal level, cross-cultural understanding is very important to me for acknowledging and perceiving diverse cultures as they are without adding judgmental layers based on my implicit biases. The more I understand different cultures, the humbler I become. Through my interactions and informal meetings with people from different cultural backgrounds, I have been able to notice and explore some of my core values such as compassion, knowledge, respect, and vulnerability at deeper levels than ever before.

My two children have been two of my best teachers and co-learners in our collective growth, and practice of gratitude. From what I am becoming and what I am doing in my research, teaching, community service, and leadership, I hope my children learn to advocate for themselves and to be allies to those who need them. In addition, I hope my children cultivate cultural humility in continued and reflective ways.

In what ways has MSU made an impact on your role as a Global Spartan?

I had become a Spartan in my heart even before MSU accepted me for my graduate program. Looking back, my incessant dream to come to MSU from Nepal had ignited a force of energy in me that gave me strength to overcome many obstacles and paved a path with a green carpet as beautiful as the landscape of the campus. 

During my two graduate programs here at MSU, I have had ample opportunities to strengthen myself as a Global Spartan through teaching, research, and service. Through my role as a graduate teaching assistant for six semesters, I have been able to extend critical multilingual language awareness and evidence-based pedagogical practices. 

Through multiple research projects, I have been able to learn and share international perspectives on language teacher education and sociolinguistics of the global South. 

In addition, all the opportunities to volunteer and serve on various committees and cohort fellowships have instilled in me the sense of leading through collaborating and empowering my fellow citizens of the global world. I hope to put into practice everything I have learned here at MSU to continue advocating for those who benefit from my knowledge and skills. I am fortunate to be a Global Spartan. Once a Spartan, always a Spartan!

Nominated by: Stefanie Baier, Ph.D., Director of Graduate Student and Postdoc Instructional Development, The Graduate School

“Words don’t seem to do justice to the actions and the holistic approach Hima has taken in drawing attention to the value of intercultural competency at so many levels...Her mindful and observant ways of seeing beyond the surface of experiences have broadened and continue to broaden the horizons of many who are fortunate to meet her.” 
- Stefanie Baier

The Homer Higbee International Education Award recognizes MSU students and other individuals who have made significant contributions to the support of international awareness at Michigan State University through involvement in programs that promote cross-cultural understanding on campus and in the community. Recipients receive a cash award, but financial need is not a criterion for nomination.