CROOKSTON, Minn. - From the small country of Nepal, Lhakpa Gurung 2011 was looking for a place to study in the United States and knew she wanted to be a teacher for young children. She is ambitious, persistent, and always gives 100% when it comes to working with kids. “When I knew UMC had the early childhood education program, I really thought, ‘Okay, this is the right school for me,’” she said. After coming to this conclusion, she informed her advisor in Nepal and this was the only school she applied to. In August of 2007, Gurung remembers arriving in the small town of Crookston at midnight. The dark sky prevented her from seeing her surroundings until the next day so the culture shock had to wait until morning. One of the biggest things that surprised her was the flat landscape, as she was used to seeing mountains in her home country.

During her time at UMN Crookston, Gurung participated in a variety of activities. She was a student teacher in the Early Childhood Development Center on campus and worked as a community adviser in Centennial and Skyberg residence halls. Those positions helped her come out of her shell and build leadership skills during her formative years of college. She was also a member of the Multi-International Club (MIC) and enjoyed spending time with this group. Her involvement on campus was because of, and also contributed to, the warm and welcoming community. That was her favorite part about campus. “I knew everyone in the community, starting from the administration to the custodian,” she said. Gurung considers UMN Crookston to be the best school she could’ve imagined for herself. It felt like family.

Not only did she feel connected to the school, but also to the Crookston community. Just like all on-campus clubs do, MIC would take on community service projects together. She specifically remembers volunteering at the Villa St. Vincent, a local nursing home and assisted living facility. Sometimes they would teach the residents something new, such as how to use computers. During other visits, they would simply spend time conversing with the residents to keep them company. They got to know each other over time, and Gurung found this to be a memorable part of her college experience. Little moments like this contributed to her overall feeling of comfort and connection in Crookston.

In Nepal, they don’t have a lot of emphasis on sports and wishes she had those opportunities there, especially after seeing the significance of athletics on campus. She envied the volleyball players and basketball girls, and considers herself jealous in a positive way. She also found great inspiration from her female professors, such as Soo-Yin Lim-Thompson, Marsha Odom, and Marilyn Grave. Having a small group of faculty who knew her well helped her move forward in her education and career. She wants to acknowledge her deep appreciation for her early childhood education friends, her international friends who have graduated and moved across the world, and all of the faculty and staff members who contributed to her success. Gurung found great inspiration from Stacey Grunewald, Rae French, Tom Baldwin, Kim Gillette, Laurie Wilson, Vicki Svedarsky, Don Cavalier, Sandy Desrosier, Gary Willhite, and Kristi Jacobson.

After four years, Gurung felt she grew so much personally and professionally because of UMN Crookston and the many influential people she had met. She graduated in May 2011, and is part of a multi-generational legacy at the University of Minnesota Crookston. She has many family members who have attended UMN Crookston including her brother, Tashi Wongdi Gurung 2013, along with three cousins Yangchen Dolker Gurung 2012, Gyaltso Gurung 2013, and Tseten Chockey Gurung who currently attends. Gurung explains how her family’s continued attendance speaks for itself when it comes to the impact the University of Minnesota Crookston had on her life.

Having a strong foundation from UMN Crookston helped her find success in elementary education. After graduating, she worked in Minneapolis at an early childcare center for one year. The center had a location in New York, where Gurung had family, so she relocated there. After three years, she came across her current job. While at first it was difficult to find a teaching job in New York because she had a Minnesota teaching license and most of her connections were in Minnesota, she found those so-called ‘obstacles’ actually gave her an advantage. A lot of the teachers she works with are from the same university. Having a degree from Minnesota, especially the University of Minnesota, was really valuable and helped her get to the next step.

She has been working for the past five years as an early childhood teacher at a small, independent, and progressive school in New York City that has been operating for over 100 years. The classrooms are modern with a familiar feeling of home, and one of Gurung’s favorite things is the way children get to be children. A lot of the projects she does with them are open-ended. She loves seeing the way they approach the materials. For example, they often use blocks. At the beginning, some of them will just stack one or two blocks on top of each other. Over time they get more creative, and are now building beds for baby dolls with these same blocks.

She loves bringing her culture into the classroom. “As a teacher you have that power to represent diversity and to give them awareness of other cultures and ethnicities,” said Gurung. Books, songs, and movement are significant in her methods. Music is special in that she feels she can introduce her culture by singing folk songs in her language, Nepali/Tibetan, and the children will still enjoy it. She also uses a madal, which is a two-sided drum.

When she’s not teaching, Gurung enjoys spending time with her large family of six siblings and spends time exploring the area. An advantage of living in NYC is being able to do so many things without needing a car because she can walk, take the bus, or ride the subway. There is always something going on and she likes visiting parks, art museums, and attending local functions.

Gurung was thrilled to participate in an interview like this one because she wants to give back and contribute to UMN Crookston. “Maybe somebody will read my story and will get inspired. Of course it might not inspire everyone, but even if it inspires a person, I think it’s helpful. Doing an interview and hearing my story after school—if it benefits someone in the community, definitely,” she said.

Gurung wishes she was closer to Minnesota so she could come back more often, but plans to visit when her cousin graduates in two years, and she stays up to date by following the campus Instagram page. Even from far away, Gurung continues to stay connected and reminisce on the warm community of UMN Crookston.

Story Contact: Shawn Smith - - (218) 281-8414