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April 16, 2003

Cultural crash course cut short

From: Democrat and Chronicle, NY - Apr 16, 2003

Shy of degree from local school he must leave U.S.

By Greg Livadas


(April 16, 2003) ? The first day Dawa Lama Sherpa came to the United States, it was Thanksgiving and he thought every American dined daily with two turkeys on the table.

Far from the remote village in Nepal where his father worked as a yak farmer, Sherpa?s first visit to a grocery store took hours as he paused to look at items he never knew existed, such as mouthwash and packaged pet food.

??Which are the sweet ones??? he asked after seeing there was more than one variety of apple.

He?s learned so much in the past 16 months, but this afternoon, Sherpa, 20, heads home to Nepal, where he will be reunited with family and friends.

??I?m excited. I?m looking forward to seeing my friends back home and see my parents,?? he said. ??But I don?t want to stay home. I?ll go back to Katmandu to find something to do.??

Finding a job is not easy for deaf people, like Sherpa, in Nepal, where deaf people aren?t even allowed to drive. If he?s lucky, he might manage a billiard hall or get a job taking tourists on treks, he says.

Continuing his education there is not an option -- deaf people in Nepal don?t go to college.

Although he never intended to stay in the United States, his trip home is about two months earlier than planned. In March, he received a letter from the federal government saying his application for a student visa had been denied. He was told to leave the country immediately.

Sherpa was 9 years old when Irene Taylor Brodsky, a Brighton native, visited Nepal to write about the significant deaf population there. Sherpa was pictured in her book.

Years later, a California teacher on a spiritual quest visited Nepal and recognized Sherpa from the book. He bought a plane ticket for Sherpa so he could visit the United States and teach other deaf people about Buddhism.

Brodsky, a producer for the CBS television network, agreed to meet Sherpa in New York City. But it became evident that Sherpa needed better communication skills. So he came to Brighton to live with Brodsky?s deaf parents, Paul and Sally Taylor, who immersed Sherpa in the local deaf community. He became fluent in American Sign Language in a month or two.

?He?s more animated with communication with us because he can express himself with ASL,? Sally Taylor said.

Brodsky suggested that Sherpa volunteer at Rochester School for the Deaf. When the Taylors asked the school whether he could volunteer, officials allowed him to enroll. He couldn?t stay longer than six months on his tourist visa but was told he could stay longer if he applied for a student visa while the paperwork was being processed.

In March 2002, Sherpa enrolled in Rochester School for the Deaf, staying in the dorms during the week and coming home to Brighton on weekends.

?He knows a lot of American history, more than a lot of college students,? Sally Taylor said.

This year, he worked on the yearbook and intended to play Charlie Chaplin in a school variety show in May.

Everest of red tape

In July, immigration officials denied Sherpa?s student visa, saying it lacked information from the Brighton school district, Sherpa?s home district since he was living with the Taylors. Sally Taylor believed it was straightened out, and Sherpa reapplied for the student visa in August.

In March, the Taylors received a form letter from the government saying that Sherpa?s request was denied and he was to leave the country. There would be no problem leaving, but he?d be ineligible to return to the United States for three years and faced a 10-year ban if he stayed longer, they were told.

?Education is so exemplary of the best of what America has to offer someone with a disability, what they don?t get in Nepal,? Brodsky said. ?If he leaves just two months shy of his degree, it?s just so frustrating.?

Taylor called the regional immigration office in Vermont, and after being put on hold for more than an hour on two occasions she was told that Sherpa had to leave immediately, Taylor said.

?I asked if he could stay to finish school to graduate in June and was told ?No. Immediately,? ? Taylor said.

An immigration spokesman in Washington told the Democrat and Chronicle on Friday that the appeal could possibly be reopened. The spokesman did not return repeated calls this week for additional information.

But it was too late to change plans for Sherpa?s return. His plane ticket has been purchased, and his family has been notified to make the daylong trip from their village to Katmandu to meet him.

On Friday, friends and teachers at Rochester School for the Deaf gave him a farewell party at school, along with a certificate of study -- a piece of paper he can take to Nepal -- but not a diploma that says he graduated.

?Dawa was a very good student and learned ASL and English very quickly,? said Harold Mowl, the School for the Deaf superintendent, who said Sherpa quickly became a member of the school family. ?We?re sad to see him leave.?

American memories

Sherpa is sad to leave Rochester but has wonderful memories, such as visiting Niagara Falls, spending the summer at the Taylors? cottage and taking over the steering wheel on their pickup truck on a deserted highway one night.

?He?s just like another child in the house,? Paul Taylor said. ?He is very polite, well-behaved and tried to make us happy.?

And though he?s a Buddhist, Sherpa enjoyed exchanging gifts at Christmas. He loves Wendy?s french fries but doesn?t care whether he ever inline skates or goes skiing again.

In his spare time, he enjoyed surfing on the Internet and watching TV -- ?soccer and fighting movies, anything with action,? Sherpa said. ?The more action, the better.?

This week, he spent much of the day packing, finding ways to take home 11 pairs of footwear for himself and his friends back in Nepal.

And he expressed gratitude to his American ?parents.?

?Thank you for taking me in and giving me the experience of America,? Sherpa told the Taylors. ?You helped me a lot.?

Copyright 2003 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.