I want students to bring their whole selves, think and question critically, and become people who are motivated to make an impact on the world.

Coralynn Davis

When Professor Coralynn Davis, women's & gender studies, finished her sophomore year in college, she struggled with burnout and considered transferring, dropping out or studying abroad. Her parents, both academics, encouraged her to study abroad, but only if she chose a location other than Europe. Her choice of Nepal would prove to be life changing.

"My experience in Nepal challenged me to grow because the culture and language are really different," Davis says. "The people I met were so kind, the culture was intriguing, and the landscape was gorgeous. I got hooked."

Davis went on to complete her doctorate in anthropology, writing her dissertation on the cultural politics of women's development in Nepal. In her recently published book Maithil Women's Tales: Storytelling on the Nepal-India Border (2014), she examines the women's storytelling tradition that flourishes against a backdrop of cultural conventions that suppress women's speech and mobility. Davis investigates how Maithil women storytellers harness folk traditions to grapple with social values, behavioral mores, relationships and cosmological questions pertinent to their lived experiences.

"The stories help us understand women's lives in a culture where women are generally quite cloistered," Davis says. "Once they are married, Maithil women in many cases do not leave their homes without a male escort from their families. They may not speak to males who are senior to their husbands, even in their families. Their voices are limited in terms of projecting their ideas into the broader society, yet they tell these elaborate tales to one another. These stories are a way to get a window into women's perspectives and lives."

Older women are usually considered better storytellers because they have had more experiences in their lives, particularly hardships, Davis adds. "They often don't tell a story of their own suffering, but they will tell folk tales rife with characters who face hardship as well as prosperity," she says. The tales offer wisdom about how to survive and thrive in contexts of poverty and constraint."

When Davis shares her Nepal experiences with students, she hopes to encourage learning in a holistic manner. "I don't just want them to have a brain in the classroom. I want them to have a heart and body, too. I want them to bring their whole selves, think and question critically, and become people who are motivated to make an impact on the world."

Updated Sept. 23, 2016