A U.S. diplomat for thirteen years now, Garrett Wilkerson works for Ambassador Dean Thompson as the Public Affairs Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal. He has previously served at the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh, the United Kingdom, South Korea, The Bahamas. Hailing from the state of Oregon, he has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas A&M and a master’s degree in political communication from the University of Kent at Brussels, Belgium. He has a passion for culture and art, so living in Kathmandu has been like a dream for him. He is joined here by his husband Niels and their diplo cat Mintu, who has moved all over the world with him since his time in Bangladesh.
What does the job description look like under your portfolio?
I lead the U.S. Embassy’s team focused on public engagement in Nepal, including cultural events, exchange programs, social media and press. It is fun and exciting work, and I have the best team of American and Nepali colleagues.
How is Nepal treating you and what do you think are some of the opportunities here from your perspective?
Living in Nepal has been an amazing experience. I really appreciate how warm and hospitable Nepalis are, and your strong respect for cultural heritage. Also, your celebration of diversity is an enviable quality I have not seen in many countries. I think the world, including the United States, has a lot to learn from Nepal regarding your respect for human rights and your interest in building a society which includes and values all of your citizens.
How are you contributing to strengthen the ties between the two countries?
My team and I are focused on promoting strong ties between the people of the United States and Nepal, which has remained strong for over 75 years. We work hard to address disinformation about the United States and our commitment to supporting Nepal’s sovereignty and democratic values. And I think we have a great story to tell about our friendship. From helping eradicate malaria in the Terai, to restoring cultural monuments like Gaddi Baithak following the 2015 earthquake, the U.S. and Nepal have stood together through thick and thin. It’s exciting to play a small role in continuing this amazing legacy of partnership.
How does the U.S. Embassy view economic partnership in Nepal?
We are excited to have an American Chamber of Commerce established in Nepal and have been working closely with them to host important conversations with business and government leaders to identify ways to further strengthen our economic ties. The U.S. Government is very interested in ways to improve the ease of business in Nepal and support Nepal’s economic development at this pivotal point in time.
Are there any initiatives to support education exchange for Nepali students?
Yes, absolutely. We’re interested in providing reliable, accurate information about studying in the United States through our EducationUSA team at the Fulbright Commission in Kathmandu. I am excited to announce that the number of Nepali students studying in the United States has increased by 5.6 % over last year, totaling 11,779. Nepal is the 12th leading place of origin for students traveling to the United States for higher education. We also support Nepali Fulbright scholars studying at our best universities in the United States, and other exchange programs which bring Nepalis to the United States to get first-hand experience with our approach to higher education. We are proud of the impressive number of alumni of U.S. universities here in Kathmandu leading in almost every sector.
Some of the challenges you face?
I really, really wish I spoke Nepali! I studied Bengali before I moved to Dhaka, and Korean before my assignment in Seoul. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have enough time to study before arriving in Kathmandu. I have many Nepali friends, so, I’m trying my best to learn.
Some future projects in the pipeline?
I am very excited for our upcoming public street art program on social inclusion happening later this month with a U.S. artist from Los Angeles,
Any past experience with any of the projects that you think gave you a lot of insight?
I have had many memorable experiences during my time in Nepal. Standing with the LGBTQI+ community during the 2022 Gai Jatra Pride Parade and Concert was an honor I will never forget. Beyond Kathmandu, I have had the privilege of traveling to Mustang to visit cultural heritage sites where the United States government has provided grants to local organizations to restore and protect using Nepali artisans. Through these experiences, I’ve seen first hand the amazing work that Nepalis are doing to advance social justice and protect your amazing cultural heritage.