The Pulse | Society | South Asia

How a Nepalese Immigrant in Chicago Became a Voice for the Bullied

Nikesh Thapaliya transformed his painful experiences with bullying into a voice to support Americans who have similar experiences

By Arun Budhathoki for
How a Nepalese Immigrant in Chicago Became a Voice for the Bullied
Credit: Nikesh Thapaliya

Nikesh Thapaliya is an anti-human trafficking advisor, social advocate, philanthropist, and a former world record holder, living in Chicago. Born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, Thapaliya’s journey to the United States and his passion to change the world is an inspiring one for those who are bullied the world over.

His story was that of the American Dream as Thapaliya moved to the suburbs of Chicago in 2012 from a sprawling, chaotic Kathmandu. His desire to obliterate the hellish bullying experiences had come true. But to Thapaliya’s surprise, the United States was a scary place to deal with.

Back in Nepal, Thapaliya toiled hard with several social and human rights organizations in uplifting the spirits of the oppressed, and often voiced his beliefs regarding anti-human trafficking causes. Those experiences shaped him and today, at the age of 27, he is working as a social and human rights advocate and anti-human trafficking project adviser in Chicago.

Thapaliya shares with The Diplomat that he faced bullying back in Nepal for being underweight and short. He says that it hit his mental health hard, especially between the age of 15 and 17.

Thapaliya said: “That phase in my life was a dark one for me. I had low self-esteem and I was skeptical of  friends every day. I feared to ask someone for help, fought with self-doubt and anxiety. I never shared about it with my family until last year.”

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Moving to the United States was also a drastic change in his life and perception. Thapaliya came to know that he could take counseling and therapy and he did. It took him a long time to move on.

Spending his early 20s in the United States was an interesting experience for Thapaliya. His idea of the United States as a cultural melting pot and a nation made by the immigrants came true when he saw people did not bully him for who he was.

“I never felt bullying in the United States of America. I experienced bullying in Nepal at this prestigious so-called high school and briefly after School Leaving Certificate (SLC) course. I was mocked for being skinny and was given mean names. But I was always kind to my bullies and helped them when needed. I thought that could change them,” Thapaliya told The Diplomat.

Thapaliya’s engagement with immigrants and bullied people has landed him the role of a panelist and speaker at an international anti-bullying conference going to be held in October in Chicago virtually.

“This year I am a panelist and speaker at an international anti-bullying event, will host some interactive sessions virtually here and maybe in Nepal too. I will be leading motivational sessions among victims of sex and labor trafficking, and always encourage immigrant teens who are new to this country, to strive to learn, and how to face bullies,” Thapaliya added.

Amid the pandemic, Thapaliya’s belief of America being inclusive and a multicultural country has been shattered as he sees an increase in discrimination against the people of color – Blacks, Asians, Hispanics. But this hasn’t deterred him from spreading the message of “turning bullying into a blessing, giving priorities to what matters to you, trying to ignore the negative forces around you.”

“These experiences make one stronger, believing in yourself and your potential, no need for anyone’s validation if you and your loved ones know who and how you are,” he says.

Thapaliya’s  mantra over the years has worked for him and he has been sharing it immigrants to the U.S. over the years.

“Forgive the bullies and kill them with kindness.”

He strongly believes that his personal story has encouraged American youth and teens to face bullying, even amid the pandemic, as online bullying has increased significantly.

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“You are not what others think you are. Know your worth. Kill them with kindness. Realize that at some point, they will regret too,” Thapaliya added.

Arun Budhathoki is a Nepalese journalist, poet, and writer. He tweets at @arunbudhathoki