Isabelle Onians, PhD, Academic Director
Isabelle Onians received her doctorate in oriental studies from the University of Oxford (2002). She first came to Kathmandu in 1990 to work as a volunteer teacher in a Tibetan monastery school and returned in 1992–1993 to study Tibetan (and Sanskrit) at Tribhuvan University.
Isabelle’s own research and professional experience have always centered on the study of classical philosophical, religious, and literary texts. But her textual scholarship has been undertaken in the context of ongoing intense exposure to and interaction with contemporary cultures, people, politics, and landscapes, principally along the Himalayas, both to the north, in the Tibetan regions and neighboring areas, and in South Asia. It is in fact a noteworthy feature of the civilizations of both Tibet and the Indian subcontinent that their textual traditions continue to have a dynamic existence in the life of the individual and of society. Her dissertation examined a particular and infamous apparent paradox in historical Tantric Buddhism, using both Indian and Tibetan sources.
Isabelle has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies at the Universities of Oxford and London and at Mahidol University in Bangkok. She has made research and lecturing trips to a large number of institutions across the world, including leading a Royal Geographical Society Oxford University expedition to the Tibetan plateau, in collaboration with the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences, Lhasa.
Hubert Decleer, Senior Faculty Advisor
A Belgian national, Mr. Decleer received his MA in oriental philosophy and history from the University of Louvain, Belgium, and his BA in history and European literature from the Regent School in Ghent. He has pursued classical Tibetan and Buddhist studies under a number of tutors in Kathmandu. Mr. Decleer has worked as a fine arts apprentice, art critic, language instructor, and translator and has lectured for the SIT Nepal: Development and Social Change program. He was the academic director for the Tibetan and Himalayan Studies program from its inception in the fall of 1987 until the spring of 2001.
Matthew Akester, Lecturer and Faculty Advisor
Matthew is a translator of classical and modern literary Tibetan with 25 years of fieldwork experience as an independent researcher throughout the Tibetan world. His discipline is history, both religious and political history, which corresponds with the program’s double specialization. Matthew's special interests include the history of Lhasa, the life and times of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, historical geography of central Tibet, and history and memoir in occupied Tibet. His published book-length translations include The Life of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo by Jamgon Kongtrul (Shechen Publications, 2012); Memories of Life in Lhasa Under Chinese Rule by Tubten Khetsun (Columbia University Press, 2008, Penguin India, 2009); and The Temples of Lhasa (with Andre Alexander, Serindia Publications, 2005). In addition, he has worked as active consultant and contributor for the Tibet Information Network, Human Rights Watch, Tibet Heritage Fund, and Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center; as translator, editor, and advisor for countless publications on Tibet in English, French, and Tibetan; and as lecturer on contemporary Tibet for student programs including SIT in Nepal and India.
Tenzin Choezom (“Tenchoe”), Program Assistant
Tenchoe la was born and raised in Bouddha, the "little Tibet" in Kathmandu, Nepal. This is her third year with SIT. Before joining SIT, she worked as a media researcher for five years, interviewing Tibetans coming from Tibet about their use of foreign media and about the restrictions on and impact of foreign media within Tibet. She also transcribed the interviews and translated them into English. Tenchoe la did her schooling from Srongtsen School and Namgyal Higher Secondary School, the two prime Tibetan schools in Kathmandu. Her bachelor's degree is in computer application from Kathmandu College, a branch of Purbanchal University, Biratnagar. There, she got the chance to emerge from her close-knit Tibetan community and mix with all kinds of Nepalese. She has developed many travel websites for trips to Bhutan, Tibet, India, and Nepal. An animal lover and a Buddhist, she takes enormous interest in Buddhist philosophy and dialectics. She is deeply connected to her Tibetan roots and keeps herself updated on everything concerning Tibet, Tibetan issues, and Tibetans.
Phurwa Dhondup, Program Coordinator
Phurwa la is from Dolpo, a remote Himalayan region in mid-western Nepal. He left his village for Kathmandu for high school (first Tibetan, then Nepalese) when he was 14. In 2009, he returned to his home village of Dho-Tarap to teach in his old school for two years before taking on the coordination of “Action Dolpo” projects, the French NGO that had enabled him to have a metropolitan education in the first place. Phurwa’s high school results were stellar and he has recently completed his BA in sociology/development and rural development from Tribhuvan University. His career is dedicated to understanding human interactions and interdependence with nature in remote areas, starting with his own homeland of Dolpo and extending to the indigenous knowledge and traditions of the entire Himalayan territory.
Pasang Rinzi Sherpa, Office and Finance Manager
Rinzi was born in Solukhumbhu, the Everest (Sagarmatha/Chomolangma) region, east of Kathmandu, settled by “easterners” (“Sherpa”) from Tibet an uncertain number of centuries ago. He came to Kathmandu at the age of three and did his schooling at Daleki Secondary School (an extraordinary institution, the subject of a recent motion picture). He has been with SIT since 2009, where, besides handling the finances, he ensures the proper functioning of the program house under the academic director. He acts as right hand to the academic director, and his name “Rinzi” is used as synonymous with “amazing” by the students.
Tenzin Youdon, Dharamsala Office Program Assistant
Tenzin la was born and raised in Dharamsala, India, and has been working with SIT students ever since she can remember: her family has hosted SIT students for over 15 years. She went to TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) for school and then graduated with a BA in English literature from Delhi University. After working briefly in the Indian capital, she participated in different research programs in Dharamsala, such as Professor Melvyn Goldstein's Oral History Project. Tenzin also coordinated the Miss Tibet beauty pageant for five years and hosted the event twice. She completed her MA in history from Himachal University and has been working with SIT as program assistant since spring 2007.
The SIT Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program is also lucky to be supported by the following individuals:
- Ang Nima Sherpa, House Manager
- Rajeev Shrestha, Cook
- Nima Nurbu Sherpa, Assistant Cook
- Manu Tamang, Housekeeper