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Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples

Learn about Tibetan and Himalayan politics and religion and the issues faced by communities in exile.

At a Glance





Language of Study

Tibetan, Nepali

Courses taught in



Sep 3 – Dec 16

Program Countries


Program Excursion Countries


Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Identity & Human Resilience

Geopolitics & Power


Why study abroad in Nepal?

The dynamics of Tibet and the Himalaya span from ancient times to the present day. Discover the history of the region’s border tensions, religious belief systems and politics. Learn about the Tibetan Government in Exile; CIA intervention in Tibet; the Dalai Lama and his Middle Way approach; negotiations with China; and human rights in Tibet. Spend six weeks in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital and home to a significant Tibetan exile community. Study Tibetan medicine, symbolism, music, art, meditation and retreat. Explore the shamanistic features of the indigenous Tibetan religion, Bön, at an institute halfway up a mountain on the valley’s periphery. Listen to a lecture by an Ayurvedic doctor in the old town. Meet the caretaker of an ancient pagoda shrine. Take a high-altitude trek to isolated Tibetan communities and stay with rural families. Learn Tibetan and traditional Tibetan tutorials characteristic of spiritual training in Buddhist text recitation, and choose to learn Nepali. Conduct independent field study or gain professional skills in an intercultural internship.


  • Explore Tibetan and Himalayan society, geopolitics, religion, and arts.
  • Trek the high Himalayas to meet with remote Tibetan communities.
  • Learn about traditional Tibetan civilizations, politics and Buddhist history.
  • Live with a host family in Kathmandu; learn the Tibetan language and Nepali.



program map


Tibetan communities in Nepal & India

Visit Tibetan(-oid/-ish) communities in Nepal outside the Kathmandu Valley and Tibetan settlements in India such as Bir, Darjeeling, Dharamsala, Kalimpong, Ladakh, or Mussorie. A high-altitude hike is usually required, so comfortable hiking shoes and appropriate clothing are strongly recommended. Appropriate camping gear can be acquired at affordable prices in Kathmandu.

Rare access

SIT’s regional networks allow access to restricted regions, leading to a number of remarkable “firsts” for SIT students, who have brought back what appear to be the first-ever photos of saint, yogi, and poet Jetsun Milarepa’s birthplace, Kya-nak-tsa in Gungthang. Other students photographed a snow leopard in western Nepal.

Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.


Program Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the program, students will be able to:

  • Describe the basic myths, principles and practices of Buddhism, Hinduism and other religious traditions present in the Himalayan context.
  • Compare the manifestation of religion in everyday life, urban and rural, in Kathmandu and beyond to illustrate religious change across the Central Himalayas.
  • Identify the major regional political issues at global, national, and local scales.
  • Assess the process of democratic governance in Nepal and in Tibetan exile.
  • Apply trans-disciplinarity to the politics of Tibetan and Himalayan borders in formal research or an internship experience paper.
  • Demonstrate appropriate Tibetan language skills growth as relevant to starting level to communicate appropriately in varied cultural contexts as in the use of the honorific forms when speaking with elders.

Read more about Program Learning Outcomes.


Access virtual library guide.

The following syllabi are representative of this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • Complexities of the Tibetan and Himalayan border tensions
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  • Traditional Tibetan civilizations, politics and Buddhist history
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  • Shifting belief systems of Tibet and the Himalaya
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  • Urgent issues of exile in Tibetan and Himalayan communities
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  • Issues specific to women in exile
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  • The Tibetanization of Himalayan cultures

Religious Change in Tibet and the Himalaya

Religious Change in Tibet and the Himalaya – syllabus
(ASIA3010 / 3 credits)

This course explores religious preferences among Himalayan peoples in the midst of the region’s colorful diversity. Tibetan Buddhism is examined in relation to the broader Tibetan(-oid/-ish) cultural sphere and civilization, incorporating but not limited to the realms of politics (including the “Tibet issue”) and of ritual. The course goes beyond the typical focus on Himalayan culture in terms exclusively of a core Tibetan Buddhism. Instead, students investigate varieties of beliefs and practices among different groups of people, e.g., other Buddhism(s) such as that of the Newars, the sole surviving continuous tradition of Indian Buddhism; Indian tantra; Hinduism in the Kathmandu Valley; Islam in Tibet and South Asia; and Bön and pre-Buddhist Himalayan traditions. Furthermore, the course assesses how emerging systems such as secularism and spiritual materialism, whether or not sprung from Communist ideologies, also play determining roles across the region.

The Politics of Tibetan and Himalayan Borders

The Politics of Tibetan and Himalayan Borders – syllabus
(ASIA3020 / 3 credits)

This course traces Tibetan history from current political dynamics back to ancient times. The course challenges the prevalent analysis of Tibetan(-oid/-ish) politics synchronically and in emic terms, disconnected from change, larger dynamics, and regional events. Individual political systems are examined, such as the Tibetan government in exile and the birth throes of the projected Nepalese constitution. This course also examines the politics inherent in processes of everyday life in an exile community, covering themes such as individual articulations of identity as well as the politics of language and of religious practice. Students examine politics on the geopolitical scale, including the significance of various regions in the Himalayas as well as the maneuvering between Asia’s giants, India and China. Through examination of current conditions in Tibet, students are asked to reflect on and reconceptualize ideas of power, autonomy, authority, and vulnerability on individual, group, and state levels.


Beginning Tibetan – syllabus
(TIBE1003 / 3 credits)

Intermediate Tibetan – syllabus
(TIBE2003 / 3 credits)

Advanced Tibetan – syllabus
(TIBE3003 / 3 credits)

Oral comprehension skills are emphasized, along with basic literacy. Formal classroom instruction plus one-on-one sessions with a language partner in Tibetan language are given daily during the program period in Kathmandu, with less formal instruction while on excursion. Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in beginning, intermediate, or advanced classes. Optional Nepali language instruction is always provided, not least since students often wish to pursue Independent Study Projects in Nepali-speaking areas (much of the Himalayas including Sikkim/Darjeeling).

Field Methods and Ethics

Field Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits)

A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience. Introduction to the Independent Study Project and Internship and Seminar. Material includes cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; appropriate methodologies; field study ethics and the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; developing contacts and finding resources; developing skills in observation and interviewing; gathering, organizing, and communicating data; maintaining a work journal; and twentieth-century ethnography.

Independent Study Project or Internship

In addition to taking the above courses, students will also need to enroll in one of the following two courses:

Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits)

Conducted in Tibetan and Himalayan communities in Nepal, in Dharamsala, India (where there is a branch SIT program center and resident program assistant), or in another approved location appropriate to the project. Sample topic areas: the politics of language and education in Tibetan communities; reflections from former political prisoners; youth identity in the Tibetan diaspora; traditional Tibetan medicine; the reemergence of the Bön tradition; Tibetan Muslims; the economics of the Tibetan carpet industry in Nepal; the economy of Sherpas and mountaineering tourism; a case study of a traditional Buddhist college; nuns and Tibetan female mystics; the changing status of women in Buddhist monastic life; migration and Tibetan exile settlements.

Sample topics include:

  • What makes mad honey mad: an investigation into the obsession of the Himalayan wild cliff honey
  • Riding on giants: elephant tourism in Chitwan National Park
  • Retracing revolutionary footsteps: the legacy of the People’s War in the Maoist heartlands
  • Monuments as a lens to understand climate change: a survey of altered Indian architecture
  • Small but strong: growth and development of the Sikh community in Kathmandu
  • The Rinpoche sent me a friend request: the roles and perceptions of social media in Buddhist religious life
  • Born a foreigner: Tibetan statelessness in India

Browse this program’s Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.


Internship and Seminar
Internship and Seminar – syllabus
(ITRN3000 / 4 credits)

This seminar consists of a four-week internship with a local community organization, research organization, business, or international NGO. The aim of the internship is to enable the student to gain valuable experience and to enhance their skills in an international environment. Students will complete an internship and participate in a weekly seminar (typically conducted online), write progress reports, and submit a final paper and deliver a final presentation in which they process their learning experience A focus of the seminar, including the final paper and presentation, will be on linking internship learning with the program’s theme.

Sample internships:

  • Supporting students from a remote Himalayan community through Action Dolpo
  • Assisting Great Himalaya Trail’s alternative approach to trekking
  • Providing Tibetan and Himalayan youth with vocational training and job placements with Himalayan Roots to Fruits
  • Helping at Nepali Times, the leading English-language weekly newspaper in Kathmandu



Live with a host family in Kathmandu for six weeks, sharing in daily activities, larger family gatherings and cultural events. Through the homestay, you will have an opportunity to practice language skills and learn local manners, customs, and traditions. Students usually become very close with their homestay family.

Also, while on excursion, stay in high-altitude rural homes for a few days at a time, usually in groups of two or three.

Excursion & Orientation Accommodations

Other accommodations include guesthouses, hostels, educational institutions, and/or small hotels. The group may camp on Himalayan treks.

Career Paths

Positions currently held by alumni of this program include:

  • Africa correspondent for TIME magazine

  • Senior director of Asia Programs at the World Wildlife Fund, Washington, DC

  • LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, Berlin, Germany

  • Co-founder and volunteer coordinator at Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, Ladakh, India

  • Scholar of Buddhism in Tibet and the Himalaya and associate professor, Department of Religious Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT

Faculty & Staff

Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples

Isabelle Onians, PhD bio link
Isabelle Onians, PhD
Academic Director
Pasang Rinzi Sherpa bio link
Pasang Rinzi Sherpa
Office and Finance Manager
Nazneen Zafar bio link
Nazneen Zafar
Affiliated Faculty
Tsering Wangmo, MPH bio link
Tsering Wangmo, MPH
Program Coordinator
Patricia Owens bio link
Patricia Owens
Program Coordinator
Ngawang Choegyal bio link
Ngawang Choegyal
Language Instructor
Pasang Tsamchoe bio link
Pasang Tsamchoe
Language Instructor
Pavitra Paudyal, MA bio link
Pavitra Paudyal, MA
Language Instructor
Sithar Dolma (“Amala”) bio link
Sithar Dolma (“Amala”)
Dharamsala Office Program Assistant
Thupten Tsering bio link
Thupten Tsering
Language Instructor

Discover the Possibilities

  • Cost & Scholarships

    SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award nearly 1 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.

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    SIT Study Abroad Nepal: Tibetan And Himalayan Peoples

  • SIT Nepal alum is Alice Rowan Swanson Fellow

    Ronan Wallace is the newest Alice Rowan Swanson Fellow. He plans to return to Nepal to document flooding impacts through 3D modeling and ethnographic interviews.

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  • Blogging through Nepal and India

    Quincy, a fall 2019 program participant, shares his experience with photos and stories.

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  • 2019 Alice Rowan Swanson Fellow

    A conversation with Alice Rowan Swanson Fellow Hadi El Rabbat

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  • 2017 SIT Study Abroad Undergraduate Research Award Winners

    SIT is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2017 SIT Study Abroad Undergraduate Research Award, Maya Sutton-Smith, of Connecticut College, and Lani Cupo, of Occidental College.

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  • 2016 Alice Rowan Swanson Fellow

    Andrea Savage returns to Bhutan as 2016 Alice Rowan Swanson Fellow

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  • SIT names two outstanding Independent Study Projects

    We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 SIT Study Abroad Undergraduate Research Award. These two students were chosen from a very competitive pool of 25 nominations drawn from more than 2,000 Independent Study Projects (ISP) completed over the past three semesters.

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  • Studying Tibetan Schools

    An alumnus of the Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program talks about finding his path in Tibet.

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  • Football in exile

    Football in exile is the focus of an article in the Nepali Times by James Carsten. James’ Independent Study Project examined the politics of international football in Tibet.

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