Nepal

Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples

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

At a Glance

Credits

16

Prerequisites

None

Language of Study

Tibetan, Nepali

Courses taught in

English

Dates

Feb 4 ‎– May 18

Program Countries

Nepal

Program Excursion Countries

India, Bhutan

Program Base

Kathmandu

Critical Global Issue of Study

Identity & Human Resilience

Identity & Human Resilience Icon

Geopolitics & Power

Geopolitics & Power Icon

Overview

Why study Tibetan and Himalayan communities 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.

Highlights

  • 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.

Prerequisites

None

Excursions

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 in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Academics

Coursework

Access virtual library guide.

This interdisciplinary program balances an overview of traditional Tibetan civilization, emphasizing political and religious — Buddhist — history, with the analysis of some of the most pressing contemporary issues in exile, as well as in Tibet and other Himalayan communities. Students learn appropriate field methodology through the Field Methods and Ethics course, ultimately equipping them for their Independent Study Project. Language instruction provides students with a basic understanding of Tibetan and a direct entry into the culture’s concepts.

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
  • Traditional Tibetan civilizations, politics and Buddhist history
  • Shifting belief systems of Tibet and the Himalaya
  • Urgent issues of exile in Tibetan and Himalayan communities
  • Issues specific to women in exile
  • 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.

Tibetan

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.

Course Options

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:

  • Changing status of women in Buddhist monastic life
  • Climate change and cultural adaptation in the Himalaya
  • Economy of Sherpas and mountaineering tourism
  • Mapping street children in Kathmandu
  • Monastic universities for secular students from abroad: the case of the International Buddhist Academy in Tinchuli and its strong contingent of Chinese and Korean disciples
  • Sherpa mountaineering encounters with the World Wildlife Fund, in Nepal and elsewhere in the Eastern Himalayas
  • The politics of lavish sponsorship: a California-based Tibetan foundation renovating the Newar Buddhist hill shrine of Swayambhu
  • HH the 17th Karmapa’s daring reforms and his manifesto in favor of a vegetarian diet and environmental preservation
  • The Mind and Life Conferences: Buddhism as a “science of mind and mental transformation” encounters neuroscience and cognitive psychology
  • No longer mindless copying: original grand commissions for alumni at the Thangka Painting School, Shechen Gompa
  • Buddhist art for sale: the semi-antique business and the emergence of a “first class fakes” industry
  • Bön: the pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion and its first generation of Western disciples
  • Options for Tibetan Muslims in exile

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

OR

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

Homestays

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.

Other 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
Academic Director
Dhichen Wangmo
Homestay & Program Coordinator
Pasang Rinzi Sherpa
Office and Finance Manager
Patricia Owens
Program Coordinator
Pema Norbu
Program Coordinator
Pavitra Paudyal, MA
Language Instructor
Sithar Dolma (“Amala”)
Dharamsala Office Program Assistant
Hubert Decleer, MA
Senior Faculty Advisor
Matthew Akester
Lecturer and Faculty Advisor
Pasang Tsamchoe
Language Teacher

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 more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.

    See Full Breakdown
  • ACCESSIBILITY

    Prepare for an accessible educational experience with SIT Study Aborad! In-country conditions and resources vary by site. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact disabilityservices@sit.edu for more information.

    Accessibility Overview
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    SIT Study Abroad Nepal: Tibetan And Himalayan Peoples

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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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