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

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  • Explore cultural transformation and preservation, identity and social change, religious revival, and regional geopolitics.

    You’ll study regional history and politics, including twentieth-century occupation and exile; CIA intervention in Tibet; the Dalai Lama and his Middle Way approach; negotiations with China; human rights in Tibet; the Nepalese civil war and the writing of the 2015 Federal Democratic Republic’s representative Constitution; and Bhutanese democracy.

  • Discover contemporary Tibetan and Himalayan society, sciences, and arts.

    Receive an overview of women’s issues in exile, the new Tibetan dream of going to the West, nongovernmental organizations, democracy in exile, monastic versus modern education, and the burgeoning Tibetanization of Himalayan cultures. Learn about Tibetan medicine and astrology, Tibetan thangka painting, Buddhist symbolism and art, and Himalayan secular music.

  • Do independent research in Nepal; Dharamsala, India; Bhutan; or another approved location.

    You’ll spend six weeks in Kathmandu, Nepal’s crowded capital and home to a significant Tibetan exile community. You may discuss the Bön religion at an institute halfway up a mountain on the valley’s periphery, hear a lecture by an Ayurvedic doctor in the old town, or meet the caretaker of an ancient pagoda shrine.

  • Learn the Tibetan language and, if you choose, Nepali.

    Formal classroom instruction in Tibetan is complemented by traditional Tibetan tutorials characteristic of spiritual training in Buddhist text recitation and analysis. Less formal instruction is also provided during educational excursions. If you wish to pursue an Independent Study Project in Nepal or one of the many Nepali-speaking regions of the Indian Himalayas or Bhutan, you also have the option of learning functional Nepali.

  • Choose to do an Independent Study Project (ISP) or an internship in the last four weeks of the program.

    You’ll spend six weeks in Kathmandu, Nepal’s crowded capital and home to a significant Tibetan exile community. You may discuss the Bön religion at an institute halfway up a mountain on the valley’s periphery, hear a lecture by an Ayurvedic doctor in the old town, or meet the caretaker of an ancient pagoda shrine.

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    Travel and conduct fieldwork with Tibetan and/or Himalayan students.

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    Enjoy access to restricted regions during excursions through SIT’s well-established regional networks.

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    Learn about the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Newar and Theravadin Buddhist traditions in Nepal, religious tourism and pilgrimage, and meditation and retreat.

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    Go on a high-altitude trek in the Himalayas to visit isolated Tibetan communities.

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    Travel to India, Bhutan, and/or the Tibetan Autonomous Region in China (conditions permitting).

Critical Global Issue of Study

Migration | Identity | Resilience

Migration | Identity | Resilience

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Key Topics of Study


Key Topics of Study

  • Varieties of belief and practice among Himalayan people
  • The politics inherent in processes of everyday life in an exile community and host country
  • Aspects of contemporary Tibetan civilization
  • History and politics of the region
  • Himalayan arts and sciences
  • Schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Newar and Theravadin Buddhist traditions in Nepal
  • Religious tourism and pilgrimage
  • Meditation and retreat




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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.

Religious Change in Tibet and the Himalaya – syllabus
(ASIA3010 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
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 – syllabus
(ASIA3020 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
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 / 45 hours)
Intermediate Tibetan – syllabus
(TIBE2003 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Advanced Tibetan – syllabus
(TIBE3003 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
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. 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 and Bhutan). Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in beginning, intermediate, or advanced classes.
Field Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience. Introduction to the Independent Study Project. 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.

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

Internship and Seminar – syllabus
(ITRN3000 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
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 work experience and to enhance their skills in an international work environment. Students will complete an internship and submit a paper in which they process their learning experience on the job, analyze an issue important to the organization, and/or design a socially responsible solution to a problem identified by the organization. A focus will be on linking internship learning with the program’s critical global issue focus and overall program theme.


Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
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 (including Bhutan when the semester’s excursion is to Bhutan). 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; traditional arts (with apprenticeship) in Bhutan; the economics of the Tibetan carpet industry in Nepal; the economy of Sherpas and mountaineering tourism; critical thinking in Bhutan’s education system; 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.




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

Excursions may include:

  • FieldworkThe Tibetan Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China (conditions permitting)
  • Tibetan(-oid/-ish) communities in Nepal outside the Kathmandu Valley such as Pokhara or Solu Khumbu
  • Tibetan settlements in India such as Bir, Darjeeling, Dharamsala, Kalimpong, Ladakh, or Mussorie

A high altitude hike is usually included, in order to visit more isolated communities. Comfortable hiking shoes and appropriate clothing are strongly recommended on this physically strenuous trek. Appropriate camping gear can be acquired at affordable prices in Kathmandu.

PagodaThrough SIT’s well-established regional networks, you will enjoy unique access to restricted regions. This access has already created remarkable firsts for SIT students. They’ve brought back what appear to be the first-ever photos of saint, yogi, and poet Milarepa’s birthplace, Kya-nak-tsa in Gungthang, and photos from the tower he built for his guru, Marpa the Translator. Other students photographed a snow leopard in western Nepal.

Resources for the program include:

In Dharamsala: 

In Ladakh:

In Sikkim:

In Bhutan:

Program in a minute-ish

Program in a minute-ish

Faculty and Staff


Faculty and Staff

Isabelle Onians, PhD, Academic Director

Isabelle OniansIsabelle received her doctorate in oriental studies from the University of Oxford (2002). She came to Kathmandu in 1990 as a volunteer teacher in a Tibetan monastery school and returned in 1992–1993 to study Tibetan and Sanskrit at Tribhuvan University.

Isabelle’s research and experience have focused on classical philosophical, religious, and literary texts. She has studied those texts in the context of exposure to and interaction with contemporary cultures, people, politics, and landscapes, principally along the Himalayas, in the Tibetan regions and neighboring areas, and in South Asia. Her dissertation examined an apparent paradox in Tantric Buddhism, using 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 researched and lectured at institutions across the world and led a Royal Geographical Society Oxford University expedition to the Tibetan plateau.

Hubert Decleer, MA, Senior Faculty Advisor

Hubert DeCleerHubert 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 in Kathmandu. He has worked as a fine arts apprentice, art critic, language instructor, and translator and has lectured for this program. He was academic director for the Tibetan and Himalayan Studies program from its 1987 start until 2001.

Matthew Akester, Lecturer and Faculty Advisor

Matthew AkesterMatthew is a translator of classical and modern Tibetan with 25 years of fieldwork experience, and a scholar of religious and political history. Matthew’s interests include the history of Lhasa, the life of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, historical geography of Tibet, and history and memoir in occupied Tibet. His translations include The Life of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Memories of Life in Lhasa Under Chinese Rule, and The Temples of Lhasa (with Andre Alexander). He has consulted for Tibet Information Network, Human Rights Watch, Tibet Heritage Fund, and Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center and worked for publications in English, French, and Tibetan. He has lectured for SIT in Nepal and India.

Nyima Dorjee Bhotia, Program Coordinator

Nyima DorjeeDorjee dreamt of becoming an international trader from his childhood in the mountains of far northeast Nepal, at the intersection of Nepalese, Tibetan/Chinese, and Indian borders. After studying humanities at a Tibetan school in Kalimpong, India, Dorjee studied history at college in Delhi. He pursued social research during postgraduate work at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. He hopes to document Nepal’s Himalayan borderland communities ethnographically. Dorjee is also passionate about the arts and photography and incorporates the visual in his research.

Pasang Rinzi Sherpa, Office and Finance Manager

Pasang Rinzi SherpaRinzi was born in Solukhumbhu in the Everest region, east of Kathmandu. He came to Kathmandu at the age of three and attended Daleki Secondary School. He has been with SIT since 2009, where he handles the finances and ensures the proper functioning of the program house. He acts as right hand to the academic director.

Dolkar Lhamo (“Dongaa”), Program Coordinator

Dolkar LhamoDongaa was born and raised in Boudha, “little Tibet,” in Kathmandu, Nepal. After Tibetan schooling in Kathmandu, Dongaa received a BA in media technology.  She then worked for five years with various life and style magazines. Subsequently, she realized her need to learn about her own refugee culture and community, and she joined an NGO working for Tibetan refugees in Nepal. After three years with Snow Lion Foundation, she joined SIT. Her interests include traveling, poetry, photography, and theatre, and she hopes one day to set up her own studio for art, poetry, storytelling, and food.

Phurwa Dhondup Gurung, Program Coordinator

DhondupPhurwa is from Dolpo, a remote Himalayan region in mid-western Nepal. He left his village when he was 14 for high school in Kathmandu. After, he taught at his old school in his home village of Dho-Tarap for two years before coordinating projects for Action Dolpo, the French NGO that enabled him to have a metropolitan education. Phurwa’s high school results were stellar. Following his BA in sociology/development and rural development from Tribhuvan University, he completed his MA in conflict, peace, and development studies, which included a scholarship to study in Sri Lanka as an exchange student. His career is dedicated to understanding human interactions and interdependence with nature.

Patricia Owens, Program Coordinator

owensPatricia grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and completed a BA in English literature with minors in linguistics and creative writing at Boston College. She began studying colloquial Tibetan in 2013, taking intensive lessons at the Esukhia language school in Dharamsala, India. That same year, she was a Boston College study abroad student of Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Boudha, Nepal. Patricia developed a particular interest in modern Tibetan poetry and literary translation and completed a translation project on Tibetan poetry, for which she conducted research in Boudha and Dharamsala. Patricia is deeply interested in Tibetan and South Asian cultures, languages, and literature.

Sithar Dolma (“Amala”), Dharamsala Office Program Assistant

DolmaAmala first hosted SIT students as homestay mother 30 years ago. A lifelong leader in Tibetan education in exile, she also runs our Dharamsala program center, complete with extensive library and IT resources. Amala’s support of our students in Dharamsala, whether on excursion or especially during the ISP period, is invaluable.

The SIT Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program is also supported by:

  • Ang Nima Sherpa, House Manager
  • Rajeev Shrestha, Cook
  • Nima Nurbu Sherpa, Assistant Office Manager
  • Indu Shrestha, Housekeeper
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I was incredibly honored when my ISP was recognized by the National Trust for Nature Conservation in Nepal. It gives me renewed confidence that the research we do can accomplish something.

Sierra Gladfelter, Temple University

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The homestay is an integral part of the SIT experience. During your homestay, you’ll become a member of a local family, sharing meals with them, joining them for special occasions, talking with them in their language, and experiencing the host country through their eyes. Homestay placements are arranged by a local coordinator who carefully screens and approves each family. Students frequently cite the homestay as the highlight of their program. Read more about SIT homestays.

homestayYou’ll live with a host family in Kathmandu for six weeks, sharing 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.

You will also stay in high-altitude rural homes while on excursion, for a few days at a time, usually in groups of two or three. Other accommodations include guest houses, hostels, educational institutions, and/or small hotels. The group may camp on Himalayan treks.


Independent Study Project


Independent Study Project

You have the option to spend the last month of the program working on an Independent Study Project (ISP), conducting primary research in Tibetan and Himalayan communities in Nepal or other locations. You may also do your ISP research in Dharamsala or elsewhere in India. The program maintains a branch base in Dharamsala with an experienced staff member. The ISP allows you to apply your experience-based learning in the Field Methods and Ethics course and interdisciplinary coursework on a topic you choose.

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.

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Career Paths


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

Cost and Scholarships


Cost and 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. 

SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding for the term during which they are studying with SIT. This award can be applied to any SIT program. Qualified students must complete the scholarship portion of their application. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.


Tuition: $17,233

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • History and politics
    • Buddhism across the Himalayas
    • Contemporary Tibetan culture
    • Cultural anthropology
    • Arts and sciences
  • Field Methods and Ethics course on research methods and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive language instruction in Tibetan
  • All educational excursions to locations such as: Nepal, visiting Tibetan communities (Pokhara, Solu Khumbu) and/or Himalayan peoples (Mustang, Tsum, Yolmo); India, to Ladakh, Spiti, Dharamsala, or Sikkim/Darjeeling; and/or to the Kingdom of Bhutan, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $3,437

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Kathmandu), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
  • Homestays (six weeks in Kathmandu, two to four weeks in a rural village)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $411

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $140

International Phone: Each student must bring a phone with them to their program.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.




SIT internships are hands-on and reflective. In addition to completing the internship, you will submit a paper processing your learning experience on the job and analyzing an issue important to the organization you worked with, and/or you will design a socially responsible solution to a problem identified by the organization.

Sample internships:

  • Helping 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
  • Working at Nepali Times, the leading English-language weekly newspaper in Kathmandu

Contact A Former Student

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Speak With An Admissions Counselor

Speak With An Admissions Counselor