Only a lucky few see the reality of this mysterious and complex nation. Tibet is one of the most physically isolated regions in the world, nestled in the high Himalayas, and one of the most culturally isolated, with very few visas issued to visitors each year. However, visitors who make it across the border will discover a place that goes way beyond multicolored prayer flags and climbing ol' Mt. Everest.
For many people, Tibet is a spiritual place. The nation seems full of ‘ah-ha!’ moments, inspired perhaps by the unwavering devotion of the many pilgrims or the commanding scale of the awesome landscape. For others, it offers the sport of climbing the world’s highest peak. For a rare few perhaps, it is home to the mythical Yeti. Whatever the reason that brought you to the “roof of the world,” study abroad students will see that Tibet is no fragile Shangri-la, but a resilient land supported by a unique culture and faith.
Visitors wishing to travel to Tibet face often face an ethical dilemma. If they go to Tibet, they are implicitly supporting the Chinese government. However, the Dalai Lama himself, living his life in exile, has always strongly encouraged foreigners to go so that they can have first-hand experience the remarkable place.
Students should not miss the rare opportunity to be immersed in daily life of this distinctive country.
Notable Cities in Tibet
Lhasa is the capital of Tibet. Meaning "Land of the Gods", it sits at a height of 3750 meters (12 000 feet) above sea level. Lhasa over 1,300 years old, the capital is pulsate with the ever-present chanting, circling and kowtowing of Buddhist pilgrims.
The most important site in at the center of the city is the the Potala Palace (Podrang Potala). With over 1,000 rooms, the Potala contained the living quarters of the Dalai Lamas while they lived, and their magnificent golden tombs when they died. As the religious and political centre of old Tibet, the Palace also houses great amounts of rare cultural relics including the gold hand-written Buddhist scriptures, valuable gifts from the Chinese emperors and a lot of priceless antiques. The palace is 14 stories tall and any visit involves climbing a lot of stairs. Be sure you are fully acclimated to the altitude before visiting.
How to Choose a Program
All study abroad programs in Tibet blend adventure and academics. Students who are really looking to get outside should look for programs that emphasize field research and the hands-on approach.
Students should also be aware that due to visa constraints, many study aboard programs focus on Tibetan language and people in exile, and have their base in Nepal or India.
Health and Safety
- There is considerable risk of altitude sickness in Tibet, which sits on a plateau that averages 4,000 m above sea level. FunFact: one commonly prescribed drug to combat altitude sickness is Viagra.
- Many vaccinations are recommended by the US Center for Disease Control. See the complete list here
- Students should be hyper-aware of placing any Tibetan at risk by discussing political matters or associating with other pro-Tibetan anti-Chinese foreigner, guides or agencies. This includes discussions referencing the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. These topics are extremely sensitive, especially following the 2008 pro-independence demonstrations, which cost more than two-hundred lives.
It is extremely difficult to enter Tibet, which is strictly controlled by the Chinese government. Students must obtain a visa through their program or an organized trip. Get more visa information here.
Scholarships for Study in Tibet
The mountains are steep, but the costs don't have to be! Many scholarships are available to students who are interested in studying in Tibet.
- The Workum Fund gives a hand to SIT Study Abroad students studying in India, Nepal and Tibet.
- Benjamin A. Gilman Critical Need Language Award offers scholarships for students studying unusual languages.
- More Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships