SIT Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples

Video and Photos

About

Examine Tibetan and Himalayan politics and religion and the contemporary issues faced by communities in exile, particularly in the case of Tibet.

Major topics of study include:

Varieties of beliefs and practices amongst different groups of Himalayan people
The politics inherent in processes of everyday life in an exile community
Aspects of contemporary Tibetan civilization
History and politics of the region
Himalayan arts and sciences

Questions & Answers

Reviews

99%
based on 9 reviews
  • Academics 9
  • Support 9.9
  • Fun 9.6
  • Housing 9.4
  • Safety 9.7
Showing 1 - 8 of 9
Default avatar
Maxwell
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Four Life Changing Months at Altitude

This program was challenging in the best sense of the word. If you are a fan of the liberal arts model of education--one that strives to challenge innate assumptions and preconceived notions of the world through critical study of complex historical and contemporary realities--this program is for you. While the program is topically and predominately about the geopolitics and the modern political condition of the Tibetan people, Isabelle Onians (the director) uses this specific material to produce a learning experience that expands and complicates one's conception of nationhood, citizenship and cultural identity. Isabelle's lectures are brilliant and reveal a deep learning and whip-sharp intellect that she gathers together and unleashes on the small classroom in surprising and inspiring ways throughout the semester. Participation was less mandatory than irresistible. I would consider Isabelle's teaching some of the finest in all my years as a student, and still, several years later, think about how her course shifted my thinking.

Additionally, I gained a profound insight into the lived experiences of a people who I had previously only read about, or could have pointed to on a map but did not know in any real or meaningful sense. I had been abroad a small amount as a teenager with my family, and though I followed international events and cared about global politics, I had never before so fully felt a witness and a part of the world not as an American, or a millennial, or a college students, or even a political activist, but as a person.

I saw what were hands down the most beautiful landscapes I've ever encountered--before and after. I ate fantastic Nepali and Tibetan food, and studied a difficult and foreign language. I gained an insight into Buddhism as a lived practice and not merely a philosophy to be studied by college students, scholars and Western-atheists. And I made friendships with my peers, my teachers, and with local people that I still hold dear to this day. This past year I went to one of my co-SIT student's weeding; I still maintain, four years after my time at SIT, a deep correspondence with my writing advisor from the program. I feel a better, wiser, more empowered and engaged person as a result of my time with SIT in Nepal, and have not ceased to be grateful for my experience there since I left.

Default avatar
Henry
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A unique experience in an incredible part of the world

The instructors had diverse expertise and pushed me to challenge myself intellectually while providing superb support; the Tibetan language instruction was top-level, with daily opportunities to practice with local Tibetans and my homestay family; and the opportunity to conduct a month-long research project on a subject of my choosing was one the most valuable undergraduate academic experiences. I made friends for life and got to immerse myself in Tibetan and Nepali culture, learning for the first time about this fascinating part of the world. Can not recommend this program enough!

Default avatar
Trevor
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Incredible Opportunity for Cultural Exchange

I came in fairly ignorant of Tibetan culture and history and left with not only a greater understanding of that, but also with friendships that I hope will last long after the 4 months of the program. This was the best decision I made in college. It is impossible to know what my experience would have been like in other programs, but in speaking to friends who went elsewhere I can say that the experience I had in Nepal was unique. It was challenging and the greatest learning experience of my life.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
I was unfamiliar with the bulk of the food I tried in Nepal. The quasi-national meal is Dal Bhat but in the Tibetan households we had a lot of Thukpa (a noodle soup) and an unexpected amount of yak meat, which is rather strong and takes some time to get used to. The most surprising thing the whole trip though was probably yak tongue and lung.
Default avatar
Maxwell
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A Life-Altering Experience

The SIT Study Abroad Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program was much more impactful on my life than I thought it would be.

Of utmost importance in this was the way the academic staff handled the course topics. The SIT academic staff created a curriculum emphasizing the true complexity of Tibetan and Himalayan socio-cultural and religious politics. This is not an easy task and indeed required the guidance of individuals who have spent their lives living and specializing in the region. Classes were overseen by experts who made sure to indicate the ambiguities of sovereignty, territory, and cultures across borders. This was all done with great sensitivity and nuance in a way that inspired me to reconsider not only what I understood about the region, but what I considered myself to know about notions of authenticity, place, space, nation-states, and knowledge held as a foreigner. In short, this course was intellectually demanding because it did not provide clear answers. Clear answers in many instances would not have captured intricacies at play. Some students felt uncomfortable with these tactical semi-conclusions, but I found it personally groundbreaking.

The course topic itself was extremely moving and was presented as a human issue. Tibetans were key in leading aspects of the program, sharing their experiences and grounding the texts in reality. Having the chance to work with Tibetans and Himalayn peoples in this capacity was a necessary component and was prioritized by the program. This is not an emotionally easy topic to tackle. The manner in which occupation and displacement were addressed did not overlook the intensity of the Tibetan situation, nor shy away from its controversial nature, while remaining sensitive to the people concerned.

For me personally, the opportunity to conduct field research was invaluable. On one occasion, I conducted a week-long fieldwork in the Tsum Valley regarding local law. On another, I conducted a month-long independent study on Tibetan refugees in Nepal while in Kathmandu. Both of these experiences were completely life-altering. Through them, I found my calling as a researcher of issues surrounding migration and displacement. Having the freedom to be out in the community, connected with translators, talking directly with Tibetans and Himalayan peoples about their experiences and opinions regarding current politics, changed the course of my life. I cannot stress enough how powerful these experiences were. I have the program to thank for this because it prioritized fieldwork and supported my pursuit of specific interests.

The living situation was also well done. With my host family, I felt safe, welcomed, included, and challenged. They did not speak much English, so I had to use the Tibetan I learned in class. This was certainly difficult but allowed me to develop a relationship with them in another language. I was living in a home with Tibetan refugees. This drove the truth of the situation home. It made it all real in a tangible way. I never had any problems with my host family and in fact went to visit 5 years later, finding we were able to reconnect easily.

The long-term support of the SIT faculty has also been helpful. I have been able to stay in touch with faculty, seek council, and facilitate valuable connections. Their enthusiasm is evident. They care about their students and want to help.

Nepal is itself an intense country with incredible diversity, cultural significance, poverty, and political intrigue. Living there is no small undertaking. Understanding it is on the verge of impossible. But going there and seeing for yourself, if you are open to enduring what it has to offer, can forever shift your point of view. All I can recommend really is to jump in, be patient, pay attention, and be satisfied with what can be learned.

In conclusion, this program exceeded all expectations. It was a turning point in my life as a researcher. It inspired and supported my interests. It was challenging yet worked with me when I struggled. I would choose this program again and again.

What would you improve about this program?
Some students were disappointed or surprised by aspects of the program. For several, there was too much emphasis on learning the Tibetan language. They did not find it useful for navigating the Nepali context. Or they found it simply too difficult and mentally opted out. While I empathize with their concerns, I personally found it important given the focus of the curriculum. It was certainly hard, however, and I did not come away feeling my grasp of the language was profound.
Default avatar
Hadi
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

SIT Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples

To this day I am still learning from the experience I had in 2013 with SIT Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples as it continues to shape my future. They threw us into the culture, taught us how to think critically and developed our skills of non-invasive and collaborative research (also travelling to India and carrying out extended fieldwork in Bhutan). The individual Study Project (ISP) truly lets you flourish your interest, while the faculty does their very best to help you achieve maximal learning, while staying rooted. My current path and career are positively influenced by this program and its expert faculty. Furthermore, this program has it all: Adventures, deep cultural integration, mystery, unbelievable sightseeing and the development of you as a student. I recommend this program whole heartedly and am thankful to the entire program faculty.

Hadi El Rabbat (Egypt)
SIT Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples (Spring 2013)

Default avatar
Eben
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Gaining a new perspective on life in the foothills of the Himalayas

The SIT Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program is a unique program that offers a tremendous amount of opportunities for students with a variety of academic and personal interests. In addition to general coursework in Tibetan language, research methods and ethics, and content seminars often in the form of lectures and discussions with local experts, the month-long independent study program was an incredible undergraduate research opportunity. Students on my program pursued such disparate interests as geo-tourism development, Tibetan Buddhist ritual, women's health, climate change, traditional handicrafts, creative writing, photography, local cuisine culture, refugee issues, education, and many more. This program truly is student-centered and allows for all participants to deeply pursue their own interests in a unique setting in the foothills of the Himalayas. Moreover, the excursions give students the opportunity to explore other Himalayan and Tibetan areas throughout Nepal, India, and Bhutan.

Default avatar
Clara
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Freedom to explore your passions and challenge yourself in an incredible place!

Speaking from experience, you don’t need a significant background in South Asian studies or philosophy to gain a lot from this program. Nepal is rich with cultural diversity and I was constantly in awe of its natural beauty. It has something for everyone, and the staff is SUPER supportive and knowledgable. With the help of SIT staff, students were able to connect with locals, and I gained wonderful Nepali friends that made my time there even more special. My homestay family became like my actual family. Course instruction was really grounded in anthropology and gave me a much more informed framework for understanding cross-cultural interactions and international travel. The excursions that the program provides were a huge highlight because we got to travel to remote places and gained experience in anthropological methodology and interviewing skills. These helped prepare me for the independent study month, during which I designed my own project with the help of SIT staff; it gave me a fascinating opportunity to learn about my career interests in a particular Nepali setting. I gained so much knowledge, confidence, and cultural awareness, and I am constantly talking about my experience in job/internship interviews. This is an incredible program!!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
This program gives you a lot of freedom - use it wisely and ethically. Think critically about how your presence as a traveler affects the community. Really put a lot of care into your independent study project - it is an amazing opportunity to learn so much!
Default avatar
Jenny
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Most life changing college experience I had. Hands down

I cannot even begin to explain the numerous ways in which this program changed my life… seriously I have a SIT Nepal story for practically every single occasion and find a way to bring up how much it changed my life frequently. If you want a dynamic study abroad program that will set your life up in remarkable ways beyond what you even could expect, this is the program. I wanted to do a program very different than my peers all in London/ Australia, because that really SHOULD be the point of study abroad and wow did I get that. The program excursions change every semester so when you apply there is no real way of knowing what you will get up to that semester. We took two airplanes and a helicopter to the Tibetan border to most remote area in the country in the far west and then went on a 2 week walk/ trek where we stayed in villages in the middle of the Himalayas. How many study abroad programs do you know where you could potentially be on a helicopter?? It also means that unlike other programs where you follow a set tourist trail, you truly are going places in many cases for the first time. People are still excited to engage with you and learn with you. Additionally with the independent research project, I was incredibly daunted going into it, but it ended up being one of the most eye opening and rewarding things I’ve ever done. I never considered myself a “research” person, but it all changed with this. I gained so much self confidence in my ability to get to the bottom of stories and write about them. We all did! The staff is fantastic. The homesteads are fantastic. The SIT house is a little piece of heaven with a garden and fresh food every day. I have traveled a lot in my life but can hands down say this was my most memorable, unique experience ever. If you love adventure, the unknown, an incredibly unique cultural experience, and having experiences that no one else in the world really will get, this is the place.

PS I think the "fun" descriptor is very misleading here. You're living with homestays so you aren't going out to the club every night (although you can do that on the weekend). It is fun in the fact you are with an incredible cohort of kind, curious people that you can sit at cafes by Buddhist stupas talking about life while monks complete their kora beneath you. But again, this is a fully unique experience! It was nice to take a semester off of college shenanigans and engage in these meaningful relations instead. These people became my best friends. I have seen them in Bangkok, Chicago, New York, and am even doing a Fulbright back in Asia with one of the girls I met there.