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Nine Harvard students from the Harvard Undergraduate Tibetan Cultural Association traveled to India this summer break, marking the first time a campus group has been awarded a grant by the Harvard University Asia Center to learn about Tibetan culture and history.
From Aug. 7 to 17, students visited the Tibetan community and the Central Tibetan Administration — sometimes referred to as Tibet’s government in exile — in Dharamsala and received an audience with the Dalai Lama. Tibet came under the control of China in 1951, resulting in a diaspora to surrounding countries and an ongoing Tibetan independence movement.
TCA president and trip co-organizer Tenzin Y. Dadak ’25, who co-founded the organization last January with the aim of promoting Tibetan culture and awareness, said the trip’s theme and purpose was experiencing how Tibetans “rebuilt in exile.”
“Back when we first made the organization, we knew that we wanted to have some sort of immersive experience for Harvard College students to completely understand the Tibetan experience,” she said. “And the best way to do that was to go to India because that’s where the majority of Tibetan refugees settled after our country got annexed in the 50s.”
TCA vice president and former Crimson News editor Dekyi T. Tsotsong ’24, who also co-organized the trip, said her main goals during the trip included sharing Tibetan culture and history with non-Tibetan students and helping the Tibetan community in exile.
“We wanted to keep in mind that even though our goal was to learn, we also wanted to give back,” she added.
Towards the end of their trip, the group headed to Ladakh to meet the Dalai Lama.
“The two weeks before, we had spent learning about the different institutions that His Holiness had made ever since fleeing Tibet,” Dadak said. “Seeing him in person and knowing the things he’s been through for his country and for his people was just an insane experience.”
Kashish Bastola ’26, a Nepali-American student on the trip, said meeting the Dalai Lama felt “really profound” because of his Nepali heritage and was “absolutely one of the most powerful days” of his life.
“I remember waiting in line for so long to see him and just thinking about the fact that there are millions of Tibetans who can dream of only seeing his face and that I’m right here,” he said.
“But also, another thing I was holding with me was the fact that His Holiness would not be allowed to enter my home country of Nepal,” Bastola added.
Prior to Ladakh, the group spent 10 days in Dharamsala — the largest Tibetan settlement in the world outside of Tibet — where they visited the Tibetan government, saw Tibetan institutions like monasteries and the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, and met with leaders of Students for Free Tibet, an organization advocating for Tibetan independence.
Eva C. Frazier ’26, who went on the trip to learn more about human rights advocacy surrounding Tibet, said highlights from the trip included meeting the Sikyong, the leader of the Central Tibetan Administration, and meeting elderly Tibetans living in elder homes in Dharamsala.
Tommy Barone ’25, a non-Tibetan student on the trip, said he found the passion of the volunteers at the Tibetan Children’s Village — an organization that provides education for children in the Tibetan diaspora —“really remarkable.”
“It’s really evocative of the irrepressible spirit and caring ethic of the Tibetan people in exile, which is really what’s kept their community together in the face of almost insurmountable odds,” said Barone, a Crimson Editorial editor.
Students on the trip described feeling invigorated in their knowledge of Tibet and more connected to their heritage through the trip.
“I feel much more connected to my own culture and identity, and it almost made me feel more Tibetan, in a sense, now that I’m back,” Tsotsong said.
Frazier said the trip was overall “a really incredible experience.”
“I’m incredibly grateful that I got to attend this trip and that TCA had the opportunity to run this trip,” she said. “I highly recommend that if it happens again, anyone interested in learning more about the Tibetan community, the occupation of Tibet, and human rights generally attend.”
Correction: September 7, 2023
A previous version of this article misattributed the quote, “I feel much more connected to my own culture and identity, and it almost made me feel more Tibetan, in a sense, now that I’m back,” to Tibetan Cultural Association President Tenzin Y. Dadak ’25. In fact, TCA Vice President Dekyi T. Tsotsong ’24 stated this.
—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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