Lauren Spadafora

A summer study abroad workshop about the issues in Tibet has been expanded into a full semester program in Dharamsala, India starting next fall.

Starting this fall, Miami University students will have the opportunity to study for a semester at the College for Higher Tibetan Studies (CHTS) and the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics (IBD) in Dharamsala, India.

A delegation from Miami recently visited Dharamsala, the capital of the exiled Tibetan government. Delegation members had an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Dec. 31 and signed a memorandum of understanding with the IBD on Jan. 1 to launch the Tibetan Studies Semester program.

The delegation was composed of four faculty from Miami’s Anthropology department-including co-leaders Deborah Akers and H. Sidky-as well as David Keitges, director of international education, Provost Jeffrey Herbst and Miami alumna Angie Spicer.

According to Akers, participants in the program will take courses taught by Tibetan monks in Buddhist philosophy, Tibetan society and culture, alternative medicine and meditation, as well as intensive language courses in Hindi, Mandarin Chinese and Tibetan. Akers and Sidky will also teach a three-course thematic sequence on the people of Tibet and Southeast Asia alongside Sidky.

“Students will need to ask themselves, ‘Would I like to be walking down High Street or trekking in the Himalayas? Would I like to be sitting in a cafeteria eating American food or sitting with Tibetans eating Asian food and learning about their way of life?'” Akers said. “Whether in Oxford or Dharamsala, the students will be earning credits toward graduation, but look at the difference in life experience.”

Sidky noted that the semester also contains a research component.

“(The program) does allow students to do first-hand research on topics in which they are interested, that pertain to their majors,” Sidky said.

Both Sidky and Keitges said the program’s cost will be the same as a typical semester at Miami. Sidky added that because the program’s courses will fulfill thematic sequences, capstones and a year of language requirements within one semester, students could potentially graduate earlier.

The semester program has space for between 17 and 20 students and will be listed in the upcoming bulletin. However, interested students will need to contact either Sidky or Akers for a discussion about their participation in the program. Then, with the instructors’ permission, they will enroll for the set of courses best fit their interests and academic background.

Akers emphasized that the faculty are willing to talk with students to see if the program would be a good fit.

“The program is not for everyone,” Akers said. “However, if students enjoy trekking in mountains, living in a monastery and meeting people with a different perspective in life, they will enjoy this program.”

The partnership between Miami faculty and the IBD started six years ago when Akers and Sidky conducted academic research in Katmandu, Nepal, and encountered Tibetan refugees who had traveled through the Himalayas to escape occupied Tibet. Sidky said that many of the refugees were orphaned children.

“We were deeply moved and shocked by this,” Sidky said. “We found all these wonderful young people facing the unknown. It led us to thinking about what we could do to help.”

In hopes of educating Miami students about Tibetan issues, Sidky and Akers decided to create a summer study abroad workshop and proposed the idea to Tibetan dignitaries in Dharamsala.

“The administrators embraced the program,” Akers said. “They thought we were coming for all the right reasons and that we had a very humanitarian approach.”

According to Linda Marchant, chair of the department of anthropology, the workshop successfully ran for four years. Marchant believes Akers and Sidky are extremely well qualified faculty for the new semester program.

“They have brought about 50 to 55 Miami students to Dharamsala, so they have seen what works best for students,” Marchant said. “Their research interests and teaching experiences make them ideal mentors for students who enroll.”

Marchant and anthropology professor Mark Peterson were also part of the delegation that recently traveled to Dharamsala. Marchant said during the trip, they saw Tibetan cultural performances and toured institutions that the community has established in exile, many of which the students will visit during the program next fall.

“We got a sense of who the Tibetans are and what their concerns are,” Marchant said. “Fundamentally, they are trying to maintain their own identity abroad. “

For Keitges, meeting the Dalai Lama was a moving experience.

“Besides being a deity, His Holiness is a very nice guy,” Keitges said. “He is a very knowledgeable person, but he has the capacity to look at everyone individually and extend himself to others sincerely. It’s remarkable.”

Keitges said the Dalai Lama has accepted an invitation to speak at Miami.

“We don’t know when he will come, but we hope soon,” Keitges said. “When he does, he will be a most valued guest.”

Any students interested in the Tibetan Studies Semester Program can contact Akers, Sidky or Marchant for more information. Students may also examine images from the December trip to Dharamsala and other program information on the bulletin board outside the Anthropology department’s office in 160 Upham Hall.