Study abroad programs aren't hard to come by at BYU, but some are found in the least likely places.
Last summer, seven students from the College of Fine Arts and Communications studied in one of the most unusual places on earth: the Dharamshala province in northern India.
India’s Dharamshala province is home to thousands of Tibetan refugees. Many Tibetans cross the Himalayas each year to escape mounting persecution by the Chinese government in their homeland of Tibet.
The most famous refugee in Dharamshala is the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader for Tibetans around the world. While in Dharamshala, the students were invited to discuss art, religion and theology with Tibetan monks within the Dalai Llama temple at the Institute of Buddhist Dialects.
After the meeting with the monks, the students and faculty were given an unprecedented tour of the prayer and study rooms within the large temple complex.
“Tibetans are the most kind, warm-hearted people,” said Pearl Corry, a studio art student, “They are so willing to get to know you and show you their life.”
In addition to meeting with the monks, the students were invited back to the complex to hear the Dali Lama speak in a conference on culture, art and education within Tibetan refugee communities.
“Hearing the Dali Lama speak for Tibetans is similar to hearing the prophet speak for Church members,” said Clark Goldsberry, a graduate student in art education. “Many of the principles he taught aligned very well with our beliefs. It reminded me that truth is still truth no matter the source.”
As the students interacted with the people of Dharamshala, they also conducted fieldwork research on topics ranging from multicultural education to holistic teaching methods.
During the research portion of their study abroad, students visited Tibetan schools, attended classes and discussed educational practices with school leaders and teachers. Fieldwork in schools provided unique insights into Tibetan culture and the community’s effort to preserve and teach their artistic and spiritual traditions.
The students found many similarities to their own educational experience, the motto for these schools is even “Come to learn, go to serve.”
“I learned from the Tibetans to be more holistic in my teaching methods,” said Lindsay Ruiz, a graduate student studying Art Education. “I learned the importance of giving students time to think and be mindful of the things around them.”
Although the students gained valuable insights while in Dharamshala, they almost didn’t get the chance to have this experience. While en route to Nepal, the BYU student and faculty entourage was diverted to India when a massive earthquake hit Nepal.
Although the diversion allowed them the opportunity to meet the Tibetan people in India, they were heartbroken for the Tibetans in Nepal.
“When we heard about the earthquake, all we wanted to do was go there and help in any way we could,” said Goldsberry. “Although we had never met them, we had come to love the people and it hurt to be so close and not be able to help.”
Despite not being able to go to Nepal, the students gained valuable experiences while in Dharamshala that will stay with them forever.
“One quote I read on the flight over said, ‘Through weathering changes, we can develop an unshakable composure,’” said Corry. “This is what the Tibetans have to offer. They have every right to be angry and self-centered, but they’re not. They have compassion and are open to learning from their experiences.”
The study abroad culminated with a large exhibition in the Harris Fine Arts Center in October, and in several significant academic presentations. The project will continue this spring with a return to the original study in Nepal, followed by fieldwork in Tibet.
BYU boasts one of the largest study abroad programs in the country with 133 programs in 55 countries. The Kennedy Center website outlines all the study abroad opportunities.
See more photographs from the study abroad in this slideshow:
Photos: Clark Goldsberry