Cultural Exchange Program
In 2002, Lha was asked by the Tulane University School of Social Work to assist a group of graduate social work students on an international social work exchange to Dharamsala. We facilitated the students' engagement in social work projects within the Tibetan refugee and the local Indian communities, and our Cultural Exchange Program was born. We have been welcoming growing numbers of visiting school groups each year. By 2008 we had worked with seven groups, which grew to eleven in 2009. In 2010, five groups of university and high-school students, mainly from the USA, joined this program. We now have over 75 students participating each year.
Currently, Lha works with student groups every summer from the Tulane School of Social Work, Tulane University, Centenary College, Loyola University, Rustic Path Way, Lifework International and other US universities and high schools. Most student groups come between May and the end of September (though other months are available) and stay anywhere between one week to one month.
The Cultural Exchange Program involves each visiting student pairing off with a 'Mutual Learning Partner' – a Tibetan English language student at Lha. Most of the students are not fluent in English but they are all very enthusiastic about learning and sharing their knowledge with others. They can share stories about their lives and experiences. Most of the students are between the ages of 20 and 40. Visiting students get to visit the homes of their new friends, meet members of their family, and make friends in the Tibetan refugee community.
Lha can arrange lectures from well-known professionals in the evenings on particular topics like the political situation of Tibet, social status of Tibetans in Tibet and of Tibetans in exile, Tibetan medicine, and Tibetan Buddhism and culture.
Lha also offers classes on Tibetan language, Tibetan cooking, Tibetan arts, yoga, and massage treatment to visitors and group students. Exchange groups, or individuals within the group, can arrange lessons based on their interests.
Lha can also arrange small local projects for the cultural exchange students to participate in. Our community can benefit from projects such as environmental clean-up and awareness initiatives, health workshops, working in the community soup kitchen and assisting the local elderly. Longer term projects may include facilitating Lha's Dental Program or Eye Care Program. We can also work with many other local organizations to create projects that coincide with the themes and needs of the exchange program.
For exchange groups staying at Lha's Ahimsa House, we provide meals, including breakfast and dinner. Meals will be served buffet-style, with five to seven different dishes offered including vegetarian and non-vegetarian options and dessert. We serve a variety of different foods, including traditional Tibetan food, so students can experience the delicious Tibetan cuisine.
Another option is for exchange groups to participate in the Home Stay program. The Home Stay program gives exchange students the unique opportunity to live with a Tibetan family in the community and experience the culture, traditions and lifestyle of Tibetans in exile. Students eat meals and participate in the daily life of their host family. Applicants should be aware that the living standards of the local Tibetan community may be lower than what they are accustomed to.
Upon your arrival in India, Lha can pick up your group at the Delhi airport and arrange comfortable and safe accommodation during your stay in Delhi. If you would prefer to arrange your own accommodation we can give recommendations. Lha will arrange local tours to places like Norbulingka, Gyoto monastery, Tibetan Children's Village School, the Tibetan museum, Tsuglakhang temple, the Tibetan library, the Central Tibetan Administration, and Men Tse Khang Tibetan Medical Institute to help students learn more about Tibetan culture and life in exile.
The Cultural Exchange Program provides Tibetan students with the opportunity to practice their English conversational skills while giving international volunteers a meaningful experience connecting with local refugees. Lha offers multiple language classes in English and other languages daily, which focus on grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. These classes are taught by long-term international volunteers. Unfortunately, students rarely have the opportunity to practice and improve their conversational fluency. Through the Cultural Exchange Program, Lha pairs exchange students with volunteers for two to three hours per day, to work on English conversational ability and pronunciation.
As an international Cultural Exchange student, you learn more about Dharamsala and the Tibetan way of life in a mutually beneficial relationship which fosters a deeper cultural understanding. Each Tibetan refugee’s life has been altered by the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and they each have a unique story to tell. The decision to leave Tibet is always a difficult one; life in exile has many costs as well as potential benefits. Tibetans in exile have religious freedom but must leave behind friends, family and livelihoods. We hope that through conversations with their Tibetan partners, attending lectures on Tibetan issues, and through participation in local projects, each Cultural Exchange student will learn more about Tibetan culture, the political situation in Tibet, and what life is like for a refugee.
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