By: Jigme TaringDear Reader,
I am humbly taking this opportunity to reflect on my experience with this year’s Tibetan Youth Leadership Program (TYLP) organized by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).
TYLP as you may know- or if you don’t know- is just one of the many virtuous works ICT provides for the ever-changing Tibetan movement. I can confirm that this specific program, led by ICT’s Tencho Gyatso la and Bhuchung Tsering la, is an extremely enlightening experience for the Tibetan-American youth. The program serves to empower 10 ambitious young Tibetan-American (undergrad/grad) students every year who feel a deep passion for the Tibetan cause and equip them with the necessary knowledge and tools in order to become effective leaders in the Tibetan community.
From the 10 participants in this year’s TYLP, we came from nine different states, several different fields of study, and unique stories and backgrounds, which made for a truly diverse and dynamic group. I believe there was a no better host city for this type of event than the nation’s capital, Washington DC. We were housed comfortably in George Washington University’s Thurston Hall for the eventful week. I must also mention that the food, traveling, room and board expenses were all graciously paid for by ICT, making this program incomparable.
Some wonder why TYLP is limited to just 10 participants. I’m assuming there are many reasons for this, but I personally felt it provided a more intimate experience for the participants, all of the people we met, places we saw, and so on. In fact, my favorite part of the program was meeting and interacting with the other participants. We all became very close by the end of the week, and I plan to keep in contact with all of them. Being the youngest participant, I found it useful to serve as a sponge at times to soak in all the knowledge and experience from others. Some of the most informative and interesting debates were actually done off the clock, in the dorms.
The schedule over the course of the five days was quite intensive and elaborately planned. Throughout the week we visited many influential places such as the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Watch, and The Office of Tibet, just to mention a few. At the Washington Media Institute, a highly animated instructor by the name of Mr. Amos Gelb taught us how the media plays an integral role in politics. Back at the ICT office, we met with leaders in the Tibetan movement as well as Chinese scholars. From all the invigorating discussions that we had with the notable figures, what I enjoyed most was the way they challenged our way of thinking. They gave us perspectives we would never ponder. I felt that this constant challenge throughout the week immensely motivated us and presented the reality of our Tibetan situation today.
A personal highlight from the week was being able to partake in a live radio talk show at the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia (RFA). Tenzing Rapden Lama la, Dede Dolkar la, and I represented our TYLP group on that morning where we were asked to speak on a variety of topics, ranging from our experience during the week to more controversial topics such as “Rangzen vs. Umaylam.” Although it was a bit nerve-racking, it was a good experience for us to be able to articulate our thoughts on the spot on live radio in our native tongue. I believe you can find the clip of our live show on YouTube.
One important lesson I attained from the week (which I mentioned on the radio show) was a message given by Mr. Lodi Gyari, former Special Envoy to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who shared his thoughts on what he hopes to see in this new generation of Tibetans worldwide. He said we need more professionals. We can be professionals in anything, whether it is a lawyer, painter, politician, doctor, etc. Just being a Tibetan, and a Tibetan professional at that, carries tremendous weight and strengthens the entirety of our global Tibetan community. With our abundance of resources and our access to quality education in exile, I see more and more Tibetan professionals from all departments in the coming years.
Another influential lesson I took from the week was the significance of being a “Tibetan-American.” Bhuchung Tsering la explained why we should identify ourselves as Tibetan-Americans and not just merely Tibetan or American, respectively. By being a Tibetan-American we have a substantial amount of opportunities as citizens of the United States, combined with a great deal of responsibility to use our opportunities to help our brothers and sisters in Tibet. So we must embrace and understand what it means to be a Tibetan-American and fully utilize it to our advantage.
All in all, considering the quality of the preparation, intensity of the program, and having all the expenses paid for by ICT, there is no other program of this magnitude with these types of benefits. I whole-heartedly encourage any Tibetan-American University students reading this to apply for this unparalleled week. I especially recommend the younger students, 18-20, to apply as I did.