TYLP, an experience that will stick with me forever

I’ve always struggled with my Tibetan-American identity, never really feeling fully a part of either. Being born in America as the daughter of Tibetan refugees has greatly influenced my worldview and interpretation of my own responsibilities as a Tibetan-American. Unlike my parents and the older generations of Tibetans, I didn’t grow up in a refugee settlement or witness the difficult realities displaced people face. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was given a golden spoon in my mouth, but I was provided a spoon that was crafted from the struggle and resilience that the older generation of Tibetans endured. As a result, I have access to a plethora of opportunities and education that my parents didn’t.

Witnessing the silence of the international community on the Tibet issue has inspired me to pursue a career in international relations and public service. When I found out I had been accepted into the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program, I was excited to connect with other Tibetans and learn more about how I could best contribute to the Tibet movement. Coming from a small Tibetan community in Chicago, the idea of meeting other Tibetan-American youth across the country was one I always wished for. Based on my experience doing college remotely for an entire year, I was hesitant about participating in a virtual program. Despite entering the program with low expectations, I left the TYLP with an unforgettable experience and invaluable connections.

Through TYLP I was able to meet a variety of people in public service and learn about their connection to the Tibet cause. Although the program was only one week, I was able to participate in a US State department simulation, lobby for Tibet, talk to diplomats, and meet the people behind the human rights reports I’ve been quoting for years. Most notably, I met fellow Tibetan-Americans in public service. Considering that I had never met a Tibetan working in public service, I was surprised to meet four incredibly inspiring Tibetan Americans making change and working in the federal government. Their support and willingness to mentor and guide us through a career in public service was empowering.

Even though all of the sessions taught me something new, the first and last sessions were the most memorable. In the first session, Bhuchung Tsering la asked our cohort (something along the lines of) “What is your country?” Every single member of my cohort said “Tibet”. When Bhuchung la pointed out that almost all of the participants were born and raised in America, we all fell silent. Being American comes with its privileges and as TIBETAN AMERICANS we must utilize that privilege to uplift the concerns of those inside Tibet. I left that call with a whole new perspective on the Tibet issue and even some closure to questions I had with my own Tibetan American identity. The last session was equally as impactful. Hearing Ngawang Sangdrol la speak about her life in Lhasa and the lack of basic fundamental rights in Tibet was disheartening. My grandmother was born and raised in Lhasa, so listening to Sangdrol la’s story of resistance was inspiring.

While the long hours staring at a screen wasn’t ideal, the lessons I took away from each session and the people I met through TYLP is an experience that will stick with me forever.

By Sonam Rikha, TYLP 2021

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The International Campaign for Tibet's blog periodically features guest blogs by individuals who can provide unique insight to ICT programs and current events.