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My Reflection on the 2016 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

By: Passang Gonrong

Participants of ICT's 2016 Tibetan Youth Leadership at the US State Department.

Participants of ICT’s 2016 Tibetan Youth Leadership at the US State Department.

My experience with the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program (TYLP) started when I was applying to the program in March. The prompt for the essay question was, “What does it take to be a leader in the Tibetan community?” On the surface, it sounded like a easy question with a simple solution; however, when I tried to come up with an answer, it lead to an ambiguous and complex response. This made me question not only what constitutes as a leader, but more importantly what the Tibetan community means to me. These ideas were just the tip of the iceberg for my week with TYLP.

This year’s cohort came from seven states across the country with ages ranging from 19 to 26 years old. There were students who were born and raised in Tibet, students who were born and/or raised in India and Nepal, and students who were born and/or raised in America. Although we all had the identity of being Tibetan, our diverse backgrounds allowed us to learn greatly from each other. For me, as a Tibetan born in America, hearing stories from my peers who had escaped from Tibet and those who were raised in India and Nepal were eye opening. Each one of us brought something different to the table. We were united in not only our identity of being Tibetan, but a shared goal of wanting to become future leaders in the Tibetan community.

We arrived to the capitol on the fourth of July and were lucky enough to see the red white and blue fireworks on the national mall underneath the Washington Monument. It was a magical start for our week ahead where we were learned the importance of not only our Tibetan identity, but our American identity. Bhuchung la, the vice president of International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), stressed that as Tibetan-Americans we have the right and privilege to advocate for Tibet to our representatives in the American government. Our Tibetan- American identity is important because we have the opportunity to help our brothers and sisters in Tibet through this country. This information was valuable to me because I had always compartmentalized my identity. I was a proud Tibetan and I was a proud American but I  did not think those two were entwined. It was during our mini lobbying day on capitol Hill that made me realize how mistaken I was. We had the honor of meeting with Congressmen, Jim McGovern, and Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, who both went on the Congressional Delegation to China and Tibet with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Both of these representatives, along with the others we met during the day, demonstrated to me the duty we, Tibetan Americans, have to champion for Tibet. Members of Congress would not have heard or supported Tibet if it were not for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the persistent Tibetan Americans, and the numerous pro-Tibetan organizations reminding Congress how important these issues are to their constituents.

IMG_2167Our week was packed with visits to the State Department where we able to attend a media briefing, have an interactive session with Ambassador David Saperstein, and meet with Mr. Todd Stein, a senior advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights and concurrently serves as special coordinator for Tibetan issues. We had the opportunity to visit the Tibetan Language Service for both Radio Free Asia and Voice of America where some of my peers were interviewed on air. We went on a White House Tour, had a meeting with the President of the National Endowment for Democracy, and also met Representative Kaydor Aukatsang la during our visit to the Office of Tibet. These were just the few things we were able to do in our busy week.

One of the most meaningful sessions for me was when it was just us and Bhuchung la. We were able to reflect on the programs we attended during the week and come up with solutions that focused on Tibet and Tibetans through the lens of the American government. The conversations that were discussed during the session and throughout the week were stimulating and engaging. Each one of my peers were motivating, thoughtful, and encouraging. I am excited to see the inspiring things they will do in the future. On the other hand, the main reason we were able to have such an open dialogue was because of our coordinators,  Bhuchung la and Tencho la, who created a space that encouraged growth and ideas. We were able to freely share these ideas without being intimidated or afraid to ask questions. This is why I think TYLP is so successful.

IMG_0290I highly urge every Tibetan college student to apply to the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program. The knowledge and friendships I have gained this week will be everlasting. The International Campaign for Tibet has created a unique and valuable program granting young Tibetans access to learn more about their identity and how to become leaders in the Tibetan American community.

Seven days in Washington, DC: my experience participating in ICT’s Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

By: Pasang Tsering

TYLP

TYLP participant Pasang Tsering (in glasses) and others getting their orientation from coordinator Tencho Gyatso over dinner on the day of their arrival.

It was pouring heavily in New York City — June 1, 2015. My friend Tenzin who was also heading to Washington, DC, for the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program was anxiously waiting for me as the train departure was nearing. Bouncing along the streets in full swing, I eventually made it Penn Station right on time, but I was completely soaked, my glasses, backpack, suitcase and everything. No sooner, we settled down and the train started to move, and as I changed my shirt and jacket, I turned to my friend and told her with sigh, “Thank, God! We are escaping this nasty rain.”

To our utter dismay, the moment we reached Washington, DC, we were greeted with a thunderous shower as if it was following us all the way down from New York. That was hilarious! We Tibetans believe raining while embarking on a new journey is a sign of good luck and a probable success. Now when I look back, I think it might have been a really special symbol. Our seven days in Washington, DC, for Tibetan Youth Leadership Program organized by International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) was in deed special, very special.

Our agenda included visits to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Washington Media Institute, Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, Office of Tibet, Congressional Research Service, the House and Senate Offices, and the State Department. We also visited the White House, but that was just for an evening walk. In all seriousness, those aforementioned places where we visited really gave us rare insight and understanding of their significance in American political processes and the Tibetan issues.

Our resource persons for those meetings were NED President Carl Gershman, Chief of VOA Tibetan Service Losang Gyatso, Amos Gelb of the Washington Media Institute, Representative of H.H. the Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration Kaydor Aukatsang, Congressman Jim McGovern and even the U.S. Undersecretary of the State and the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Sarah Sewall.

Similarly, we sat down for series of panel discussions at the ICT office. Our guest speakers included a former Tibetan prime minister, Chinese human rights lawyer, a former Tibetan political prisoner, a motivational speaker, a former State Department senior official, and also ICT president, vice president and director of government relations.

Almost all our training sessions were less formal and more casual. Everyone participated in the discussion as necessary posing questions and adding comments. Just as much as we learned from our resource persons, we learned from each other too in so many ways. Our cohort of 13 attendees ranged from a rising junior to a doctorate candidate and we all had mostly different upbringing and educational and professional background.

For me, the leadership training was special not just because of the places we visited and the people we met and interacted with, but also because of the positive imprints that it instilled in each and every one of us in the process.

Of course, every attendee could have his or her own individual goal for going there, but Bhuchung Tsering, the vice president of ICT, set us a very clear collective goal on the very first day at the orientation. He said, “ICT has overarching goals to achieve from this training, but, in my view, if you can achieve one singular goal, it is more than enough and that goal is to change our mindset.”

Mr. Bhuchung Tsering highlighted the fact that we, Tibetans, identify ourselves as Tibetan refugees or simply Tibetans. Even younger generation who are born and brought up here on American soil consider themselves as Tibetan refugees or may be Tibetans, but not Americans. He stressed, “You are not only Tibetans, you are Tibetan-Americans, too. You are Americans just as everyone else in this country.”

The main reason why he was emphasizing us to recognize this fact was to encourage younger generation to engage ourselves into the civic and cultural life of the American society and be a part of the processes in making a difference here in the country and abroad. Simultaneously, we can help our ancestral land Tibet and Tibetan people through American political, economic and social processes.

This mission of changing our mindset might be a brilliant and doable idea for some, but a daunting challenge for others. We had attendees who were born and brought up here and they are through and through Americans just as they are through and through Tibetans. For them, they might be able to simply fine-tune their narrative. For those who recently immigrated to the United States, including myself, it was a lofty challenge. In fact, it is a constant struggle.

As someone who has a deep appreciation for Buddhist philosophy, I am always mindful of not being carried away by the three sources of evils — attachment, anger and ignorance. Hence, my challenge of finding difficulty in identifying myself as an American is not out of my attachment to my birthplace Nepal or my ancestral land Tibet or obsession with Tibetan pride for that matter, but it was rather my earnest effort in searching the American spirit within my soul deep down inside.

Never in my wildest dream would I dare to identify myself as an American simply because I want to claim rights or pursue personal ends. I would not do it even if the law of the land says I am an American citizen and that I am guaranteed with those inalienable rights for I believe every right comes with duties and one of those sacred duties is to be a genuine American by heart and mind, which can never be determined by one’s place of birth or a piece of paper nor by an accent of speech or color of skin.

To my great joy, another special moment of this training was I found a solace in my search of American spirit. Among many others, Tibetans and Americans have one but the most important thing in common i.e. our values. We are bound by our shared values that treasure life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. That to me is more than enough reason to tie the knot for these two partners once and for all — Tibetan-American!

Mission accomplished. Thank you, ICT!

2014 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program: My Reflection

By: Jigme Taring

Dear 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.

Respectfully,

Jigme Taring