Friday, January 20, 2012

Yeshi's future: Serving Tibetan refugees

Note: This is copied directly from the University of Wyoming (UW) Website with the same title. Here is the complete URL

Tenzin Yeshi began his graduate journey in a familiar business field, but found his life’s purpose in education.

Yeshi enrolled in UW’s graduate program in accounting when he arrived in Laramie in 2007, expecting to continue an already successful career in that profession after graduation. But he knew that his interests; and future - were somewhere else. After one semester, Tenzin transferred to UW's doctoral program in adult and postsecondary education.

"Education is the one area where I will be better able to continue to help the Tibetan people," he says. "I realize that money is not everything. For me, what is more important is how I can contribute to my Tibetan community."

Yeshi wasn't completely unfamiliar with education or with the educational challenges that his peers face. Before coming to the U.S. to study, he spent three years as an internal auditor assigned to Tibetan refugee schools in India, Nepal and Bhutan. For another five years, he was serving as under secretary and later, deputy secretary of education, helping Tibetan students find opportunities to study in other countries, when he met former UW Graduate School Dean Don Roth. But the decision to pursue doctoral work in adult education represented both a shift in career direction and a personally transformative learning experience.

"When I moved into the field of education, I realized that it is not only about teaching but it's also about developing yourself as an individual," Yeshi says. Tenzin's dissertation research explored the skills education for adult Tibetan immigrants in the United States. He found that, despite having comparatively high levels of education, this population faces significant challenges to successful life in the U.S.

"Many of the Tibetans are struggling with their life, with their work, and also with their continuous learning in the United States," he says. Because of gaps between their educational backgrounds and the needs of the American job market, many are working in low-paying jobs with long hours. They lack the skills needed for a new life for themselves and their families. "Many of them do not realize the need for new skills to achieve some kind of upward mobility in the United States," Yeshi explains. "They are really content with what they learned from India, trying to use those to get a better job here."

Language also can be a barrier, according to Yeshi’s study. While most refugees are comfortable with written English, they had few opportunities to practice speaking it. The result is lower confidence and lower proficiency. Adding to the challenge are negative self-perceptions of themselves as adult learners, that they are "too old" to learn, and the assumption that their need for learning ended when they completed formal education in India.

Tenzin's study fills a significant gap in adult education research generally and research on the Tibetan refugee population specifically.

"There are very limited studies of skills education in the United States, both for the American population as well as for immigrant populations," he says. "I believe my study is the first and may help to provide solutions or recommendations for further research."

Beyond contributing to the scholarly discussion, Yeshi's research has sparked clarity about how he can individually contribute to the health and viability of the U.S.'s Tibetan refugee community, by developing and providing skills education that fit their needs. He also sees opportunity in engaging members of that community to help each other.

"During this whole dissertation journey, I came into contact with some of the most highly trained Tibetan professionals in the United States," he says. "They are willing to provide volunteer services for some kind of skills education to Tibetan immigrants." A more indirect outcome of his doctoral work: increased visibility as a contributor to blogs and Tibetan news sites.

"I started writing in 2009," he says. "That is when I was at UW. My writing stems from UW. I think it is mainly because, when I see the growth in myself, when I see different perspectives from looking at a particular topic, I see an an obligation to share it."

After successfully defending his dissertation in November, Yeshi is now focusing on job opportunities that will allow him to continue his research and work with the Tibetan refugee population. On the research front, he plans to expand his study to new groups within the larger population, to better understand the broader learning needs of Tibetan immigrants.

*Reposted on the Central Tibetan Administration website on Jan 21, 2012. Here is the URL

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tibet's History: A Barrier for Negotiation?

“I have no interest in history because it is a story about dead people”
– A junior high Tibetan student.

Though I heard the above story several years ago, my memory of it is still vivid and fresh.  I don’t know the specific reason for its storage in my long-term memory.  As a Behaviorist would say, the reason may lie in the reinforcement.  Once such reinforcement came last week when I presented to a group of undergraduate and graduate students at University of Wyoming on, “The U.S., China, and the Freedom of Tibet”.

Many wars were fought on the historical facts (as if the fact is an absolute truth).  People died because of history.  Women raped because of history.  Individual tortured and imprisoned because of history.  Citizen fought for rights because of history.  Nation collapsed because of history.  Further, nationalism created because of and based on history.  However, many tend to ignore the fact that “history books were written by winners”.  To put it differently, history books may be biased or one-sided.  To support the existence of these biases, the United States recently acknowledge and starts to rewrite some of its history books concerning Native Americans and their struggle against the White domination.  But all countries are not the United States.  One such country, discussed in this piece, is China.

Like several countries, China has a number of unresolved tensions with its neighboring countries because of what it deemed as “historical facts”.  China continues to have historical disputes with Japan, Korea, Taiwan, India, Vietnam, and Philippines, among others.  As noted earlier, these tensions or disputes generally stem from two versions of history – one written by China and other by the respective country.  In these political or boundary disputes, historical facts have been one of the key sticking points of failed negotiations.  The existence of similar pattern could be seen along the line of Tibetan negotiations with China (or the United Work Forum) over its freedom struggle.

Understandably, the history of Tibet also has two versions: one taught in China and Chinese-controlled Tibet; and one taught in the Tibetan diaspora.  Undoubtedly, both claim their version to be true.  A year ago, I asked a question to China expert at Hunter College, New York City on the chances of rewriting Tibetan history.  There was (and is) no real answer to this complicated question.  However, the impact of two versions of Tibetan history is fairly evident (discussed later).  Given Diana Wolff’s description of six Tibets, I use two Tibets to discuss the differing versions of Tibetan history: China’s Tibet and Diaspora’s Tibet.

China’s Tibet

Tibetans in Chinese-controlled Tibet and Chinese in proper China were taught histories on China’s Tibet.  Generally, these histories highlight China’s suzerainty and sovereignty over Tibet since centuries and centuries ago.  As a Chinese student shared during my presentation noted earlier, “China helped Tibet fight against the British occupation in 1880s and 1904”.  They only knew that Chairman Mao liberated Tibet from its feudal system.  For Chinese, Tibet is a socialist paradise represented on the Chinese flag as one of the four small yellow stars on a red background (Wolff, 2010).  Many Chinese view Tibetans as ungrateful for what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has done to them such as the benefits of modernity and material progress.  For China, Tibet represents only the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). 

At present, though many Chinese may not agree with the role and influence of CCP in the Chinese government, they are generally very supportive of both when it comes to the issue of Tibet.  The creation of this nationalism may be a direct result of their version of history books.

Diaspora’s Tibet

Tibetan history in the exile Tibetan diaspora firmly supports the independence of Tibet and views the Chinese Communist Party as the colonizer.  They knew the declaration of Tibet’s independence in 1912 by the 13th Dalai Lama.  The Central Tibetan Administration based in Dharamsala, India is a representative government for Tibetans in diaspora.  Though the Dalai Lama is labeled a demon in China, he is the undisputed spiritual head for Tibetans in diaspora and majority in Chinese-controlled Tibet.  For Tibetans, Tibet represents Ethnographic Tibet i.e., TAR and, Amdo and Kham (parts of today’s Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan).

Many exile Tibetans were taught Tibetan version of history in the Tibetan refugee schools in India, Nepal, Bhutan, and other countries.  They respect their version as the ultimate truth.  Because of two differing versions of Tibetan history, there are occasional conflicts between Tibetans educated in exile and Tibetans educated in the Chinese-controlled Tibet.  Like Chinese, Tibetans in diaspora have a strong sense of nationalism when it comes to the issue of Tibet.


As of writing this piece, it is clear that both group of Tibetans (those who propose complete independence and those who propose middle way policy) adhere to the principle of non-violence for seeking Tibet's freedom.  In other words, negotiation (talk and dialogue) seems to be the only viable option for resolving the issue of Tibet.  However, the question is - with the existence of two differing versions of Tibetan history, how should one negotiate the issue of Tibet?  Looking at the two opposing historical facts, the negotiation of Tibetan issue seems a daunting task.  

In negotiation, the likely solution is a win-win proposition (resolution) for both sides: Tibet and China.  However, what is a win-win proposition?  Based on two representations of Tibet (TAR and Ethnographic Tibet), will China –- an emerging global power -- be willing to redraw its provincial borders OR will Tibetans be willing to compromise the Ethnographic Tibet?  In a situation where questions are many and answers limited, the negotiation of Tibet issue may see a long journey in the future.


The swiftness of negotiations may lie in the untangling of two opposing historical facts.  It may not be possible in the short-run to rewrite Tibetan history but it may be feasible to create a favorable atmosphere between Chinese common people and Tibetans via mutual understanding. 

Being born as a refugee in India, I may not be the right person to write about Tibetans in Chinese-controlled Tibet.  So, I will share my conclusion on mutual understanding between Chinese common people and Tibetans in diaspora.

Though Chinese in China and Tibetans in Chinese-controlled Tibet may not have a privilege to study the opposing historical facts, Tibetans in diaspora do have an option to include the opposing historical facts of China’s Tibet in its school curriculum.  With this understanding, Tibetans in diaspora may better accommodate the general feelings of Tibetans in the Chinese-controlled Tibet as well as the Chinese common people.  With a creation of mutual respect and understanding, Tibetans may be able to gain the heart and support of Chinese common people, which may soon lead to the ultimate resolution of Tibet issue.

To conclude, at the end of my presentation noted earlier, I emphasized, “History is a good tool to learn a lesson from past but not a good tool to define the future.  Generally, history helped create hatred among peoples.  The most important is to create a good and friendly relationship between Chinese common people and Tibetans because there are many existing differences on how they view the issue of Tibet”.  At the end, I may have partially supported the stand of a junior high Tibetan student on “history”.