Student, faculty researchers capturing history of Tibetans in exile

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Fayetteville (Arkansas, US), Dec. 5 (ANI): Geshe Thupten Dorjee, a Tibetan monk who teaches at the University of Arkansas, Sidney Burris and 15 students from the university, are working on a text project titled "Tibetans in Exile Today," an oral-history program designed to record the stories of Tibetans currently living in refugee settlements in India.

The project focuses on the Tibetans who left their country in 1959, but still have vivid memories of traditional Tibetan culture.

Recently, Tibetan spiritual leader, The Dalai Lama expressed a desire to meet the faculty and students who were working to preserve the history and life stories of a people forced from their homes, some forbidden to ever return.

Introducing Arkansas students to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala was a dream come true for Burris, who brought Geshe Dorjee to Arkansas for the first time in 2004.

Their research has led to some surprising finds.

Several of the elderly monks have found life in India easier than life in Tibet, even though all of those interviewed hope to return someday to their homeland.

But the educational facilities in India are better, and they have benefited from the modernization that is transforming the country.

The Tibetans' demeanor, said Burris, constantly amazed the students.

"Many of them remarked that, even living in conditions that many Americans would call squalid, the Tibetans were cheerful, willing to spend hours with our students helping them with their project, and generally had an infectious happiness that transcended the harsh conditions of their exile," recalled Burris.

The project, now two years old, will eventually span generations as Tibetans are born and grow up in India.

"It's a hothouse experiment designed to understand how cultural traditions are maintained within the global, fully wired and connected community. In some sense, the Tibetans have been forced to make deliberate decisions about what to keep in their culture and what to abandon, the kinds of decisions that often get made less deliberately by other cultures that are not forced by exile to make them," Burris observed.

Burris and Dorjee have deliberately tried to avoid the political implications of their work, though at times they find that difficult. Their focus has been on allowing the Tibetans the resources to tell their own stories.

One of the unique features of the project lies in its focus on student involvement.

After three weeks of intensive training in Tibetan culture and history as well as in the fundamentals of high-definition video recording and oral history, Arkansas students spend three weeks in India, preparing the interviews, conducting them and then later helping to process the gathered footage.

Project leaders are already envisioning new goals and ways to improve on the substantial results that they have already achieved. (ANI)

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