Exiled Tibetan Students Plan to Use Studies at Nova to Aid Refugees

UNPO, April 4, 2006

The Hague, Netherlands -- To Tashi Wangla and Tenzin Chokden, earning scholarships to study at Nova Southeastern University was the equivalent of winning a lottery.

The 20-year-old Tibetan students came here last fall from a region of northern India that is home to 100,000 Tibetans in exile from Chinese rule.

"We want to share our Tibetan culture and our country's information," Wangla said. "Our country is not so known in the rest of the world."

Chokden said, "When I came here, most people [I met] didn't know where Tibet is on a map. So we have to explain to them."

Chokden's family fled Tibet, a mountainous territory under Chinese rule, before he was born. Wangla's family remains there.

NSU offered full, four-year scholarships because it wanted to build on its relationship with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, after he visited the university in fall 2004.

The Dalai Lama's younger sister, Jetsun Pema, runs the Tibetan Children's Villages in northern India, a network of boarding schools that uphold Tibetan tradition.

About 15,000 students attend the schools from early childhood through grade 12.

Many are separated from their parents, who have either died or are among the 6 million Tibetans remaining in their homeland.

Wangla and Chokden were selected for the scholarship because they were judged by Pema and others to be best able to adjust to life in the United States.

Wangla wants to be a medical doctor and Chokden wants to work in business administration. Both say they plan to earn advanced degrees and then return to India to help their community.

When they go back, holding degrees from a university in the United States will be a huge advantage.

"If you have a degree from United States and another [person] has a degree from India," Wangla said, "you will get the preference from employers."

At NSU, the two use computer labs with Internet access. At a library in India, they could borrow two books at a time for one week only.

Here they can check out as many books as they like for a month or more.

So far, most of their classes have been easy, they said, because they began taking college-level courses after 10th grade at the boarding school where they also learned to speak and write English.

The pair also speak Hindi, the mother tongue of northern India, and their native language, Tibetan.

Belief in the Buddhist religion is fundamental to their lives.

They pray twice daily, meditate and chant.

Twice monthly, they visit the nearest Tibetan Buddhist temple, the Tubten Kunga Center in Deerfield Beach.

In daily life, they work to put others before themselves, don't believe in harming small animals or insects and attempt to avoid arguments of any kind.

"Peace is the best way to solve any kind of a problem," Wangla said.

Don Rosenblum, dean of NSU's undergraduate school, said NSU plans to offer scholarships to two other Tibetan students in another four years. The scholarships cover almost all expenses, including tuition, room and board and travel, and could be worth as much $150,000 each, he said.

NSU benefits because the students' presence "expands our cultural mix with what they bring to their classes and the people they interact with at the residence halls," Rosenblum said.