My Summer at TCV

[Guest post by Lobsang Wangkhang]


Months prior to my departure, my older cousin Rignam gestures to his hand and says “THIS SUMMER, THIS WILL BE YOUR SPOON, THIS WILL BE YOUR FORK, THIS WILL BE YOUR TOILET PAPER AND SO MUCH MORE”.  I’m not going to lie, this made me a bit hesitant about the whole India trip.  I have travelled before, but mainly around North America and Europe, so I knew this experience would be different due to their cultural differences.  June 26th came around pretty quickly and it was time to go.  I woke up to an amazing Mama Wangkhang breakfast and headed to the airport.  As Amala, Pala and I approach the airport security, I said my goodbyes to them, then wait in line.  I wave my hand vigorously at them and shed a tear or two, knowing that I won’t be tasting those homemade momos for a while.  I observed the environment as I board the flight, noticing that the majority of the passengers were of Indian descent, along with a few Tibetans.  I imagined this to be similar to the Dharamsala environment.  Following an 8 hour flight, 3 hour layover in Brussels, and another 8 hour flight, I was greeted by my uncle in Delhi.  As I feel the rush of hot air when exiting the airport doors, it finally hit me.  I was in India.

Throughout my brief stay in Delhi, I stayed at the Tibetan Homes guest house and spent most of the days in and around the shops of the world-famous (to Tibetans) Manju Ka Tila.  This was my first time in a bhopa shija… Unless Jameson in Toronto, or Queens in New York count.  Several days and a crazy 12-hour taxi ride later, I arrived in Dharamsala.  I stayed the first night at my aunties in Khangyi.  The next day, I visited Macleod Ganj briefly then went to Upper TCV, my home for the next 6 weeks.  As my Uncle, Aunt and I arrive at the basketball court, I was overwhelmed by the number of Tibetans that surrounded me.  Coming from a small town high school in Canada with less than 15 non-Caucasian Canadian citizens in a student population of 800, it was a massive change to see a school with almost all Tibetan students.

As my Kimsang Amala showed me around the house, I was ready to go home.  It was then when the kimsang children came running in and greeted me.  They were probably the most curious group of people I have ever seen, asking what my name was, how old I was, where I was from and the most significant of all: what were on my teeth.  Braces.  Following numerous discussions, my relatives left and I met my roommate who was also from Canada.  Each kimsang had a maximum of two summer campers in each of their houses of 15-30 students.  After the whole introduction process, we went to the first Summer Campers meeting.  From this point on, many students of different ages from countries including the United States, Canada, Switzerland, France, Ireland and the Philippines became familiar with the each other and became friends.  This was a new experience for myself and a couple other campers because we have never had Tibetan friends, mainly due to the low population of Tibetans where we lived.

The first couple days of camp were spent in the TCV classes of our respective grade levels.  Throughout the school day, I observe so many differences between the class I was in and the ones back in Canada.  Firstly, the class sizes of 40 are almost three times larger than my classes in Canada.  Despite the large class size, they all rise in sync and thank the teacher for their arrival as he/she enters the room.  A significant difference I noticed was that there was no technology in their classroom.  My school back home provides laptops, iPads, Smartboards and TI-83s for the students during classes.  However, even the use of calculators by students at TCV is prohibited.  They do have a computer lab, although it is only used when needed.  Even though there was a lack of technology, the classes still covered almost the same content as the course curriculums in Canada.  In my perspective, the lack of technology expands the intelligence of students, as it avoids distractions, maintains basic skills such as hand writing and improves mental math skills.  Overall, in comparison of the classrooms of different geographical locations, I admire the TCV classrooms more because the technology-free classrooms are an ideal environment for teachers to teach and students to learn.

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Waking up at 6:00 AM would be the start to an ideal day for campers.  After getting ready, we’d walk up to the temple at the top of the hill, which was a killer leg workout whether you’d like it or not.  This is where we’d do yoga, followed by a quick visit back to our kimsang to drink a cup of tea and grab a couple slices of bread before heading to class.  During our morning assembly, which was quite interesting, the teacher would tell us a story mixed in with the lecture, which would always end in a moral.  Then we would pray for a half hour, followed by the other classes.  Classes included language, history, performing arts and an elective.  The language classes were divided into three levels of difficulty to suit each campers needs.  Although 6 weeks is not enough to learn how to read and write fluently for beginners like myself, I acquired a basic understanding of reading and writing umey, so I guess it’s a start!  Besides, at home you probably have an Amala or Pala who is willing to teach you more.  History classes were also divided into three levels of Tibetan speaking and reading.  We learned about Tibet prior to, during and after the Chinese invasion, the 14 Dalai Lamas and many other historical aspects of the Tibetan culture.  During the performing arts period, we would dance and sing Tibetan songs.  Some were optional, such as Lhamo, Gorshey, Tashi Sholpa and Tukshey, but the National anthem, group song “Bho la dro” and a group dance called “Tsechen La” required participation of all campers.  Out of all the dances, I liked doing Tashi Sholpa the most.  I know it’s usually a man thing but the idea of dancing with the mask got me interested.  The campers had a choice of what subject to take during the “elective period”.  The choices were Tibetan cooking, Tibetan painting, Tibetan Music or Tibetan massage.  The cooking class made a variety of thukpas (soups) and tseys (curries), the painting class painted different Tibetan landscapes and symbols, the music class learned and played instruments including the yangchen, dramyen, lingpu and piwang, and the massage class… They massaged and got massaged, good ones that is!

The school day includes 2 recesses and a lunch break.  After the school day, it is supper time, then an optional gorshey.  All meals are served at our kimsangs, made by the students or the Amala.  At first I struggled with the food, as it was plain and repetitive.  However after a few weeks I was used to it.  All meals were vegetarian, except on rare occasions when a student in the household would have a birthday party and buy either mutton or chicken.  Due to the high population of Hindus in India, beef was a rare find.  Being the pig that I am, I was dying for beef because I was used to eating McDonald’s burgers every day after swimming practice back at home.  Luckily my parents sent me a care package filled with hot rods.  I know it’s probably not 100% beef but it was the closest thing to it that they could mail.

Food was probably the reason I looked forward to days off.  My Sundays and second Saturdays were mostly spent eating, whether it was at Tibet Kitchen with friends, my Auntie’s place in Khangyi, or at a restaurant in lower Dharamsala with my Uncle.  If I wasn’t eating, I was probably doing the 5-minute loop of Macleod Ganj 10 times trying to find something new to do, which there usually was.

Apart from classes, the itinerary for the summer camp included many excursions.  Excursions included meeting with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, a private audience with Gyalwa Karmapa, a visit to the Norbulingka Institute and a visit to the Tibetan government in exile offices.

The final days of camp were spent preparing and performing at the mock Losar event, then visiting other TCV’s in Lower Dharamsala, Suja, Chauntura and Gopalpur.  Throughout the mock Losar, we took part in all traditional Losar customs, followed by performances by the campers and handing out certificates.  The visits to the other TCV’s were interesting.  Day visits to Lower TCV and TCV Chauntura, and sleepovers at TCV Gopalpur and TCV Suja were a great experience because we could see that all the TCV schools were unique in their own way.

After camp ended, I went to visit relatives in Mussoorie at the Tibetan Homes School, Dekyiling and Purwala followed by exploring Chandigargh and Agra.  Overall, I loved the TCV Summer Camp.  I made so many friends and memories throughout the 6 weeks that I will always remember.  AMALAS AND PALAS: This is a great way to make your phugu nyompthos to open their eyes and be grateful for what they have! *wink *wink.  I plan on going back in 2015.

For information about the TCV Summer School Program, please visit their website: