Tibetan Studies Program in Dharamsala, Northern India

Dalai Lama group photo

Based in Dharamsala, India, this program is designed to offer a unique opportunity to live and study in a rich and complex cross-cultural setting. Dharamsala is home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the seat of the Government in Exile, as well as the cultural and intellectual capital of the Tibetan exile community. Students will gain an in-depth understanding of a community in exile and issues associated with Tibetan refugees. They will experience and engage in the challenges and possibilities that confront the Tibetan community which is striving to preserve traditional cultural values and identity in the context of globalization.

The Earlham program works with the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics (IBD) to create a semester of rigorous academic work, language study, cultural immersion, contemplative practice, and field research. The IBD was established by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1973 and is a prestigious center for advanced studies and practice. IBD provides the teachers and lecturers for the program. Students will attend classes at the Sarah Campus of IBD and will have an opportunity to experience the daily life of the Tibetan community in Dharamsala.

Program Leader

Kari Kalve is Professor of English at Earlham, with a specialty in Medieval British literature. Kari has led off-campus programs in London in 2001 and Southern India in 2006. She is excited to learn about a new part of India and to be able to return with her husband, Stephen Johnson, who teaches yoga at Earlham's Wellness Center. Kari was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of medieval studies, which combines the study of literature with that of history, visual arts including architecture, philosophy and theology. One of her focuses in studying literature has been on who has the power to speak for whom, and this led her to postcolonial literature and theory, which nurtured her interest in Indian history and literature. Questions about colonization, empire, voice and translation also apply well to the challenges faced by Tibetans living in exile in Dharamsala. Kari hopes that the program will help its participants to learn to speak for themselves and listen to others.


Dharamsala is located in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. With numerous Buddhist temples, monasteries and leading meditation teachers in residence, Dharamsala attracts thousands of visitors, pilgrims, world leaders as well as university students and scholars of Tibetan Buddhism who go to hear the Dalai Lama’s public teaching as well as to conduct research.

Living Situations

During the first part of the program students will live with Tibetan roommates while on the Sarah campus and will take most meals in the cafeterias. During the second part of the program students will live with Tibetan families in McLeod Ganj, the community immediately surrounding the IBD. During the program students participate in weekly fieldtrips, celebrate several important Tibetan and Indian holidays, and attend numerous cultural events.

Courses and Credits

Tibetan History and Culture4 Credits
In this class, students will learn Tibetan history and learn about and experience Tibetan cultural expressions, including visual and performing arts. The course will include readings, lectures and visits to cultural institutions. 

Tibetan Language 1014 Credits
This course is intended as an introduction to modern spoken and written Tibetan. By the end of the course, students will be able to understand and speak colloquial Tibetan at the novice level, write the classical dbu can script and read simple passages. The course will meet four to five days a week and will include grammar, reading, writing, speaking and oral comprehension.

Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy and Practice4 Credits
This course covers the fundamentals of Buddhism and more advanced explorations of Mahayana psychology, philosophy, and ethics.

Independent Research Project: Selected Topics, 2 Credits
This course allows students to explore a particular Tibetan Studies-related topic and ends with a major paper. Kari Kalve and the local staff supervise the research.

Mindfulness, Reflection, Identity, 4 Credits
Mindfulness is a concept and a practice centrally important to Tibetan Buddhism, as well as to many other forms of spirituality, including Quakerism and Hinduism. There is increasing research suggesting that mindfulness has a powerful role to play in education. In this class students will:  learn about innovative research into the benefits of mindfulness practices; learn about and attempt various mindfulness practices including different forms of meditation and yoga; and observe themselves as scholars and citizens of the world. Through the lectures, activities and writings for this course, students will integrate their scholarship and experiences on the program. This course will be taught by Kari Kalve. 

Pre-Departure and Post-Return

Students accepted to the program are required to participate in Cross-Cultural Exploration I (1 credit) prior to departure and Cross-Cultural Exploration II (1 credit) after they return.

Pre-departure sessions are designed to prepare the students for the cross-cultural experience and will include readings, activities, films and lectures. A weekend retreat is part of this course. Students and parents will receive a handbook of important information.

Following return to campus, students will participate in a seven-week course that will guide them in processing, analyzing and building upon their off-campus experience. Credit for Cross-Cultural Explorations I is dependent upon successful completion of the semester program.

The program will cost the same as one semester of on-campus charges, tuition, fees, room and board. The program covers academic and educational costs, and includes required field excursions and other group activities as well as room and board while on the academic portion of the program. A deposit of $350.00 is required after acceptance to the program, which is part of the total cost. Students on financial aid may apply their aid to one Earlham or GLCA-recognized off-campus program during their college career.

Additional Costs Including Travel

Each student should plan for additional money to cover round-trip airfare, personal expenses such as passport and books, visa application, and all costs for the independent travel period. Passport and visa are required for travel to India.


Undergraduate students in good standing with the College may apply. Students on academic probation are not eligible to participate. A student’s eligibility for this program may also be affected by being placed on disciplinary probation. Majors from all disciplines are welcome. Selection will be conducted by a student and faculty committee.

Program Updates

Go to Fall 2014 Blog

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Earlham College, an independent, residential college, aspires to provide the highest-quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts, including the sciences, shaped by the distinctive perspectives of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

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