05 December 2012

Tibetan Digital Literacy: A Field Study

This blog documents my research into digital literacy in the Tibetan Children's Village school in McLeod Ganj, India in the summer of 2011. It spans from preliminary investigation to post-field reflection. Some highlights are my conversations with Norbu Jinpa, an email interview with a Tibetan political blogger, and the creative non-fiction I wrote while I was in India. To preserve the privacy of my subjects, I did not post results from field interviews or student surveys online. Two of my most popular posts are An American Classroom, which includes some descriptive notes of a high school class, and a description of Tibetan and Indian symbols.

One strength of documenting research in this way is that it reveals my full process, my ideas as they developed, and allows for conversation at every stage. If you are visiting this site, I welcome you to leave a comment and join the conversation.

08 November 2011

Travel Writing

Some thoughts on the media of travel writing:

I never considered myself a creative writer. I still do not consider myself a creative writer. However, I've been doing a fair amount of creative writing this summer, and it has given me some food for thought.
Winter flower
I've written in three formats: a daily, personal journal, bi-weekly blog posts, and a final essay.

Personal journal: This writing is different from the others in that it covers the wide range of thoughts and experiences I had in a day. Things that were on my mind that never made it into blog posts I recorded here--my best friend in the Philippines, my distaste for Harry Potter films, my excitement and trepidation for interviews--and therefore help to encapsulate the range of personality that defines me. I really value that sort of writing. On a day when I decided to write down everything I did, the entry reminds me of little things about McLeod, like walking around for thirty minutes to find a trash can, that helped to define my experience. The range of topics shows the dynamics of my personality, which I also value. Though I am hesitant to allow people to read anything from my personal journal, the text remains personally valuable.

Bi-weekly blog posts: I am inordinately proud of these posts. Sometimes I reread them just because they help me remember those moments in India that stood out as important, defining, and somehow significant. I never wrote a post about something that didn't really matter to me at the time. I would usually sit down every few days and think, what happened that was interesting in these last few days? I wrote at least one draft for each post and did my best to tie together ideas from my reading with the personal experiences that were so important to me. I love this post in particular, and not just because it received a positive response from the people who commented. I liked being able to blend several experiences, to show an evolution of sentiment, all in one post. I liked the unity of text and ideas and experiences. Years from now, when I want to reminisce about India, I will most likely go to my blog posts and read through some favorites, laughing about the crazy and wonderful things that happened there.

Final essay: I am also quite proud of this paper, though I worry that it will never be finished. This is the most limited of the formats and yet the most deep. I only share four stories--the one of the Jewish man, polyandry, the beggars on the kora, and a story of a Tibetan girl making its debut (I didn't post about it) but I am able to explore a single theme in much more depth than the other formats. In my essay, I deal with the issue of becoming a Christian (that is, trying to follow Christ) and the ambiguity that can exist in the process. Though the essay is, in some ways, an excellent representation of my time in India, it cannot show the shallow scope of my personal journal or the snippets of the blog posts.

All three formats have merit, and so I am glad I wrote all of them. As for which is the most authentic--I couldn't say. Is it the mundane, everyday thoughts and actions recorded in a journal that defines the time? Is it a little, thoughtful reflection on some highlights in a blog post? Is it the post-field interpretation of the most significant of those experiences? I would say that, without the three taken together, one could not have a full understanding of what it meant to be a field study student in McLeod this summer.

Photo credit: doug88888

Symbols part two

Significant to both Hindus and Buddhists, the lotus flower is a symbol of purification from the imperfections of the body, speech, and mind. Many Buddhist deities are portrayed sitting on lotus flowers.

The endless knot represents the unity of religious knowledge and non-religious knowledge. This symbol is endlessly popular on architecture, particularly as the filler on railings and fences.

04 November 2011

Symbols part one

Tibetan prayer flags: These colorful cloths, hung all around outside between the branches of trees, are printed with prayers and left outside forever. The idea is that, as natural elements slowly break the prayer flags down, threads of prayer flag will fly around the world to bless people everywhere.

Om mani padme hum: This is the Dalai Lama's mantra of compassion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the god of compassion, and this mantra (which, literally translated,  means "the god from the lotus flower" as far as I gathered) is chanted like a prayer. It is everywhere--engraved on the rocks around the kora, printed on little flaps of fabric on my host family's front door, and sung in songs that shopkeepers play on the streets.

31 October 2011

Taj Mahal

I am not ashamed to admit that the Taj Mahal has been a significant part of the draw of India for me. Ever since I read and reread Kathryn Lasky's rendering of Jahanara's diary during my historical fiction kick as a child, the story of the Taj has had an irresistible pull on my imagination. Happily, it did not disappoint.

Once inside the temple compound, we face an imposing red entry gate. 

A young, college-educated Indian man eagerly pounced on us, promising that his tour guide services were perfectly free and immensely useful. We reluctantly agreed, and we were fortunate in that he never did insist on payment. He regaled us with tidbits about the symmetry of the building,

24 October 2011

A Chinese Feast

I got home from a long day of research one evening just in time for Trisong to get a phone call from his friend. Tam Kho was preparing dinner, and it was nearly time to eat. When Trisong hung up, he said,

"Do you want to have dinner with my friends?"

I said, "Well, yes of course!"

And so Tam Kho turned off the stove and put the lid on what was now to be tomorrow's dinner. We put on our shoes and headed across town to a tiny Chinese restaurant near His Holiness's temple. There were about 30 people there, but we couldn't even eat all the food. Every person but me was Tibetan, and we were all eating Chinese food.

Here's the thing: Panda Express is not what Chinese food tastes like. Nothing was sweet and everything was hot. I got a bit nervous when I noticed that everyone was using chopsticks, but when my bowl of rice came there was a spoon instead, and Tam Kho was kind enough to use a spoon, too.

20 October 2011

15 October 2011

Learner-Owned: Digital Civilization

Calla Lily Unfolding What is self-directed learning?

I enrolled in Dr. Burton and Dr. Zappala's Digital Civilization course because I knew the course work was self-directed. It means that you get to shape your education to your own interests, major, and goals. I enrolled in the class as part of my preparation for my field study to a Tibetan community in India, intending to read and blog about Tibetans as I learned history and technology in the class. My first post, Tibetans and More, connected the ideas of Thomas More's Utopia with the exiled Tibetans' relationship to their homeland, and my addendum mused about the Utopian ideas of classroom technology--iClickers, Blackboard, and websites. Later on, I took a poll of a few classmates to discern their digital literacy and put together a working definition for my research.

For part of our course requirements, we were supposed to become familiar with new technologies and try using them. I started using Skype and ended up chatting, just through text, with Norbu Jinpa, an administrator in the school where I was hoping to conduct my honors thesis research, and with an exiled Tibetan blogger. I posted these conversations on my blog where they generated more conversations with classmates and other peers.

One of the most useful posts was my research grant application draft. I simply posted the entire text online and asked for feedback from anyone and everyone. Several people responded with thoughtful suggestions, including one woman whom I'd never met, and I ended up with a good proposal that received funding.

08 October 2011


"Today, I did a whole lot of meditation and yoga."

This is how I began my 23 July entry in my personal journal, but it could have begun most of my entries in McLeod. We--that is, Rachel, Megan, Elizabeth, and me--decided to take an intensive training course and become certified yoga instructors. It wasn't just yoga, though--no, we are also certified in pranayam, or breathing exercises, and several types of meditation.

At first, it was hard to keep a straight face. Om has a rather eccentric way of speaking English, and some of the postures are quite amusing.

As the class went on, though, it became more and more apparent to me that much of yoga and meditation is wrapped up in Hindu worship. We began and ended each class with a "silent prayer for God," which was just fine for my Christian beliefs, and then Om would sing a Sanskrit mantra. We did a bit of reiki, natural Indian healing, sometimes, which consisted of holding our hands over our eyes to self-heal. (Mahinder, our massage teacher, would also do a bit of reiki, believing that our bodies have natural energy to heal ourselves and others.)

22 September 2011

People Watching

August 8
I am sitting in the Chicago O'Hare airport, domestic terminal, just past security on a cushioned chair (a chair with a back, mind you) beneath the massive departure screens. I am between my fifteen-hour flight from India and my three-hour flight to Salt Lake. I'll be here for another seven hours, though, so I don't know which gate to go to yet. In the meantime, I'm people watching.

The long flight was 98% Indians, which was surprising to me considering the many vehement complaints I've heard about obtaining an American visa. Unlike my flight to Delhi, though, this proportion didn't make me feel slightly uneasy at being so obviously a minority. After going through customs, I took a train to terminal three and walked back into America.

I felt an unacknowledged kinship with the few Indians I could see. One guard insisted a woman take off her bangles for the security check. He was a bit short with her as he demanded she remove the symbolic equivalent of a wedding ring. An elderly woman was helping a frail little relative to remove his jacket. A family checked their boarding pass as they searched for the proper gate. One woman walked by with a shaved head and maroon robes. Part of me wanted to call for the attention of these people; they were more familiar than the bleached-blonde tourist wearing booty shorts and carefully applied make-up. Last year that man wearing a turban and black-rimmed glasses would have been strange to me, but now all these Caucasians are strange.


August 4
Tibetans don't keep track of their birthdays. When I asked Amalah which day is her birthday, she told me June 6. I asked Gyurme when his birthday is. June 6. Then I asked Tashi which day he was born. June 6. What are the odds of that?

Actually, the reason they all have the birthday of June 6 is because they don't know which day they were born, but for official refugee documents they need a birth date. It's easier to remember one date than three, so they all chose the same day for their "birthday."

When I found out, in July, that I had missed their communal "birthday," I was determined to make it up to them.  I decided to purchase dessert for each of them on three separate days. The only dessert they ever eat is fruit, since they don't like things to be too sweet. I asked them what their favorite fruit was--Amalah loves watermelon, Tashi likes litchi berries and bananas, and Gyurme's favorite is pineapple--and then I planned the celebrations. A birthday celebration day meant that I would say, in the morning, "Happy birthday, Amalah!" and she would laugh, knowing that I'd be bringing fruit for after dinner. I, having always had special accommodations on my birthdays, couldn't feel right about forgetting the birthdays of my Tibetan family members.