30 March 2011

Generation Gap

Today in my prep class we were discussing current events.  One of the things we mentioned was the recent election for a new political leader of Tibet (since the Dalai Lama is stepping down), the results of which will come out next month.  The favorite candidate is young Dr. Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard PhD with exceptional credentials.  Dr. Sangay is especially popular among the younger generation.  In this context we discussed the widening gap between the older and younger generations of Tibetans.

As I thought about the methodology of my project today, I realized that it works quite well with this generation gap.  Here is a brief synopsis of my methodology:
I will distribute surveys to classes of Tibetan students. The survey questions are based on the International Society for Technology in Education's five standards for digital-age learning.  The inquiries will probe the ways in which Tibetan students in India "demonstrate creativity and innovation, communicate and collaborate, conduct research and use information, think critically, solve problems, and make decisions, and use technology effectively and productively" ("NETS for students").  My mentor and I will design 20-30 survey questions to discover what cultural effects are unique to Tibetan culture and interview questions regarding positive and negative perceptions of the digital renaissance.  These survey questions include domain analysis to generate a Tibetan definition of “technology.”   The survey takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete and is completely voluntary.
If the teachers in whose classrooms I distribute surveys are willing, I will obtain written consent from them and conduct a semi-structured interview consisting of 10-20 questions and taped recording.  These interviews will address Tibetan culture and its relationship to the digital renaissance as perceived by teachers and administrators.  An interview will last 1-2 hours, and may result in 1-4 follow up interviews if the participant is particularly insightful.  In the time I am in their classrooms I will conduct unstructured interviews when I have the chance to talk to them about what I observe in the class, taking careful notes during or after. 
If you think of the older generation as representing Tibetan culture and traditions and the younger generation as representing modern Tibet, the nation in the digital age, then my methods fit beautifully.  The students, the younger generation, will be a source of information about modernized, digital Tibet.  The older generation will be the source of information regarding traditional Tibetan culture.  Beautiful!

Good News!

Sometimes, despite my efforts to keep up with the digital renaissance, I forget what wonderful things are available on the Internet.  Case in point: I own this beautiful book, the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to India.  The book is an excellent resource for travel in India, and it has certainly proven useful and likely will prove useful when I am in India.  However, the section on Dharamsala itself is short, of course, since India is a large and diverse country.  Today I found Wikitravel, a project to create a "free, complete, up-to-date, and reliable worldwide travel guide."  So far Wikitravel has 24,659 destination guides written and edited by travelers from around the globe.  First of all, what a great idea!  Second of all, I love the Internet!

Here's the email I wrote to my parents about this good news:
Hey mom and dad,

I was browsing the internet today and I found this wonderful online travel guide for Dharamsala!  I thought you might be interested in seeing it since I will be living in this town for nearly the entire summer.  I got really excited (especially reading about the food!) (and then reading about the PRICES of that food!) (and then reading about the TWO FRENCH RESTAURANTS!!) and so I thought you might like to see what I'll be up to this summer :)

I also got excited when I followed the suggestion on the guide to look up the Dalai Lama's schedule, which I have done.  As it turns out, he will be teaching about Buddhism in the Dharamsala TCV school (the very one that I will be visiting!) on the 3rd and 4th of June.  He'll also be teaching at the main Tibetan temple June 28th and 29th.  Obviously, since I respect Tibetans and their beliefs, I will not be present at the TCV teaching if it is not appropriate.  I am not a Buddhist or a TCV student, so it may be that I am not invited.  But I think there's a chance, especially because my contacts in the TCV are so kind to me, that I could be in the same room as the Dalai Lama and hear his teachings about Buddhism!  Isn't that basically the greatest thing you've ever heard?!

Also, the picture of the waterfall is not even the first beautiful picture of a waterfall I've seen from the Dharamsala area, so I have a feeling that I will be doing lots of hiking this summer :)

I love you both; thanks for being my parents.

Kristen Nicole
Until now, my dominant feelings about my field study have been stress and anxiety.  Maybe that's a bad sign.  However, I am genuinely excited about these things I just learned, and I'm still hopeful that this field study is a good idea for me. 

Thank you, Wikitravel!

28 March 2011


Today in my prep class I made a brief list of some challenges I anticipate for my field study:

  • too many surveys
  • language barrier
  • technological difficulties
  • subjects who dislike me
  • hygiene, especially contacts and contact solution
  • public transportation
  • homesickness
  • laundry
One thing I didn't think of that I really should have was the way to balance my personal pursuits and my academic project.  

My teacher gave us four suggestions of ways we can improve our flexibility to better handle the challenges of a field study.  Here are her suggestions and my thoughts on them:

24 March 2011


One thing I didn't address in my IRB protocol (that may be the downfall of said protocol) is the translation of my consent forms and surveys.  This is something that I knew I would need to do but I didn't do in time for the IRB deadline.  I am hoping that Norbu will be able to put me in touch with someone who can help me with all this translation, but I'm not sure how much it will cost me.

In any case, one important step I learned from Liann Seiter's presentation "Where's My Babel Fish?" is that I need to also back translate all of my texts to make sure that they still say what I want them to.  This means that I get a translator to go from English to Tibetan, another to go from the Tibetan back to English, and then take note of the problems in the back translation and find someone who can help me to say in Tibetan what I actually mean.

Today in my Tibetan language class I asked me teacher how to say "computer" in Tibetan.  I was planning to ask after that how to say "internet," but his answer to my first question made me think that the second one wouldn't work well, either.  My Tibetan teacher hasn't been in India for a long time, so he isn't certain that the Tibetans haven't come up with a new word for the tool, but as far as he knows the Tibetan word for computer is simply to say the word "computer" with a Tibetan accent.

I have some hope, perhaps misplaced, that the English language will be significantly prevalent in Dharamsala, to the point where communication will not be an enormous barrier to my project.  The TCV Facebook group is almost entirely in English, and Norbu and I have not had any major problems communicating in English.

However, it's probably best that I go forward with the translation into Tibetan.  There will likely be many children who are much more comfortable with their native language.

21 March 2011

The Story of Tibet

I am reading a remarkable book by Thomas Laird called The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama.  Laird is a journalist who had been living in Nepal for 30 years at the time that he received permission to interview His Holiness the Dalai Lama one-on-one in Dharamsala, India in 2006.  The result was the beginning of "a popular history of Tibet, something that has not been done with a Dalai Lama since the 1600s" (from the book jacket).  Laird records the events of the interview along with the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso's recollections, his summaries of Tibetan history and mythology, and his philosophical reflections. 


One of the girls who is going to India with me next month went to Ghana last summer and studied the authenticity of various media she used to interpret her field experience.  The project was inspired by the conflict she perceived between her major (English) and minor (anthropology).  She decided to reconcile creative writing with thick ethnographic description, two types of writing prized by her disciplines. Since she also has a photography business, she incorporated photography as a medium by which she experienced the field and used a camera lens as a beautiful analogy for her project itself.

16 March 2011

Travel Writing

Here's the thing about life: you get only one crack at it.

As much as I once wanted to, I have never been able to rewind to earlier in my life and start over with all the things I know now.  I could be so great by now if only I knew then what I know now!

In ShortThat's a bit how I'm feeling about my travel writing class.  This is a three credit course that will count toward my English teaching major for which I am planning to make a contract for my time in India.  When I first went in to talk to my professor about this course, I didn't know there was such a thing as creative non-fiction.  I mean, really?  In my mind, creativity belongs with my all-time favorites, Nancy Drew and Harry Potter.  Carolyn Keene and J.K. Rowling are creative.  Who even thinks of being creative when writing some boring non-fiction book about rocks?

10 March 2011

Application for the Use of Human Subjects

i_love_natureMy university has an Institutional Review Board (IRB) that must approve my field study project before I can conduct it.  I've been working on my application, but I haven't finished yet!  It is stressful because I feel like I need to have every inch of my project complete and perfect by yesterday, and I wasn't ready for that! Here's what I have so far (be careful--it is ridiculously long):

09 March 2011

Sounds of Silence

From reading Hall and Hall's "The Sounds of Silence" I reflected upon my own body language, what it says about my culture, and how it might differ from other cultures.  Here is an summary of the text:
The only language used throughout most of the history of humanity (in evolutionary terms, vocal communication is relatively recent), [nonverbal communication] is the first form of communication you learn.  You use this preverbal language, consciously and unconsciously, every day to tell other people how you feel about yourself and them.  This language includes your posture, gestures, facial expressions, costume, the way you walk, even your treatment of time and space and material things.  All people communicate on several different levels at the same time but are usually aware of only the verbal dialog and don't realize that they respond to nonverbal messages.
This text relates to several aspects of my India field study.  First is simply a safety issue.   I need to make sure I'm not sending inappropriate signals through body language.  This may mean avoiding eye contact or not smiling at strangers, as I've heard for other countries.  This is something that I would ask my host family about.

Second is a bit more involved.  For a teacher, combined elements of nonverbal communication facilitate classroom management.  A teacher who looks small and insecure will not be able to gain the respect and confidence he or she needs from the students.  Though I will not likely teach in the TCV, I plan to be a participant observer, and my level of participation is as of yet undetermined.  I am hoping to have some opportunities to volunteer in English conversation classes, too.  I may need to change habits of gestures, facial expressions, etc. in order to behave properly in a classroom setting.

04 March 2011


Mandala sand painting is a sacred art traditionally created by Tibetan monks.  In this practice, "millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks." Then, according to tradition, the monks destroy the mandala shortly after its completion.  This is a metaphor for "the impermanence of life."  Watch this video (made from nearly 1000 images) to see the beautiful intricacy of these mandalas and then the abruptness with which they are swept away.

Reciprocity is a popular topic among field study enthusiasts.  It refers to a mutual exchange of privileges or benefits.  I recently learned that children reciprocating the care and attention of their parents when their parents grow old is an important part of Tibetan culture--and an area in which American culture differs a great deal.  Indeed, as we discussed in my prep class, reciprocity is closely tied to kinship.