Tibetan Studies Program in Dharamsala, Northern India

Dalai Lama group photo

This exciting new program in Dharamsala, India, 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 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

Forrest Tobey lived in India for three years and taught along with his wife, Lynnell Lewis, at the Woodstock School in Musssoorie, in the foothills of the Himalayas. He returned to India twenty years later with a group of Earlham students in 2007 to lead the South Asia Study Abroad Program, where the group spent time equally between Chennai, Delhi and Dharamsala. He believes that establishing a full semester program in Dharamsala, focusing on Tibetan studies, is a terrific idea, and he’s happy to be leading the inaugural program. Forrest is a practicing Buddhist, and his focus is within the Tibetan tradition. He and Lynnell are both students of Garchen Rinpoche and are founding members of the Gar Drolma Tibetan Buddhist Center in Dayton, Ohio. Forrest’s first academic degree was in the field of comparative religion, where he focused on Tibetan Buddhists studies at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He is currently Associate Professor of Music at Earlham and has led several music May Terms to Italy.


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 Culture and Art4 Credits
This course will be taught by Forrest Tobey. It will cover the history of Tibet  from the standpoint of its unique cultural history, and will also emphasize its singular artistic expressions in music, dance, painting and opera. During the second half of the semester, students will have opportunities to visit the Tibeatan Institute for Performance Arts and witness Tibetan artistic expression first hand.

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 Topics4 Credits
This course allows students to explore a particular Tibetan Studies related topic and ends with a major paper. Forrest Tobey and the local staff supervise the research.

Identity, Action, Reflection2 Credits
This course is designed to be a forum to assist the students in processing the experiences of living and studying in an international community. Through discussion, meditation, readings and guest speakers, students will reflect upon their own identity and place in the world.

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 books and passports, and all costs for the independent travel period. Passport and visas 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 person’s eligibility for this program may also be affected by being placed on social probation. Majors from all disciplines are welcome. Selection will be conducted by a student and faculty committee.

Program Updates

Go to Fall 2013 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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