Elijah Wohl ’15 (Ithaca, N.Y.) visited the home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Llama in Northern India, just months before his Holiness visited the Macalester campus. “It’s too bad the Dalai Lama was not home during our visit,” he says, enjoying the fact that the Dalai Llama came to Wohl’s campus home instead.
Driven by a passion for international politics and Nepalese culture, political science major Wohl found himself in Kathmandu, Nepal, last fall, immersing himself in the lives of local people through the SIT Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program. This program included courses such as Religious Change in Tibet and the Himalayas and The Politics of Tibetan and Himalayan Borders, as well as a homestay, a three-week excursion, and an independent study project.
Wohl arrived in Nepal at the end of monsoon season, landing first in Boudha, a Tibetan-refugee area just outside Kathmandu. There he lived for two months in a one-story country home with his host family and their three dogs. “At first it was a little intimidating,” he says, not knowing the Tibetan language and living with a family that spoke little English. But soon enough he had learned the basics of the vowel-free language and adapted to Nepalese life.
Wohl and his fellow program attendees took a three-week excursion to the Spiti Valley and Dharamsala in Northern India, where they visited the home-in-exile of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Although the Dalai Lama was not in residence at the time, they did meet the 17th Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
For his independent study project Wohl studied the Gurkhas, a brigade of Nepalese citizens serving in the British army who have a reputation for bravery and loyalty to the British crown. He interviewed local protesters at political rallies, villagers in Western Nepal, the current British defense attaché, and a 92-year-old former British Gurkha officer, who later decided to stay in the country and obtain Nepalese citizenship.
“This project has given me both confidence in my ability to conduct independent field research and potential material for my upcoming political science capstone,” Wohl says. He left the program fully satisfied, having seen unique locations and met new people in a country he was previously unfamiliar with. “Practically every day I was presented with some new location or interaction so stunning or surreal that I had to reassure myself that I wasn’t dreaming,” he says.