Taking it to Tibet // HSU Students Study Geography Abroad

By Yawen Xu and contribution from Josh Aden, the Lumberjack News

Willie Shubert, an editor for National Geographic Magazine said, “[In Tibet], everything that I knew as true in the U.S. no longer applied, and I needed to learn it all anew. This has deeply changed my perspective on the planet and the vast diversity of people who share it.” Shubert is an alumnus of HSU who attended Geography-China/Tibet Field Studies Program in 2007.
That is what program founder Anthony Rossi likes to see. Rossi, an HSU Geography Department lecturer developed the “HSU Geography – China/Tibet Field Studies Program” in 2000. This year is the 10th anniversary of the program.

Shubert said, “The trip to Tibet was a unique experience, made possible only because of Tony’s deep knowledge of and history with China and Tibet.”
Rossi used to teach English in Beijing for ten years.

Each summer, Rossi and his wife, Gail, take students who register for Geography 411 and Geography 499 to Tibet for more than a month of observation and exploration. Any senior is welcome to take the program. Students must bring their own research subject area to Rossi. Rossi then helps students figure out which areas will be suitable for their research projects. In the end, they make the decision together.

2010 Field Trip Participants
This year, eight students with majors ranging from geography, wildlife, and history to religious studies and art history participated in the trip to Tibet that started on June 7 and ended on July 21.
The trip set out from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. The group arrived by train and then moved east by car to the Tsangpo River Valley where the sacred mountain, Bon Ri, is located. They advanced to the open grasslands, which feature wildlife such as Tibetan gazelle, kiang, and Tibetan antelope. Afterward, they moved west across the plains.
Brian Fagundes is a wildlife and geography senior who attended the China/Tibet program this summer. His subject of research is on “Cultural uses of Wildlife,” which focus on how the wildlife is present in everyday life.
He observed that Tibetans sell local animal skins to make a living and wear skins to keep warm. He asked people why they do that, and a local Tibetan told him that it has been in their culture for years.

“Tibet is rich and vivid in colors and life,” said Jackie Phipps, a double major in geography and history. Phipps went to Tibet this summer as well.
Phipps’ subject is “Health Care in Tibet” with an emphasis on disability services. “Passion is the most important lesson I learned,” Phipps said.
When they were in Lhasa, Phipps went to the Red Cross to talk about her project. It was a holiday weekend, so the director was not working. The people working there insisted on helping her contact the director who showed up and gave Phipps an interview.
The director introduced Phipps to another disability services organization and gave her a ride when she could not find drivers. Phipps said she saw the dedication and passion of people not only in that organization but in Tibet as well.
Not everyone who went on the trip can clearly identify what they learned. At least so far, Jessie Chuang has not. “It is hard to pinpoint what I have learned from this trip. Yes, I have learned a lot. However, I think what I have really learned is the learning process itself while I was there,” Chuang said.
Chuang, a senior art history major and philosophy minor, chose to work on “Contradiction in Contemporary Tibet” for her research subject. “My goal was to break away from the Western stereotypical view on Tibet,” said Chuang.
Chuang believes that Westerners think of Tibet as nothing more than “a bumper sticker that says ‘Free Tibet!'” Chuang said. “You can’t really know a culture until you actually put yourself in there and immerse yourself deep into the culture. Most of the time, even as a tourist, you can only know the surface of things.”
Even though she knew what she wanted, she still felt ambivalent toward her subject. “I’ve had more confusion than encountered problems, not to say that we haven’t had any, but I don’t see them as problems, but simply matter-of-facts,” said Chuang.
Although Chuang has not figured out her project target yet, she said, “Tibet was a very transforming experience for me. I stepped in as who I was and came out knowing that I am not and never will be the same person that I was before.”
Voices From the Past
“If I had never gone on the Tibet trip, I am sure I would not be at XISU today,” said Josh Rudolph, an HSU international studies and religious studies major who went to Tibet in 2007.
XISU is the Xi’an International Studies University in Xi’an, China. Since 2006, HSU and XISU have developed exchange programs. HSU has sent students to XISU to for teaching students English so that they can have an easier time while they study in America.
Now, as an English teacher at XISU, Rudolph said the experience that he gained with Rossi that helped him to understand how much a student can learn from trips abroad. “I try my best to offer students who will soon be heading to Humboldt as much motivation as was offered to me by Tony.”
Joel Correia participated in 2002 when he was a Geography major at HSU. “The most valuable lesson I learned was in gaining an awareness of the world that can only be attained by going out into it and experiencing it,” said Correia.
Because of that trip, Correia learned that he could learn about the world while traveling, “and specifically development work as a method to create opportunities for rural poor and marginalized populations,” he said. So he choose to be a volunteer that participated in Paraguay from 2006 to 2008. Also, he worked in Africa and South America.
Now, as a graduate student, Correia studies at the University of Arizona. He is pursuing his goal to be a geography professor and develop a similar program as Rossi did.
Rossi goes to Tibet once a year. Unexpected problems happen in the trip, such as unpaved roads, language barriers, and visiting forbidden areas even with permission. The worst situation they encountered was when a student was almost killed by High Altitude Pulmonary Edema in 2004. Rossi had Tibetan people to help him.
“Rather than just taking from them and having a fun time, we are trying to give back to them,” said Rossi.
On April 14, 2010, a 6.9 earthquake damaged the area of Yushu, Qinghai, China. Rossi and Arnold King, a 2008 program participant, are planning a charity sale of photographs of Tibet for survivors from the earthquake on Dec. 4 at Los Bagels and All Under Heaven in Eureka. All donations go directly to quake survivors.
Rossi wants to thank the host communities in Tibet, his wife Gail, and all participants. Without their support, Rossi said, things would have been difficult.

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