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First Summer Program at RYI

            After three years of intense study at Rangjung Yeshe’s BA program, I leaped into the Translation Training Program (TTP) – a twelve-month intensive course that trains for the capacity to orally interpret basic Buddhist teachings from Tibetan to English. The TTP adventure begins with the Summer Program – a highly concentrated curriculum that condenses a one-year syllabus into eight weeks. As such, I somehow did not choose to do the summer program; I just had to do it as the beginning of the TTP. Among the many courses available (Classical Tibetan, Sanskrit, Pali, and others) I enrolled in Advanced Colloquial Tibetan. Now, retrospectively, I feel very grateful for having had an incentive to step into the summer program experience; it was undoubtedly a great source of learning and it significantly improved my capacity to both understand and speak Tibetan. The intensity of the program is definitely challenging but if you can flow with it, it feels like an assembly of helping hand that expands the boundary of your knowledge beyond imagination.

Along with my first ever summer program immersion, I also experienced my first summer in Nepal. Years before, during the BA, summers have been the time to take a break from school, re-unite with family, friends, homeland and full-time job. Even though I miss those encounters very dearly, I shall say that summer season in Nepal has become one of my favorite times of the year, for many reasons. Among the most important, during the summer Kathmandu is breathable! While during Nepal’s dry season (winter) the air quality can go up to approximately 200AQI, during monsoon time (summer) the air quality tends to remain below 50AQI (and sometimes even reaches as low as 15AQI!).[1]Lungs become happy, and also your eyes get to enjoy the beauty of dust-free Kathmandu Valley as the green and white mountains become part of the visible landscape. Also, if you are a mango fan, summer is definitely the season for you to enjoy them! One can find some of the tastiest, sweetest varieties of mangos, generally grown in northern India and imported to Nepal.
Along the subject of food, during the summer course lunch is included – which means that, not only you do not have to worry about what or where to eat but, most importantly, you get the chance to share with classmates, teachers and other summer students in a more casual setting, while enjoying a delicious meal at the new Utpala Restaurant.

The eight-week course is a fully saturated Tibetan experience. Briefly, the program includes: a) one hour of non-translated Tibetan dharma teaching with a monastic scholar, where (specially at the beginning of the program) you are almost uninterruptedly and silently praying for blessings in order to figure out what the Khenpo is saying, primarily when he tells stories or teaches content that is not directly found in the text of study; b) one hour of dharma conversation with a Tibetan native speaker who will patiently help you reveal the enigma of what was previously said in the dharma class; c) one hour of master colloquial Tibetan class designed to boost your linguistic skills through various activities: Tibetan audio files such as interviews and songs; texts with advanced terminology; learning games; and, study of indigenous Tibetan grammar; and, d) one hour of conversation with a Tibetan native speaker aimed to further incorporate what was addressed in the previous master class.

On top of the above listed four contact-hours with teachers, one can expect four extra hours of self-study, homework and class preparation, and one and a half hour lunch break shared with native Tibetans. Adding all up, the Tibetan language day-to-day dose escalates to no less than eight or nine daily hours.
The first week of school is overwhelming. Going to sleep becomes the greatest way to drop the day; yet your brain works so intensively during the day that even when you fall asleep the language snicks into you dreams! More than once I woke up the next morning feeling that my dreams had been a great support for learning – which in turn encouraged me to aim for no less than eight hours night sleep.
If you come from the BA program, the intensity of the days has a very different flavor. Instead of jumping from one class realm to another in one same day (for example, moving from Khenpo class, to academic class, to language class), the days and weeks have one same and only focus of study. I’ve experienced that diving into a single particular area of interest and fully immersing in it, certainly speeds up the learning process and causes the achievements to noticeably manifest.

As weeks go by, it is very rewarding to realize how much more familiarized one becomes with the language. Khenpo classes cease to be a struggle of understanding, and become a daily inspiring advice for contemplation. Conversations with native Tibetans unfold at normal talking speed, and one can even enjoy moments of directly thinking and talking in the target language (Tibetan) – in other words, one no longer has to construct the sentence in the source language and mentally translate it into the target language, before being able to verbalize it. And, what is to me one of the most interesting features, the intensity of the program enhances one’s capacity to deal with ups-and-downs, and embrace all the afflictions that come together with learning something that is difficult.
The summer program seems to give your mind no option other than to get more acquainted with the language. I generally identify myself as a slow-pace learning student (which might be one of the reasons that held me back from doing a summer course before) yet, after having gone through the experience, I can confidently say that I feel very grateful for all the learning process, the kindness of all the teachers that helped me walk through it, and all the conditions that gathered together for it to be possible.
~ Cecilia Pla

[1] Reference extracted from IQAir Air Visual: Measuring scale goes from 0 to 500AQI. Higher numbers signal greater levels of air pollution and health risk. 0-50 indicates a good air quality; 50-100 a moderate quality; 100-150 an unhealthy air quality, specially for beings who are sensitive; 150-200 an unhealthy air quality (can lead to heart and lung dysfunctions); 200-300 a very unhealthy air quality; 300-500+ dangerous (can lead to severe infections and health adversities; one must try to avoid exercise and remain indoors)