A Tibetan Student's American Journey
April 23, 2009
Originally from Nepal, Kunchok Dolma is a senior in the CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Lehman. In this interview she talks about her travels from Nepal to New York and about her aspirations.
9 Minutes 1 Second
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This is Vince Bracy, a student at Lehman College. Originally from Nepal, Kunchok Dolma is a senior in the CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Lehman. She was awarded a Watson Fellow in 2006. Through this selective program she interned at the UN and for the Tibetan government in exile. In this interview she talks about her travels from Nepal to New York and about her aspirations.
I'm originally from Tibet. My parents are Tibetan, and they fled the Chinese occupation in the '60s and the '70s. And I was born and brought up in Nepal. And I went to a Catholic school, so I had this nice mix of different religions and people around me.
My parents were Buddhists, and I'm raised Buddhist. And I went to a Catholic school and in a very predominantly Hindu country. And I came here in March of 2005. My mother had emigrated some 10 years back, and she was waiting for all the paperwork to go through. So, it took quite some time. So, I took a break after high school, thinking that I'll come here, and it'll come, the process will come through, but it took some time.
So, once I came, got here, I was fortunate enough to meet with Dean Paul, Michael Paul. And he put me in touch with Professor Gary Schwartz, who asked me to take the SAT's to see if I qualify either for the Lehmans Scholars program or the Macaulay Honors College program.
I was selected into the Macaulay Honors College in 2005, which was a few months after I'd come to the United States, and which automatically enrolled me into the Lehman's Scholars program. And after a year, I applied to the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, which is a three-year paid internship. So, the last summer was my last summer for the Watson fellow. So, now I'm an official Watson alumni.
I guess the first migration was not by choice. My parents fled after the Chinese occupation in 1949, and they fled after a decade or two. And they settled in Nepal where they married. I was there. And I-- my parents-- my mom decided to come here because my father died when I was very young. And she decided to come to America because, you know, it's the Land of Opportunity. Despite all its flaws and things, it's still the Land of Opportunity for a lot of people.
And when I came here, I really knew that I wanted to pursue my education, because I've always been very passionate about studying and achieving things through higher education. So, that's when I decided I want to go to school, and I want to find something that will help me pay for school, and so that I can concentrate on it fully.
And last summer, in my third internship for the Watson Fellowship, I decided that I wanted to work with the Tibetan government in exile in India. And they set up an interview, and I got the internship. And I went back to India, Dharamsala, for a three-month internship, which was at the Department of Information and International Relations and it was the environmental desk. So, when I went there, my supervisor asked me what I would be interested in, and I told him that I wanted to do research pertaining to a Tibetan situation in Tibet.
So, he asked me to write this railroad report, which had been pending for quite some time, about the railroad from Beijing to Lhasa, which was the capital of Tibet before the occupation, and it's still thought of as the capital of the Tibetan-- Tibet autonomous region-- opened in 2006. And he wanted me to analyze the political, ethnical, environmental implications of having this railroad opened.
I always knew I wanted to do English Literature, because I really liked it in high school, they really made us read Wordsworth and Shakespeare. And I was very, very much a Russian and English literature, a big fan of Russian and English literature. And I knew that when I came here I would like to do something to do with English. So, that's why I chose English. And then I also knew I wanted to study Psychology because that's something we never studied back at home in high school.
I once heard people, Americans, when they go elsewhere, they find a place very exotic, and they're very interested in different people. I've always found Americans interesting. And so, I guess it was sort of like, I wasn't taken aback when I came, because I grew up in the city. And I went to a boarding school, which was an English medium. Everything was taught in English.
And we got Sex and City, and Friends, and Will and Grace. We had all of those at home to watch. So, you sort of have this perspective or maybe not a full perspective, but some sort of perspective of what America would be. But when I did-- when I came here, I was very interested in America, and maybe also wanted to be an American. So, in that, when I came to Lehman, I wanted to improve my writing. I wanted to do a lot of things.
So, that's how I started taking a lot of constitutional law classes, so I'm familiar with American history, with the American Constitution. And sort of started, should I say not making friends, but working at different government level internships. So, I get a wider perspective of American government and American culture.
My first internship with the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship was-- the first was the United Nations Population Fund at the Media Relations Office. And I worked there, and I helped to write some fact sheets on a report that they take out every year. It's an annual report, and that year, in 2006, their focus was migration. So, I did the fact sheets on Asia, Lithuania, Polynesia, and Europe. And in the next summer, I did my internship at the criminal court, at the New York State Supreme Court with Justice Yates.
Lehman has been, like, a wonderful experience. Like, one thing I always have known is I want to be in academia. I want to study. And I don't even know if I want to be a teacher. I just want to be a student most of the time, because I really like school. And that's something I'm comfortable with. And at Lehman I feel completely at home. And it has so many wonderful opportunities here.
So, I've worked for Jessica Lappin, a City Council member, and she's now running, she's now planning to run for Public Advocate in the next term. And this is her first term as city council. So, I worked there for a semester, and that was a great experience.
I'm doing the Paris-- CUNY-Paris Exchange program, which is a CUNY-wide program which does-- exchange with the University of Paris through a government organization in Paris called the MICEFA. And it's been-- it's been in CUNY for the last 27 years. It's been running quite successfully.
I would like to be the first Tibetan woman to do a Ph.D. in international law or international relations, get a J.D. or Ph.D. This was my childhood, sort of, dream, which now hopefully there are more Tibetan women in the field but I would still like to pursue it further.
I became very interested in it. And I thought that that would be one way of pursuing the non-violent approach to asking for autonomous Tibet from the Chinese government. Because that has been the stance of the Tibetan government in exile, that they do not want independence. What they want is an autonomous Tibet, like Hong Kong is. Like, where all the foreign relations will be pursued by the main Chinese government, while the Tibetan government will handle its own domestic affairs. But this has been very, sort of like a chaotic-- chaotic plea, I should say in a way, because the Chinese are very-- they are very skeptical of the Tibetan position. And Tibetans are skeptical of the Chinese position.
And in that situation, I think that studying law, being able to analyze, argue, and being in a position where you can do research and fun, you know, work for just not for the Tibetan cause. But something to come off it would be, like, legal research, where, you know, where you could tell the Chinese what we really want. And you could sort of get into a dialogue where they will understand what you're asking for, and you understand what they're saying.
Coming from Nepal to here, and then again going to London for-- in the drama program, going to Japan for another study-abroad program, has really, like, widened my perspective. And it has also made me, I think in a way, a better person. I'll apply to law school next year, and hopefully start law school in the fall of 2010.
Visit us at www.lehman.edu. This is a production of the Lehman College Media Relations Office.
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