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How Tibetans pursue their academic dreams

Ta Erga visits the Sera Monastery in Lhasa. Photo: Wu Jie/

Ta Erga likes South American teams when he watches Brazil World Cup games live at his home in Lhasa. He, like every Chinese, is also frustrated with the underperforming Chinese football team. “China’s home games should be moved to Tibet in the next World Cup preliminary round and players should be selected from Tibet University. We’ll see what happens to foreign teams at the elevation of 3,500 meters,” he said jokingly.

A pair of delicate glasses adds some scholastic air to this 55-year-old man who was born to be a singer and dancer, just like many other Tibetans.

But the son from a humble family in the northeastern farming area of Changdu could never imagine being one of the first Tibetans to study overseas.

The first year after China resumed its Gaokao (college entrance exam), which was halted in the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), Ta Erga made it into the Tibet University. In spite of his talents in musical instruments, he preferred team work and opted for sports major. He stayed at the university to teach sports after graduation.

German experience

In 1987, the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl visited China with a basket of partnerships, one of which enabled over 40 Chinese to study in Germany with scholarships.

Ta Erga, who had been self-studying English for years, got shortlisted and finally became one of two Tibetans to secure the berth. He was enrolled into the University of Bonn, majoring in German language and literature.

“Learning German doesn’t mean that I love that nation. Instead, I went out to broaden my mind and experience a different culture,” he said.

Recalling the German experience, the director at the Tibet overseas affairs office had few beautiful memories to share. He said Asians suffered regular bouts of racial discrimination and physical assault.

“Germany underwent political unrest at that time when public security slumped to a historical low. My bag was twice thrown out of the bus by locals and I often got phone calls, threatening to drive me out of Germany,” he said.

Fortunately, scholarship spared him from the trouble of doing part-time jobs. He was impressed with the German way of thinking – straight as an arrow. Their conscientious and punctilious attitude also inspired his work ethics.

Compared with the situation decades ago, he said children from farmers’ families now enjoy better educational chances. When Tibet was liberated in the 1950s, farmers’ children had no access to education. It got a shot in the arm in 1985 when a national-subsidy program allowed farmers’ children free meals, accommodation and tuition during the 9-year compulsory education. Nowadays, the program is extended to 15 years, covering all the costs from pre-school to high school.

“Every kid in Tibet can afford to go to school now,” said Chilie Wangjie, deputy director at the education department of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

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