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Tibetan student appreciated learning about cultures, faiths at Whitworth

by Autstriana Brooks ,Intern, Whitworth University

Dawa Jiumei played flute at Whitworth’s International Festival.

As Dawa Jiumei returns to Tibet after graduating in May from Whitworth University, he wants to continue learning about other cultures and plans to use his degree—in secondary education and in environmental and sustainability studies—to teach children and poor people.

At Whitworth, he gained insights into other cultures from his contacts with other international students, his work in Whitworth’s Intercultural Center and planning the fall International Festival with the International Club. 

Through the Intercultural Center, he helped orient international students to challenges at Whitworth.

He advocates for people to help each other. Whatever the challenges, especially cultural challenges, students face, he has tried to help teach others by sharing his experiences.

Dawa was born in a remote area in a nomadic community where he tended pastures and herded animals year-round until he was six years old.

His parents passed away from a serious illness when he was young, and he was put in an orphanage.

There, he studied from elementary school until he graduated from middle school.

Dawa gained self-determination and self-confidence with the help of teachers and mentors who were compassionate.

“As an orphan at an early age, I experienced many difficulties,” he said. 

It took time for him to develop a sense of confidence and see the value of education.

“Support from many encouraging and loving people helped me overcome the academic challenges, as well as social and cultural difficulties,” he said.

Dawa continued his studies at a technical college in Beijing where he studied Chinese culture and language.

He came to Spokane to continue his higher education, studying at Spokane Falls Community College for three years. He went to Whitworth in 2015 with the help of Lama Lakshey Zangbo, a psychology professor at Spokane Falls Community College.

Through his journeys, Dawa has also gained confidence by telling people at Whitworth about Tibet.  He is eager and proud to teach people about his homeland.

“In Tibetan society, we have many opportunities for people to do positive things,” he said. “There’s value in our culture not only for our native people but also at a global level.”

Dawa believes his culture encourages people to contribute to making society better.

Many Tibetan cultural influences come from Buddhism, he said. About 99 percent of Tibetans practice Buddhism.

 “That faith helped me get on track with my life,” he said. “I think that’s what people need to find.

“We should engage with whatever faith resonates with us personally,” he said. “People have different perspectives and mindsets, so there are different religions and traditions to fit with those perspectives and mindsets.

“If the whole community had just one perspective, we couldn’t challenge our ideas or our minds,” he said. “We need to have other perspectives so we can reflect. Some say, ‘I haven’t thought of that,’ and that’s because they have not engaged with others.

Although he is Buddhist, Dawa has taken the opportunity at Whitworth to learn about other religions.

Dawa is happy that he was able to maintain his own faith at Whitworth.  At the same time, he has appreciated the opportunity to have his first encounter with and to learn more about Christian values and traditions. 

He has found people to be open-minded.

Dawa believes the United States’ motto should be for people to live in harmony without discrimination or ethnocentrism.

“I learned that one person can have a strong faith in one religion, but in the community there can be a variety of religious faiths without those faiths being in conflict. We can live in harmony and find a common ground when we appreciate different perspectives,” he said.

The annual International Festival, which is open to the public, he said, is a chance for students to share their cultures, values and traditions through performances, such as singing, dancing and reciting poetry.  Dawa played a Tibetan flute.

 “As international students, we come here and try to learn about a new culture,” he said. 

In the everyday life on campus, there are not always opportunities for these students to show their culture and who they are. The festival is a time to share with students, faculty and the public and “to show how proud we are to be who we are,” Dawa said, “and to show the diversity there is on campus.”

Preparing for the International Festival also gives international students an opportunity to build community with each other.

Before coming to the United States, Dawa said that he was narrow minded and “pretty ethnocentric about Tibetan culture.”

His encounters with the other international students at Whitworth allowed him to see different perspectives and appreciate cultural differences.

“I still think Tibetan culture is good but that does not mean other cultures are not good. International students are open minded. I like the sense of community at a global level that I have experienced here. I learned much from the other students.”

Dawa wants to go back to the orphanage where he grew up to teach about the environment and sustainability, and to teach English as a second language.  He also hopes to build professional development programs for teachers to make educational opportunities available to more Tibetan children.

For more information, email Dawa at

Copyright © June 2017 - The Fig Tree