October 13, 2010

Exchange of cultures puts two students on different paths

Kunjo Baiji (upper left) next to the Dalai Lama.

Blair Davis Burgess III

Kunjo Baiji

Kunjo Baiji is a Tibetan monk and resident of Dharamsala, India.  For the next nine months, he will be a visiting scholar with the Emory-Tibet Partnership.

As a young child, he says he discovered he had a real aptitude for science. However, the intensive training required to become a monk kept him from his science studies. “I really missed it,” he says.

Now on the Emory campus, he’s enrolled in chemistry and biology classes. When not in the lab applying his knowledge to more hands-on work, he is instructing others on their meditation practices.

In addition to science, the visiting scholar program gives monks a rare chance to learn more about Western culture and to practice their English. Fortunately, he says, he has friends in the Emory Tibetan Mind/Body Sciences Program to help.

“They’ve been so good to me — especially in helping me understand some of the more complicated English on my professors’ PowerPoint presentations,” Baiji says.

After Emory, he’ll go back and share what he has learned with his fellow monks in Dharamsala. “I love teaching, especially the young monks.”

Blair Davis Burgess III

Only two months into his college education, Blair Davis Burgess III had an experience that would change the direction of his life. He met the Dalai Lama. His Holiness met with each member of Students for Free Tibet, including Burgess.

“I had joined the club for this moment,” Burgess says. “He touched my face when we met, then he blessed us. As I watched him interact with people, I wanted to know more.”

The math and political science major from Florence, Ala. decided to take advantage of Emory’s many opportunities to learn about Tibetan culture. He enrolled in a few classes and changed his study abroad plans.

“I thought I would go to Spain and work on my language skills, but when I learned about this program I knew I needed to go.” 

He enrolled in the highly competitive Tibetan Mind/Body Sciences summer study abroad program in Dharamsala, India. There he studied Tibetan culture and mind-body sciences in the heart of the Tibetan exile community.  He worked alongside monks and nuns in the community and tutored some of them. His research project there examined the kinds of support systems that were in place for refugee children in exile.  

“This was the highlight of my academic career,” Burgess says.

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