Alexx Temeña - 2013 Program Participant

International volunteers and administrators at Tibetan Childrens Village in India

Assistant Headmaster, Gompo-la, Alexx’s travel partner, Sam, and Headmaster Duke Tsering-la in the Principal’s Office at TCV

Why made you select Antioch Education Abroad’s Buddhist Studies program in India over other study abroad programs and providers?

My primary interest was to study Buddhism. Initially, I was interested in programs in Nepal, since I had already spent a month in India when I was in high school. But, I quickly realized that the appeal of those programs to me was the trekking and exploring, rather than the quality of education on Buddhism. I found myself avoiding the Antioch program for a while not only because it was situated in India, but also, admittedly I must have been afraid of the intensity of the program and its commitment to an immersive Buddhist experience.

In the end, I chose to apply for the program because I knew the program was one-of-a-kind. I wouldn’t be able to have that combination of academic rigor with such an intense experiential meditation component elsewhere. And, it would be especially difficult to share that experience with a group of college students my age. Antioch’s Buddhist Studies program seemed to have the structure and and rigor I was hoping for in a study abroad program; I didn’t want to spend my semester only sightseeing or travelling in a way that I could on my own after my college years.

Did you have an interest in Buddhist Studies prior to studying abroad? What sparked your research topic?

I was primarily interested in mindfulness meditation and its effects on the brain before studying abroad. I wanted to supplement my neuroscience and clinical approaches to understanding contemplative practices by gaining a more cultural, religious, and philosophical perspective.

I work at an international residential summer school program at the International School of Asia, Karuizawa in Japan. There I met five students from the Tibetan Children’s Village school in Selakui, India. I connected with them quickly and noticed that they were highly emotional aware and compassionate; I wondered what their school was doing differently than others to facilitate their development.

Tibetan Childrens Village students at International School of Asia in Karuizawa, Japan

Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) students that Alexx met at International School of Asia, Karuizawa, in Japan

What was it like to live in a Burmese Monastery in Bodh Gaya, India?

The experience of living in an intentional community was so important to me. I loved our silent breakfasts, doing homework by candlelight, and winding down by 9 p.m. The highly structured schedule was both challenging and formative for me. Committing to waking up every day at 5:30 a.m. to meditate taught me that I can choose to develop a practice of rising early and sleeping early even while I’m in college.

What was the most surprising thing you learned from your research about the Buddhist influences in the Tibetan Children’s Village of Selakui?

I was so surprised to hear the Principal of Tibetan Children’s Village, Selakui (TCV) describe the school as secular, despite the fact that students gather for prayers every night and recite Tibetan Buddhist texts aloud. Looking back, it now seems silly that I expected a “secular” school to operate in a way that I was accustomed to based on my limited Filipina and American perspectives. I learned that because Buddhism and Tibetan culture are so intertwined, promoting the preservation of Tibetan culture at TCV means learning and practicing Buddhism.

What was the most unique thing you did as a part of your research?

I was invited to attend a conference with TCV students called “Cosmology and Consciousness”, hosted by an organization that teaches science to monastic scholars. The conference was structured as a dialogue between scientists from different fields (astronomy and neuroscience, for example) and monastic scholars. I was excited about it because the content of the conference was quite relevant to my field of study, but even more, it allowed me to interact informally with a group of grade 11 and 12 students as we traveled by bus to the conference and during coffee breaks between sessions.

As a contemplative psychology major, how are you able to apply your research to your current studies now that you are back at Brown University?

Though this insight was not directly derived from the content of my research project, the process of overturning many of my initial assumptions about Buddhism, by living in a Buddhist community, caused me to reevaluate why or for what purpose I was studying and promoting mindfulness in the United States. This changed how I approach my own mindfulness practice and shaped my thoughts about how it should be used for social change and community wellness.

Visiting the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, India

Alexx with her roommates at the Mahabodhi temple on the last day of their meditation sessions in Bodh Gaya

You won the Forum on Education Abroad’s Undergraduate Research Award for your research in India. What was it like to present your research in front of over 1,000 international educators?

To be frank, I was initially nervous and afraid that the audience would get bored or would lose me by the third time I said the word, “Buddhism.” My mentor who helped me write my speech, Helena Kaufman from Carleton College, however, assured me that every one in the audience was there to support me and cheer me on, not to criticize my research methods or question me. It felt amazing to be received well by such a curious and encouraging audience, and to answer questions afterward about all things that were important to me: mindfulness, wellness, Buddhism, applied practice, etc.

What was the memorable experience from your time studying abroad in India?

During the first three weeks, we were taught by two nuns, Sister Dhamma Vijaya and Sister Molini. They told us this amazing story about how they recited the metta, or lovingkindness, chant during a boating trip and saw several dolphins jump out of the water. They cited all the ways that the chant had helped and protected them over the years, so I asked to learn the chants from Sister Molini. Our one-on-one meetings were a highlight of my time abroad.

What was the most challenging part of your experience abroad?

One of the most challenging parts of my experience abroad was the intense humidity and heat at the beginning of the semester in Bodh Gaya. It was also challenging at times to keep up with the rigorous schedule of meditation sessions and classes, in addition to trying to experience the life of the town and completing schoolwork.

What advice would you give to other students as to why they should study abroad and what it can do for them?

I think it’s easy to forget that there are real people who have real experiences with the ideas that we read about in the literature. We can cite theory all day and forget to acknowledge, value, and listen deeply to those who live the things we read about in the bubble of our lecture halls and classrooms.

How did your study abroad experience impacted your life both personally and professionally?

I left the program feeling so much more capable to make changes in my life according to what was important to me. Living mostly without mobile phones and computers, sleeping early, and living an intentional lifestyle in an intentional community for three months taught me to pay closer attention to the things that were working and not working for me in my life back home. I came back with the determination to choose a better sleeping schedule and better living habits in general, and to more fully develop the relationships I cared most about.

Entrance to a Tibetan Temple in Bodh Gaya, India

Entering a Tibetan Temple in Bodh Gaya

What are your plans for the future?

My primary goals are to be well, to teach, and to teach others how to be well. There are so many ways to fulfill those goals! I am considering the following in the near future:

  1. Embark on a “How to Live a Fulfilled Life Tour” on which I would discover the skills, qualities, and practices that are essential for a happy and fulfilled life by visiting different cultures and communities around the world
  2. Partner with educational institutions to develop programs that promote and teach social, emotional, and physical wellness as a practice
  3. Apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to study Buddhism and Social Justice in Burma or Thailand