The West Morris Central High School community and Tibet, China are more than 7,500 miles apart.
Despite that difference, the two came together in the same room last week as royalty met adolescence in the high school auditorium.
At first glance, one wouldn’t know the Tibetan standing at the front of the room was a descendant of kings, in line to become one himself. But there he was, talking about American college and the oft silliness of English slang, acting just like the teens sitting in front of him.
Lhagyari Trichen Namgyal Wangchuk – you can call him Trichen (Tree-chen) – is 21-years old and currently studying at Gettysburg University in Pennsylvania. For one morning of his winter break, he showed an autobiographical documentary to hundreds of Central students and explained to them the struggle of his people, and what he plans to do about it.
Prior to coming to the United States four years ago to further his education, Trichen and his family lived in a Tibetan refugee village in India. The Chinese government invaded Tibet in 1949, he explained to the group, and while the two countries are not enemies, he doesn’t like what the Chinese government is doing in his homeland.
“Because of that, I feel the need to share the struggle that goes on in Tibet,” he told the crowd.
With that, a 27-minute documentary titled “My Country is Tibet” aired for the crowd. Its underlying message was that of the refugees’ lives in the village, and what the Buddhist culture was doing to live life peacefully while knowing its homeland was not freely accessible.
One student asked if the college freshman returned to Tibet, would he be imprisoned?
“Ask the Chinese government,” he quipped.
“We can go to Tibet,” the young king said, “But they probably would not let us out.” Trichen knows that firsthand, as his sister currently lives in the Chinese-controlled country. He told the crowd he receives letters from the Chinese government every so often asking him to come back to Tibet, and how his life and his family’s wellbeing will be taken care of. He won’t take the bait, though.
Trichen said while he's never been to Tibet, he is recognized by the members of his country as the king.
Trichen was just 12-years-old when his father, whom he called his mentor and hero, died, leaving the youngster to be directly in line for the kingship. His father spent 20 years, 6 months and 11 days – a number the king recites without hesitation – in jail as a political prisoner for fighting the Chinese government on behalf of Tibet.
When his father died, Trichen was directly mentored by the Dalai Lama, whom he sees frequently. The two had lunch together in New York City last month. It was the Dalai Lama who advised Trichen to come stateside and pursue more education; to learn more, grow more, then return east and help his people.
‘Oh, You Mean The King?’
Trichen has conducted multiple presentations around the U.S., from Colorado College to theaters in New York City. His visit to Washington Township wasn’t by chance.
Andrew Sydenstricker, a 2013 Central graduate, was accepted to Gettysburg University during his senior year. As the time approached to prepare for move-in day, the incoming freshman started talking with future classmates.
“I was speaking with some other students on a Gettysburg Facebook group and we were talking about school and roommates and all that,” Sydenstricker said. “I told one of the other students that my roommate notice said it was a foreign student from Tibet, and I didn’t think much of it.
“Then (the other student) said, ‘Oh, you mean the king?’” he said.
Word had gotten around that Trichen was coming to Gettysburg, and Sydenstricker learned the king would be his roommate.
“I didn’t want to look too much into it,” the biochemistry major said. “I didn’t want to make him into something in my mind.”
The two hit it off right away, Sydenstricker said, and Trichen is just one of the guys in their diverse dorm building. The roommates’ floor is home to a mix of Chinese, Palestinian and American students. The king told the students during his presentation that he likes not being treated like royalty in the United States, and it helps keep him focused on his plan to become educated and go home to serve his people.
When Sydenstricker came home for Thanksgiving break, he visited his alma mater and spoke with International Baccalaureate teacher Debbie Gonzalez about his roommate. From there, Trichen’s appearance at Central was just a request away.It may have only been an hour, but for that time a Tibetan king was just as much a part of the high school community as its students became immersed in a culture born thousands of miles away.