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Seven Years in Tibet

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 992
  • Category: Culture

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Seven Years in Tibet is a film based on a book that accounts the real experiences of the Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer in Tibet during seven years. From 1946 to 1952. As a student of intercultural communication, the purpose of this essay is to highlight the intercultural differences found in the film. The story is about Heinrich and Peter, two Austrian mountaineers who help each other for survival in the wild lands they go through until they reach Tibet. There, intercultural communication takes place and intercultural differences are clearly seen. This piece of work will briefly point out four topics: beliefs, gestures, protocol and intercultural marriage. They are related to the five scenes of the movie that will be addressed below. The first scene depicts some Tibetan pilgrims walking to the holy city of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. They believe if they walk long distances to holy places it purifies the bad deeds they committed and the more difficult the journey the greater the depth of purification.

A pilgrimage to Lhasa is highly valued for all Tibetans and a dream for many. The journey can be very long because it has to be from the pilgrim’s home village; the farther away, the longer the journey. It can take more than two months for many. During the journey, pilgrims clasp their hands to forehead, to throat and to heart and then prostrate full-length on the ground. This ritual is called “kowtow” and it is practiced to express their honest heart to Buddha. The continuous kowtows hurt the pilgrimages’ foreheads and the scar is considered a treasure as it is a symbol of piety and patience. The whole journey is very difficult and some Tibetans have died on the way due to poor nutrition supply and the toil of the road. (Web, tibet.news.cn) Heinrich makes us aware of his beliefs when he writes to his son: “I can’t say I know where I’m going nor whether my bad deeds can be purified. There are so many things I have done which I regret but when I come to a full stop, I hope you will understand.” He refers to this Tibetan practice as foreign and different for both, from Austria. But at the same time he states that he shares with the pilgrims the wish of been forgiven. The second scene is when Heinrich slightly boast his achievements as a top mountaineer.

To this the Tibetan woman replied, “[…] you admire the man who pushes his way to the top in any walk of life while we admire the man who abandons his ego.” Tibetan Buddhism stresses the individual effort to eliminate craving and attachment since they’re the origins of suffering. (Communication Between Cultures, 140). To this extent it is understood why Tibetans are not encouraged to pursuit individual and selfish goals. The third scene carries gestures. One group of Tibetan villagers clapped their hands as soon as they saw the two foreigners. Heinrich thought they were happy to see them since in Austria and in many countries, including ours, people clap in signal of happiness, approval or reward for a good performance of for a good cause. However, Tibetan clap hands to drive out evil forces. The fourth scene is about protocol. What people have to do or say in certain events. The mother of Dalai Lama explains to Heinrich the rules of protocol concerning Dalai Lama: “When you are in presence of his Holiness you must always be standing bent in obeisance, hands folded in supplication. If seated, you must always be seated lower than he.

Never look him in the eye, never speak before he does. Always refer to him as ‘Your Holiness.’ Never turn your back to him and never, never touch him.” This brief paragraph just explained a big amount of details about Tibetan culture. It says that titles are important; they clarify the individual’s status right away. It’s a hierarchical society. Dalai Lama is the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibetan people. It is politics and religion mixed. It also tells us that eye contact is considered to be rude and should be avoided, especially between people from different status. On the other hand, Heinrich didn’t know any of this. Austrian society does not practice Buddhism and it works in a different way concerning to hierarchical status. The fifth scene is the intercultural marriage between Peter and a Tibetan woman called Pema Lhaki. Peter seemed to embrace very well Tibetan culture. He set up in Tibet, ate Tibetan food and lived in a humble house made of rocks in the middle of the mountains.

He left behind moderns houses made of concrete and steel inside a neighborhood full of people that spoke German. He left behind his family, some friends and the dishes he was used to eat. That’s why intercultural marriages are likely to deal with problems such as what to eat, where to live, gender roles expectations, emotional display, values, social behavior and so on. (Communication Between Cultures, 237). Peter chose to join and enjoy Tibetan culture next to his wife. This is reflected when he says a small prayer along with her before eating his meal. To conclude, I would like to say that intercultural differences are a treasure. But it is necessary to be mindful and try to understand. Heinrich and Peter learnt to love Tibetan culture and were moved by its reality. Heinrich never forgot his seven years in Tibet and worked to bring the situation in Tibet to international attention and in October 2002, the Dalai Lama presented him with the International Campaign for Tibet’s Light of Truth Award for his efforts. He also founded the Heinrich Harrer Museum dedicated to Tibet in Austria.


Larry A. Samovar, R. E. (2009). Communication Between Cultures. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. Website
A Tibetan’s Pilgrim Journey to Faith. (2009). Recuperado el 2012, de China Tibet News: http://english.chinatibetnews.com/TibetdDiscovery/Belief/2009-03/13/content_214893.htm

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