Go to Bhutan. Do it. Past Review

By (Environmental Studies, Brown University) for

The School for Field Studies / SFS: Bhutan - Bhutan - Himalayan Studies

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
This program has set me forth on an amazing career path, where I now hope to work in the field of international environmental development. I am also interested now in studying more deeply on the crux between religion and ecology. I have maintained the relationships with Bhutanese officials, and I am planning on going back to Bhutan to work on projects and continue research on sacred forests. Definitely changed my life.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I learned so much during this program. A lot of what I learned is hard to put down in words, so much of it was just experiential. I came into this program with a heavy bias towards conservation over development, a very pro-environment perspective. I left with an inspired international focus to my environmental interest, and with a wealth of knowledge on sustainable development. We were rarely in a traditional classroom. Most of the learning for me took place during guest lectures with some of the countries most preeminent environmental and cultural experts, at a monastery during a cultural festival, or during the field research period. I learned a ton during the field work period at the end. It was a very rushed, 4 day intensive period of research on Community Forestry in Bhutan. Some of us did more scientific forest resources field work, others did more qualitative work, doing interviews with villagers. I had done a lot of book research in college, but nothing ever like this. The field work was so successful, and so interesting to me, that I turned the data into my Senior Honors Thesis, and am now working with colleagues from School for Field Studies and from Bhutan on publishing a paper.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I went on this program during its "pilot stage" in 2010, the first year this program was offered. Therefore there were many challenges, and unknowns, both for the students, faculty and staff. The program is still in its infancy, and there is a lot of work to be done to make sure things run more smoothly. If you are somebody who needs military precision in a program, this is not for you. However if you are down to take things as they come, take even the mistakes and weird cultural run-ins as lessons, if you seek adventure and discovery, this program is for you. Since Bhutan is so far out there, and very few foreigners are allowed in the country, our staff did not have a whole lot of background knowledge on Bhutan going in. However, this was fine, since we worked with Bhutanese colleagues who told us everything we needed to know. It was a small program, only 16 students, which was intimate and awesome. We lucked out with an awesome group of kids, pretty much everybody got along. Also, this is not a party study abroad program. SFS is strict about their drugs and alcohol policy. Sometimes we felt that we did not have much freedom or free time. Some kids got sent home for smoking marijuana. That really sucked. There were definitely opportunities to drink with fellow students, and with new Bhutanese friends, though this was not the focus of the program, nor should it have been.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

We lived in dorms at our partner Forestry Institute. These were brand new, but still needed a lot of work on plumbing etc. They are pretty rustic overall, though that didnt bother a lot of us. If you dont like bugs, or cows looking at you from outside your window, this is not the program for you.

* Food:

The food in Bhutan is bizarre. A lot of it is spicy. You might have a hard time if you are a picky eater. I thought of it as part of the adventure. A lot of chilies, a lot of ferns, a lot of rice.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

We had a ton of awesome cultural experiences, though I would have wanted even more! Though the program is short and there was very little time. We visited monasteries, villages, beautiful forests, the capital city, rural areas etc. Some of the most memorable moments took place in the homes of some of our Bhutanese friends. Everyone was so hospitable wherever we went. Bhutanese people in general are very welcoming and gracious.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

Almost everybody got sick at some point on the trip, from elevation sickness to random food-bourne bugs.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Hostel
  • Hotel
  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The wide variety of activities
  • Connection with Bhutanese forestry institute.
  • The Himalayan environment itself
* What could be improved?
  • More Free time
  • more formal relationships with local Bhutanese people.
  • More formal academic emphasis on cultural and socioecon studies
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Do this program if you are interested in experiencing a culture/environment that is completely different than America! Bhutan in many ways could not be farther away from home, geographically and culturally. If you are interested forests, mountains, and Buddhist culture, this is the perfect program for you. The program is fast-paced and full of surprises. It is definitely not a walk in the park though, get ready to work hard and be stretched to your limits physically and mentally.