There's a Yak in the Classroom June 29, 2022

By (Environmental Studies and International and Global Studies, Brandeis University) - abroad from 02/05/2022 to 05/19/2022 with

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

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I gained a sense of confidence in my ability to adapt to new surroundings

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

SFS Bhutan courses are taught through a combination of lecture, field exercise, and excursions. While there might be a few assignments and light lab reports, most of the final grade is comprised of test scores and participation. My classmates and I agreed that courses in SFS tend to be more rigorous than traditional study abroad programs, but I would not classify them as being intense.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I was part of SFS Bhutan's first cohort since the pandemic and we were the first foreigners to enter the country in nearly 2 years. Given this and the COVID restrictions that were still in place, we were not able to participate in all of the activities that make up a normal semester. Our administrators were incredible and definitely gave us the best possible experience given the situation. We still managed to participate in field work, interact with the community, and travel a fair amount. Activities and excursions are always planned out by SFS, but be ready for plans to change at a moments notice. It definitely adds to the fun!

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

SFS' Center for Himalayan Environment and Development Studies recently moved to the Gangtey Palace, which use to be the residence of extended members of the royal family. The school is beautiful, but the space is a little tight at times. There are multiple people in a room, but it was easy to get used to.

* Food:

Incredible food! Be prepared for lots of spicy dried chilies and rice. It relatively easy to be vegetarian in Bhutan, but being vegan is very difficult. The kitchen staff did a wonderful job of accommodating to dietary restrictions, but it is a little harder for restaurants to do the same.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Given the situation with the pandemic, we did not get to interact with the community as much as I had hoped. However, we interacted with people in town during our daily outings and still had the opportunity to conduct in-person interviews for directed research.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Healthcare is free and readily accessible in Bhutan. The hospital is just down the street from the center. However, all medications, whether prescription or over the counter, must be brought from the United States. It takes several months to ship anything to Bhutan and is very expensive. Be up to date on the necessary vaccines for traveling to Bhutan.

* Safety:

Paro is an incredibly safe city. The people are welcoming and incredibly kind. It is absolutely safe to explore in groups or individual, and the center keeps tabs on where students are at all times. However, I only felt unsafe in the presence of stray dogs.

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

After a year of dealing with the challenges and stresses of being a student during the pandemic, traveling to Bhutan was, in the best way, a complete shock to the system. Despite being physically very distant from the United States, I had never felt more at home than in Bhutan. I became deeply invested in my classes, grew very close with my fellow classmates, and felt as though I had developed a sense of calm that I had never before experienced throughout academics. The experience was challenging in many aspects, but the unexpectedness made the program all the more worthwhile.


* 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)

Program expenses (flights, etc.) were expensive, but basic living costs were extremely cheap. You can get a full meal for around 300 Nu ($3-4).

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? On average, maybe $20-30 a week.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Directed research
  • The size of the program
* What could be improved?
  • The packing list
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? It is much hotter in Bhutan than you might expect, especially in the spring. If you are not particularly sensitive to the cold, opt for a lighter puff and a wind-breaker over a heavy winter jacket. Bring gloves and a hat for camping and colder days. You will do a lot of hiking, so invest in a good pair of hiking boots.