Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity January 22, 2023

By (Wellesley College) - abroad from 07/21/2022 to 12/10/2022 with

Wheaton College: Thimphu - Wheaton in Bhutan

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I learned a lot about Bhutanese society and current issues facing the country from classes, my internship, and local peers. I also learned how to navigate a workplace through my internship. I gained a lot more confidence in myself, self-reliance, and skills related to independent travel.

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.

The intensity of Wheaton coursework (we take 2 seminar-style classes) was comparable to my home university, which is to say, relatively demanding. However, I did think that the classes were very useful in contextualizing and deepening my understanding of Bhutanese culture/politics. Coursework at Royal Thimphu College (we only take 1 class) was much, much more laidback and not particularly academically challenging.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Lots of resources and people are available to support international students at Royal Thimphu College, the host institution in Bhutan. Having the additional support of a Wheaton faculty member can also be helpful when navigating adjustment.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

We lived in dorms at RTC. As I understand, RTC's dorms are among the nicest college housing arrangements in Bhutan. However, for an American, adjusting to the dorms may take some patience - hot water and electricity in the facilities can be quite temperamental, the latter of which can be difficult when it starts getting cold outside.

* Food:

I wasn't the biggest fan of the food served in the college's mess hall. However, the canteen offered better food at a relatively nominal cost for college students. The food scene in the town of Thimphu is not bad nor too expensive if you are interested in exploring it.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

People are very welcoming and friendly at RTC. Surprisingly, however, I actually ended up making more friends at my internship. I learned a lot about Bhutanese culture just by working/socializing with people at my internship.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Nearly all of my international student friends and I got sick multiple times while at RTC - sometimes pretty badly. There is a college nurse at RTC, but if you are moderately ill, you'll probably be sent to the public hospital/clinic in Thimphu. Although healthcare is free of charge in Bhutan, health infrastructure and personnel are much less robust/resourced than it is in the US. I would strongly advise that a student with a severe chronic illness, severe food allergies, or mobility limitations take this fact into consideration when thinking about this program. Additionally, there are two mental health counselors at RTC - I can't personally speak to their services, but I do know that other people found them useful.

* Safety:

Overall, Bhutan is a pretty safe country for foreigners.

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

Bhutan is a very unique country with fascinating history/culture/politics, not to mention incredible hiking and biodiversity. The Wheaton program is a great way to study Bhutan in depth while also being able to travel around the country and gain experience interning.


* 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)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $15


* Did your program have a foreign language component? No

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • 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?
  • Excursions to other parts of Bhutan
  • Wheaton classes
  • Internship in Thimphu
* What could be improved?
  • Communication prior to the program - I would've appreciated more information earlier
  • Protocol related to payments for students in the program who do not attend Wheaton. It seemed like there was little to no communication between Wheaton's study abroad office and Wheaton's financial services, the latter of whom did not seem to understand that I do not attend Wheaton and payments are handled by Wellesley's study abroad office.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? There was a lot that I wished I knew before going to Bhutan. If you are considering doing to Bhutan, I would strongly recommend contacting a former Wheaton student who has done this program recently to actually get a sense of what it is like. These are the things I can think of off the top of my head: It can be very difficult to find quality, up-to-date information about Bhutan for foreigners. Watching vlogs from Bhutanese college students on YouTube was very helpful in preparing me for what to expect in the terms of day-to-day living. Bring modest clothing. Even in warm weather, people tend to cover their shoulders and wear long pants. The best way to access money is to open a Bhutanese bank account at Bhutan National Bank (BNB) or Bank of Bhutan (BOB) as soon as possible upon arriving in Bhutan. Mobile banking and venmo-like cash transfers through BNB and BOB are used by nearly everyone in Thimphu. The International Relations Office (IRO) at RTC is a very useful resource for information and support for anything you might need in Bhutan. If you are expecting an experience where you can do and see everything and anything you want, whenever you want, willy-nilly, understand that this is not the case in Bhutan. Tourism is regulated - there will be sites that you are not allowed to visit, places you cannot enter, unspoken rules/protocol that you have to follow, etc. etc. Importantly, travel is regulated and controlled within Bhutan. It is not possible to travel outside of Paro and Thimphu alone nor on a whim. Travelling to any part of Bhutan outside of Paro and Thimphu requires permits that foreigners have to apply for at least a few days in advance from the IRO. Foreigners are fully barred from visiting border districts, as well as most of southern and eastern Bhutan.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!