As stated previously, apologies for the delay in this blog post. Many a thing has occurred since we departed Kathmandu a few weeks ago and the internet is more absent then ever before thus far. Anyway, so I’ve been hanging out in Bhutan…
So a little over two weeks ago my squadron of SIT kids said our heavyhearted goodbyes to our home stay families in Boudha. Most of us agreed that we had never anticipated the speed to which our 5 weeks living in KTM would fly by, or the grief that would come with departing from our families. Even with the frustrations and regulations placed upon us by living with a Tibetan family, my family had become a comfortable constant during my stay thus far. My Ama la and I would laugh over minor gossip and hiccups from within the daily lives of us SIT students, while my little brother pestered me on the animal inhabitants of North America, and my Pa la discussed in the most poised manner the fundamentals of Buddhism and politics of living as a Tibetan in KTM. They were my comfort and ease at the end of the day, even when all I wanted was to curl up in bed after classes. Overall, I thank them for teaching me a little more about patience. Remembering to stay calm during my little brothers persistence in quizzing me on wildlife, or when my Ama la would insist I take another helping of rice and potatoes, or when all I wanted to do was stay out ‘til 9 pm having beers with some friends at a café. As I realized on my final few days, it was all because they cared about me; worrying about my safety late at night, my health and diet after I got food poisoning, my mental health by letting me journal in my room instead of watching TV with the family. It wasn’t until it was about to end that I truly appreciated their presence and addition to my experience these last few months.
These last 20 or so days in Bhutan have flown by. Our near constant travel after departing from Boudha has kept us from settling into any kind of rhythm. Starting right from the get go we were in a big ole flurry of crazy travel plans. We flew from Kathmandu to another dinky airport right near the eastern boarder of Nepal. From there we then drove an hour to the Indian boarder, where we tried and failed to gracefully pass through immigration. Delayed, as I’ve found most things in my two short stints in India to be, we were extremely late for our flight, which was another 45-minute car ride away. We had split our party of 25 into a convoy of jeeps with bags and possessions scattered among the lot. I was part of the first party of five to receive their passports and documentation, and thus left in the vehicle most conveniently parked for a rapid exit. Driving faster then I can ever recall upon roads of such low quality (though far beyond those of KTM) we arrived at the airport 20 minutes before our plane was supposed to take-off. We quickly unloaded the bags and were escorted in a tizzy through security and check-in as others from our group began to trickle in. We didn’t know how many were with us until we boarded the plane, which we had attempted to delay as long as possible to try and get our whole party on its flight. We succeeded with 12 of the 20 plus two of our academic coordinators. One may think that the presence of these two coordinators was lucky on our part; in some ways it was, in others it was not. The two, just as us students, are kept in the dark about pretty much all of the logistical and general details about our schedules. With no working cell phones or idea about what we were expected to do upon our arrival at our destination, another airport located on the slightly more eastern portion of the Indian region we were in, we trusted drivers outside the arrival gate who explained to us that our main man in charge (also left at airport), Rinzi, had called ahead telling them to drive the arriving 15 over the Bhutanese boarder to our first overnight at the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) school, the Jigme Namgyal Polytechnic (JNP), which was an additional 5 hour drive from the airport. On the bright side, the unanticipated decrease in populace had given each of us each nearly double the seat space in our new convoy of jeeps.
Long story short we arrived late at the Polytechnic and spent the next day and a half days (which felt like a week) trying to adjust to such a small group.
So, a little background; Bhutan is a very new country within the international community. Previously, and even somewhat today, it is considered a remote nation with little outside influence. Prideful of their traditional cultural identity, access to this little country (having a population of only 600,000) is limited to keep from having more tourist then residents at a given time, as well as part of an attempt to discourage foreign cultural influence, resulting in a typical $250 visa fee per day of travel within the boarder, as well as limited access to various regions. My group of lucky ducks, however, received special permission to obtain student visas for 23 days.
The parameters around our visit were that we came under student visas and traveled from one of the colleges of the RUB to the next, making our way across the country from the rural east to the capital of Thimphu in the west. Our itinerary began with the JNP, then swift moves from Sherubtse College (the first university in Bhutan), to various guesthouse evenings, to the College of Natural Resources, to Thimphu, and onward to Paro College of Education in a few days.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that things could have gotten any more amazing than the places we have had the opportunity to visit and experience within my program. Bhutan was something that I never expected. Honestly, I didn’t even know that Bhutan was a country before I was informed at orientation that I would be traveling here. Which as you can imagine, gave me little understanding of what exactly it would be like traveling here; all people kept telling me was “It’s just such a beautiful country!” It just can’t prepare you from what you really get when you get here.
It’s a country with endless mountains and valleys, views that take your breath away, and modern road systems that take you, literally, among the clouds. Perhaps it is that I was born in raised in Vermont, but the mountains haven’t had that much of an awe effect upon me. In contrast, I think it just helped me acclimate to the region. From the moment we began our travels and experiences in Bhutan I have felt more at peace then I ever had in our previous locations. I almost immediately felt comfortable in my surroundings. The environment allowed me to breath air I’m used to at home (aka no burning trash), the people are welcoming, positive, enthusiastic to share with you what they love about their country, while being more then willing to help you out in anyway that they can. A fellow student from the 802 and I came to the consensus that it felt a lot like home to the two of us.
It was for this reason, and the general rarity of the opportunity, that I have recently decided to stay here for my month of independent research. It would have been foolish for me, even though once making a decision I told myself I wouldn’t sway from it, to go to a location I was generally ambivalent about staying in for a month. I know that this is an environment that I am comfortable and confident within, and will most likely never have the opportunity to come back to. I’m going to be linked with the RUB Paro College of Education with the new Early Learning Center and hope to look at the Bhutanese approach to child rearing outside of the traditional familial unit. A lot of the details are very much in the air and dependant of availability of resources and time, but regardless of what I find myself having access to, I’m so excited to have the opportunity to stay here for another 3-4 weeks. Double bonus, I most likely won’t have to hire a translator because nearly everyone here speaks English as well as the national language of Dzongkha.
One of my favorite parts of this trip has been the opportunity to get to know local college students. We spent most of our college overnights staying with student hosts, allowing us to see how their college life differed from and was similar to our own in America. Our longest stay was just five days at Sherubtse College, and easily one of our group’s favorite places we’ve visited. Perhaps it was just being back in the flow of college life, but we fell in love with it there. We were able to finally connect with the students we were living with and around, making amazing friends that we were all sad to have to say goodbye to. I don’t know exactly why, but I had anticipated the students here to be different from those of the United States. Somehow experiencing something totally different from that of my own college life. In actuality they had the same desires to have less work and more social time, better housing, less severe administrative regulations, etc. It wasn’t that they were unhappy, all of us have quarrels with details of our academic experiences, they were, as any of the students I’ve encountered in the states, proud to have to opportunity to continue their studies.
On a separate note, this trip has also brought some baggage along with it. That sounds dramatic. It has just brought up some conflicting ideas. Today, I officially have 60 days left before I head back home. Even though I’ve been having frequent longing for my friends and being back home (more specifically thinking often about how excited I am for my arrival to Vermont summer and my 21st birthday), I have this conflicting anticipatory sadness around the fact that this amazing crazy experience with these people who I love for everything I have learned from and with them is almost over. In just eight weeks I will be saying goodbye to a group of people who have become unspeakably close with and have helped me in more ways then I can say, and probably more then I know. Cheesy perhaps, but true. I know that I don’t want this to end yet, and even thinking about how close it is to the conclusion and how fast my remaining time is going to go by is too much to think about, while at the same time I get giddy about getting back to Vermont. I suppose this is just something that many travelers experience, and just tells me that I shouldn’t wish away the time I still have, even when all I want is a City Market sandwich at the lake with a brew and some friends.
I didn’t fully understand or believe when people told me that I wouldn’t want to leave once this whole thing was over, not that I really could have. Maybe that means, like many others I’ve talked to, it will make me come back again. I can only hope.
Sidenote: So, like an idiot, I grabbed the wrong wire from my bag of electronic items when packing for this trip, thus my camera is now without its charger… I have yet to locate one within my group that fits my camera. Tomorrow I am on a mission from God to find another charger somewhere in Thimphu. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Anyway, that is the reasoning for the lack of pictures accompanying this post. I’m hoping to snag some off of Facebok from some friends. Keep an eye out!