Study abroad in Bhutan with SFS and venture to a mountain kingdom where change is on the horizon. Few foreigners ever set foot in Bhutan’s small villages and stunning Buddhist monasteries – not until 1974 did the country open its borders to tourism. Now, Bhutan is developing rapidly. Based in Paro, you’ll explore the challenges of protecting biodiversity and maintaining traditional rural lifestyles in this time of transition. Study conservation and environmental issues firsthand against a backdrop of vibrant culture and Buddhist philosophy. Learn more about the famed principles of Gross National Happiness, gain an in-depth knowledge of local ecosystems, and wrap up the semester with an extensive field research project.
Embark on a multi-day cultural trek through remote villages and high mountain passes to experience the natural beauty of Bhutan’s countryside and the traditional lifestyles of its people
Visit monasteries, such as the famed Tiger’s Nest, and take part in unforgettable tsechus (festivals) to learn more about Buddhism and Bhutanese culture
Explore Bhutan’s diverse range of biomes through trips to Himalayan ridges, the subtropical Punakha and Chukha Valleys, and the alpine meadows of Phobjikha
All students are welcome to apply for our need-based financial aid. Students who exhibit financial need for their program will be offered SFS financial aid. SFS aid is offered through a combination of scholarships, grants and loans.
Pell Grant Match
SFS matches Federal Pell Grant funding for students applying to an SFS semester program.
Many SFS students receive aid through their home institutions or other outside sources, so check with your financial aid office to see what aid may apply to an SFS program.
Itinerary varies from term to term and is subject to change. Program activities take place 6 days a week with one day free.
Week 1: Welcome to Bhutan! Move into dorms, meet roommates and the SFS staff, and attend program orientation. Tour Paro Town. Head to Thimphu (capital city) – cultural performance, lecture on cultural landscapes, visit to textile museum. Get fitted for kiras and ghos – the national dress of Bhutan. Visit the gigantic Buddha Dordenma.
Week 2: Intro to Bhutanese language, mountain ecology, climate, and geology. Hike to Zuri Dzong. Lectures on land use, biodiversity adaptation, and forest management. Exercises on mapping livelihoods and flora/fauna identification. Visit a sawmill and learn about handmade paper.
Week 3: Community tree planting in Thimphu. Weeklong expedition to border town Phuentsholing – field lectures on agro-ecosystems and plant ID, life cycle assessment field exercise, and visit to Kharbandi Monastery. Return to Paro. Optional hike to Chumphu Nye (Floating Goddess).
Week 4: Lectures on alpine life zones, hydropower, avian ecology, natural resource conflicts, and ecotourism. River clean-up community project. Field exercises looking at Gross National Happiness and community forests. Visit National Museum of Bhutan. Traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath. Practice Dzongka language skills.
Week 5: Weeklong expedition to western regions including Phobjikha Valley and Punakha with overnight homestay, camping, and rafting. Stop at Dochula Pass. Lectures on black-necked cranes, research ethics, agrarian landscapes, and The Middle Path. Field exercise on forest resource inventories. Visit numerous forests, temples, and archaeological sites.
Week 6: Field exercises on scaling environmental governance, agroecology and food systems, biodiversity surveys, and macroinvertebrates. Learn about freshwater ecology, land management, and sustainable farming. Community volunteer project.
Week 7: Continue practicing Dzongka language skills. Lectures on human-wildlife conflict, population ecology, and traditional medicine. Midterm exams.
Week 8: Attend a tshechu (festival). Early morning bird mist-netting activity. Directed Research (DR) course begins with intro to scientific writing and literature review, research mentor selection, and proposal development. Bhutanese cooking class. Week-and-a-half-long excursion to Bumthang in western Bhutan. Lectures and field exercises on small mammal ecology and histories of local landscapes.
Week 9: Continue Bhumthang excursion: Lecture on herbivore ecology and field exercise on beekeeping. Guest lecture from Bhutanese author, Kunzang Choden. Meet researchers at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research. Embark on a 4-day cultural trek across the Bumthang Valley.
Week 10: Bioblitz, camera trapping, and forest succession field exercises. Learn about species interaction, biodiversity conservation, climate change, and emerging natural resource issues. Excursion to Yuesupang to observe wild takin. Bhutanese cultural dance activity.
Week 11: Lectures on valuation of ecosystem services and financing conservation. Volunteer at a local primary school. Final exams for Mountain Ecology, Land Use, Natural Resources, and Conservation, Political and Socioeconomic Dimensions of Environment, and Religion and Culture of Bhutan. DR project work continues.
Week 12: DR course lectures on statistics and qualitative and quantitative research. Data collection in the field begins.
Week 13: DR course lecture on effective scientific communication skills. Full week of data collection.
Week 14: Data analysis: organize, analyze, and write up your results in a scientific paper. Final papers due. Create a DR presentation based on your research findings. Present to students, staff, and community members.
Week 15: Hike to famous Tiger’s Nest (Takstsang) Monastery. Re-entry exercises and room cleanup. Closing activities. Head home.
This academically rigorous program follows a six-day/week schedule. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to help students actively discover and understand the complexities of environmental, social, and economic issues in Bhutan. Read more about the SFS program model.
Major academic themes include:
Mountain and forest ecology and conservation
Geology and hydrology of mountain regions
Forest and natural resource management
Gross National Happiness and the influence of Buddhist philosophy on conservation
Urban migration and development
Agriculture and food security
On the Himalayan Environment and Society in Transition program, you will take three 4-credit disciplinary courses, one 2-credit religion and culture course, and a 4-credit capstone Directed Research course. Courses are participatory in nature and are designed to foster inquiry and active learning. Each course combines lectures, field exercises, assignments, tests, and research. All courses are taught in English.
Click on each course to view a description and download the syllabus
SFS 2010 Religion and Culture of Bhutan (2 credits)
This course allows students to develop a conceptual and practical understanding of religious principles that underlie Bhutanese attitudes and approaches to environment. Students learn the basic principles of Buddhism and other religions practiced in the region and look for religion in the landscape and in society. Students look at religion and environment, culture and environment, and Bhutanese attitudes toward environment, and get some language training in Dzongkha.
SFS 3040 Political and Socioeconomic Dimensions of Environment (4 credits)
This course focuses on the dynamics among people, society, and environment. We explore this dynamic through the interdisciplinary lens of political ecology, examining the political, economic, and social factors of environmental issues and changes. The course provides a conceptual framework for understanding how nature-society interactions—such as agriculture, natural resource management, biodiversity conservation, and rural development—shape both the natural landscape and the social and economic conditions in Bhutan. Students also gain the practical skills and tools to critically examine and assess the human-environment nexus in the field.
SFS 3050 Land Use, Natural Resources, and Conservation (4 credits)
This course considers the suite of natural resources that are tied to both local livelihoods and the national economy— including arable soils, water, timber, non-timber forest products, and grasslands. Students study the livestock and agriculture systems of Bhutan, both historical and current, and understand why and how these are changing, and what the implications are for household economies, the environment, and national issues. Students consider the important topic of food security, at both the household and national levels. By integrating field and classroom approaches, students explore the science behind current local and global issues in natural resource management, food production, biodiversity, and climate change.
This course provides a theoretical and practical understanding of the ecology of the Eastern Himalaya region. Students explore the physical features influencing mountain ecosystems, including the geology and hydrology, elevation, climate, and weather. The course highlights the unique characteristics of the flora and fauna found in these ecosystems, and the threats to these species. Students are exposed to an array of ecosystems—some in natural states, some heavily modified by people. Rivers, forests, and farmland are examined in various locations and along different altitude gradients, showcasing the ecological diversity within this small mountain state.
This course prepares students to distinguish hidden assumptions in scientific approaches and separate fact from interpretation, cause from correlation, and advocacy from objectivity. Students learn specific tools including: experimental design; field techniques; basic descriptive statistics; and parametric and non-parametric quantitative analysis. Emphasis is placed on succinct scientific writing, graphic and tabular presentation of results, and effective delivery of oral presentations.
You will gain practical skills in the field such as: GIS and mapping, species identification and distribution mapping, forest and biodiversity surveys, camera trapping and mist netting, protected areas assessment, quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, research design and implementation, and research presentation.
You will visit different ecosystems and communities which may include mountain ecosystems, subalpine conifer forests, alpine meadows, rural villages and small towns, subtropical broadleaf forests, high-altitude mountain passes, monasteries and sacred sites, and agricultural communities.
In the Directed Research course, each student completes a field research project under the mentorship of a faculty member – beginning with data collection and analysis and concluding with a research paper and presentation. Project subject areas span ecology, natural resource management, conservation science, environmental ethics, and socioeconomics.
The Center is located at one end of the stunning Paro Valley, at the base of a towering ridgeline dotted with Buddhist monasteries. Campus is a small cluster of buildings designed in the traditional Bhutanese architectural style. A pleasant walk brings you to the markets, shops, and cultural events of Paro Town.
Dorm living in 2-4 student rooms
Classroom and dedicated student study spaces
Kitchen and dining hall, and on-site cooking staff
Student lounge and ping-pong tables
Verandas with scenic views of the valley
Hiking trails and local roads for running
Click on the icons below to learn more about our Center in Bhutan.