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. 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. Students meet SFS staff in Bangkok two days before the program start to explore the city and to ensure travel to Bhutan on the same flight.
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. e
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.
Debate and reflect on the complex and philosophical intersections of nature, development, livelihoods, religion, and happiness.
In addition to the SFS program costs listed to the left, students should plan for additional expenses such as airfare, a passport, visas, medical costs, and personal spending.
Check out the Financial Planner below for an estimated breakdown of these costs along with more information about financially planning for your program abroad with SFS.
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.
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)
Religious and cultural principles and beliefs underlie much of the Bhutanese attitudes and practices in the environment. Students will learn to read religious symbols and understand local culture and belief through homestays and participation in Bhutanese festivals wherever possible. Students will also learn Dzongkha, the Bhutan’s national language, enough to engage in pleasantries on the street.
SFS 3040 Political and Socioeconomic Dimensions of Environment (4 credits)
In 2008, Bhutan’s government shifted from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional democratic monarchy, part of a longer trend of devolution of authority from an absolute monarch to the people and communities. Since most of the population reside in rural areas, sustainable management of natural resources is critical for achieving the dual goals of rural development and biodiversity conservation. In this course, we examine the socio-cultural, political, and economic dimensions of Bhutan’s approach to development, with a focus on environment. We will use the interdisciplinary lens of political ecology to frame lines of inquiry and define research questions on the nature-society nexus.
In this course, we focus on human interactions with and impacts on local ecosystems, and vice versa. By using Bhutan as an example, the course provides a conceptual framework for understanding how nature-society interactions, such as agriculture, water management, biodiversity conservation and utilization, and rural development shape both the natural landscape and the social and economic conditions in rural and urban areas. Because these interactions can be simultaneously social, cultural, economic, and ecological, holistic critical thinking is essential to understand these systems to enable us to propose solutions that make sense. The course provides the conceptual and practical skills and tools to critically examine and assess the human-environment nexus in the field. We also consider the theories and ethics of sustainable and unsustainable development and the need to view these issues in ways that are inclusive and just.
SFS 3050 Land Use, Natural Resources, and Conservation (4 credits)
In this course we will consider natural resources in the context of local livelihoods through the lens of ecology and economics, and across regional, national and global scales. We will examine the implications of different land uses related to various agricultural practices and livestock rearing. Furthermore, we will consider historical and current land use trajectories to understand the impacts of such practices over time on ecosystem resilience. For example, what are the principal stressors to the local economy and the environment at local, regional and national levels? We will consider food security, both at the local and regional levels and link those to natural resource stressors. Furthermore, we will look for synergies between conservation (both biodiversity and agrobiodiversity) in relation to rural livelihoods and development.
This course is closely linked to the other two disciplinary courses in our program: Mountain Ecology and Political & Socioeconomic Dimensions of Environment. Conceptually, we will focus on the notions of resilience and multi-functionality and seek evidence for these in the field. Course lecture material will be complimented by field lectures, guest lectures, student led discussions and field exercises. Students will explore the science behind current local and global issues in conservation biology, land use, water resources, food production, biodiversity and climate change. The purpose of this course is to provide students with opportunities to develop a strong foundation of scientific knowledge on the natural environment and to build a tool kit of field research methodologies and analytical skills to uncover, test and describe the relationships between natural resources, land use practices and conservation.
The kingdom of Bhutan lies in the eastern Himalayan typically characterized by extensive and numerous mountains and valleys, world’s highest peaks and a diversity of vegetation and wildlife. The mountain environments dominate Bhutan and shape both the culture and ecology of the land. Within this compact and mountainous country, are an extraordinary diversity of ecosystems and habitats; Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayan region are globally recognized as one of the hotpots for the biodiversity.
In this course, we focus on mountains. What are the processes that form mountains and shape their ecological communities? We will begin by studying the physical environment of mountains — the geology and climate. Upon gaining an understanding of the physical environment, we will investigate the effect of elevation gradients on vegetation and highlight special features of mountain animals and the interaction between habitat and animal communities. How do mountains influence the distribution of biodiversity and how do scientists study ecology in mountainous environments? Finally, what are the threats to mountain regions in a rapidly changing world and what conservation tools are scientists and conservation biologists implementing to protect sensitive mountain environments and species.
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.