It’s hard to believe that in only a week, I’ll be boarding a Drukair Royal Bhutan Airways Airbus in Paro to depart Bhutan. Every moment here is so rich with experience; the nature of a six-week study abroad program in a country as extraordinary as Bhutan means that a lot of the digesting and reflection undoubtedly will occur once home.
The past week and a half has been fully consumed by Directed Research: yesterday, all of us presented our individual findings to our professors and the other students in the group, and tomorrow, we’ll be presenting once more to local policy makers and stakeholders here in the Bumthang Dzonkhag (District). While it’s fantastic to finally present the research we’ve been working so hard on (with some late nights polishing it), what will really stick with me was my experience in the field last week. Over the course of four days, I visited 13 homes in the rural village of Ugyencholing, interviewing community members to examine their ability to harvest non-wood forest products (NWFPs), like wild mushrooms, from the neighboring forests as a method of income generation. While I thoroughly enjoyed these interviews, it was the hospitality and openness of the residents that I spoke with that will stick with me as I hopefully continue field research in the future.
What was perhaps most fascinating is getting a sense of how Bhutan is rapidly changing: almost all of the families talked to spoke about their children wanting to live in bigger cities, and leave their lives in Ugyencholing, defined by subsistence and commercial farming. There are clearly two sides to this: more younger people are entering into higher education, and it’s obvious that the family members still in Ugyencholing are incredibly proud of this.
But of course, the question remains: will they return to their home village? What is better for Bhutan’s future, prioritizing higher education, and subsequently, migration to cities (or places with job opportunities for younger people), or trying to keep these rural communities intact? It’s a tough question, and of course, I feel pretty torn myself. Back home in the U.S., we are going through a similar challenging dilemma. It’s unclear what the future holds for these rural areas, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is these communities that preserve some of the most special aspects of any society. This is certainly what I’ve observed in Bhutan, and will take with me back to the States. I couldn’t be more grateful to have had a chance to gain some insight into a complex, yet overwhelmingly beautiful society.
Tashi delek to all!