Field Notes from Bhutan

Posted: July 2, 2014

Today we had a non-program day, which means the students were free to relax and enjoy their time here in Bumthang. Since the program is only six short weeks, they have precious few of these. As an optional event, we arranged our own mini-World Cup soccer match against the UWICE faculty team. Our SFS students and faculty put on an impressive show despite losing 2-1.

As I stood there watching our offense move the ball towards the opponent’s goal, I was reminded of how remarkable this batch of students has been. This is my first teaching engagement with SFS, but I have been consistently impressed with how simultaneously outgoing and intelligent the students are. They are excelling both in and out of the classroom, having made numerous friends with the UWICE forestry students and staff and others in town. Seeing the students out on the field laughing and running around with our Bhutanese counterparts brought all of that home for me (despite the fact that they have not picked up many soccer skills here yet…).

Tomorrow we embark on the Directed Research phase of our trip, which is, for many of the students, the real draw of any SFS program. We’re heading to Tang valley to research the interdependence of people and the forest. Tang valley has one of Bhutan’s oldest community forests, Shambayung Community Forest. Shambayung has been around for over ten years, so the students will be looking at how it compares to private and government reserved forests in terms of socioeconomic and biophysical impacts. Our fieldwork days are long and busy, but the students come out the other side with some truly impressive research (I was fortunate enough to see some students from last year present at a conference at Yale this spring and it was honestly better than many of the graduate students presentations there).

Following their fieldwork, the rest of the program flies by. The students have only a couple days to write up their findings before they present their research, first here in Bumthang and then later in Thimphu. Then there are just a couple free days left before everyone heads back stateside. Feels like we’ll be home before you can say “Ema Datshi!”