At the beginning of the spring semester, we asked student Annabel Li about her first impressions of Bhutan. Now, as the semester comes to a close, she shared her thoughts with us again.
What did you like most about the SFS experience?
The people I was able to meet on this program represent what I like the most about the SFS experience. I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of this very special group, who enjoyed chilling, eating snacks, and going on this amazing journey together. We were all able to get along so well with each other.
Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind.
Even though this marks the end of this wonderful experience, I wish everyone all the best on their endeavors, we’ll see each other again! India trip, leggo?
You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
Bhutan is known for its Gross National Happiness (GNH). However, the understanding of GNH from the people and the rest of the world is pretty different. I came to Bhutan with several questions in mind. This course changed my perception of conservation, development, and national parks. Most importantly, it changed my perception of Bhutan. Being here for a full semester, everything feels and is more complex than what I thought. People here are genuinely nice, so welcoming and warm to chillingbas (foreigners). I’ve never seen such an open community. Especially during our directed research, when we basically went into houses, and conducted interviews out of the blue, I can remember all the teas offered to us, and the amazing hospitality. I wake up every day having to remind myself that I’m actually in the Himalayas.
What is life at the field station really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts of living at a remote field station?
We lived in close quarters with each other, two people to a room. We lived in the lower dorms in the UWICE campus above Chamkhar town. It takes us at least 20 minutes to walk down to town. As the semester went by, most of us took taxis down due to our laziness. The main source of wifi, the umbilical cord to the rest of the world, was in our classroom. We often had to fight and fend for the wifi, but no worries, no blood was shed in the process.
Breakfast was from 7:30am to 8:30am. Then, we would have class from 9:15am to 5pm. We had the forest, and the mountains surrounding us, which we explored during field exercises or Sunday ridge hikes. The most challenging part was not being able to do what we wanted at all times. As a group, we loved to eat and cook. The rules of the program made it a little difficult for us to cook at first, but eventually with the help of the staff, we made it happen. The best part of living at the field station was being able to go to Chamkhar town. By the end of the program, we made some strong bonds with the people in town. If the field station was closer to town, I think we would have befriended everyone in town. I can still remember when the club owner announced our birthday trio’s party and invited the whole town. XD
What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
The tight class schedule and the directed research were my biggest challenges academically. Our tight class schedule only gives us a day off in an entire week, which can be a little energy draining as we don’t get as much down time as compared to our home universities. Also, the schedule also means that we technically have one study day, and then two days to take our exams…we are constantly in a time crunch. We dove straight into directed research after our exams. It was my first time doing this sort of research. To be able to complete data collection, write a report, and give presentations to government officials within two weeks is a bit nerve-wracking.
What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
There are too many good memories this semester. If I have to choose, it would be the dinners when we took over the cafeteria kitchen. We made thai food, burgers, mac ‘n cheese, that was the best. We were able to have fun with the kitchen staff, and share our love for food with everyone.
Give three adjectives that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Grateful, nostalgic, chillingbas (“foreigners”)