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Bhutan: Forest and Rural Livelihoods of the Himalayas: Jena Trolio, ERM major, INTAG, Environmental Engineering, Watersheds and Water Resources minors

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Posted: November 25, 2013

Traveling to Bhutan was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and now that I’ve been there, I can’t wait to travel again.
The Tiger's Nest Monastery in Paro, Bhutan; a famous Buddhist site

The Tiger's Nest Monastery in Paro, Bhutan; a famous Buddhist site

This summer, I had the incredible experience to spend six weeks living and studying in Bhutan, a very small and developing country in Southeast Asia.  While there, we were instructed by two brilliant professors, as well as quite a few native guest lecturers with fascinating knowledge and stories to share with us.  Beyond our lectures, we spent much time out in the environment, doing field exercises and conducing our own individualized research at the conclusion of the six-week stay.  I traveled via the Bhutan program run through The School for Field Studies, and I feel that choosing to embark upon this journey was one of the best decisions of my life thus far.

We had one week in the beginning of the trip and one week at its conclusion to explore various parts of Bhutan – we travelled to the capital city and a few of the other more populated regions.  We visited various religious sites, but one of the highlights of the trip for me was getting the chance to live with a family during a weekend-long homestay.  Our homestay was in Phobjika Valley, which was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been lucky enough to visit.  It was an extremely rural location, and the majority of the residents of the valley were potato farmers.  TrolioBhutan2.pngAlthough they didn’t have a large amount of wealth, the residents of the valley welcomed us into their community with open arms.  Every morning, my homestay sister announced that there were tea and crackers freshly plated for us in their living room; I was so flattered by how hospitable our hosts were.  For each meal, they heaped servings upon servings of the local food onto our plates.  I truly felt like I was saying goodbye to new family members when we had to depart at the conclusion of the weekend.

The part of the trip that I feel like I gained the most from was the directed research project that all the students completed as a closure to the class.  Based upon the interests we listed, we were each matched up with individual research topics.  We were then grouped up, four or five students per group, and given a larger research topic that we would collaborate on.  My specific research was on flora biodiversity in a community forest in the Bumthang district of Bhutan.  Apart from assessing the forest’s species richness and overall diversity, I also researched the opportunity for alternative income potential for the community members through Non-Wood Forest Products from the forest.  This research project, although short, was a great preview for what I’ll be doing this year as I work on my Schreyer Honors Thesis, and any work I may do in graduate school in the future.

A large portion of our time in the classroom was spent in discussions and presentations of our research and developments.  Participating in this program really developed my communication skills.  I’ve become much better at expressing my thoughts and my knowledge in a focused and intelligent way.  Also, the directed research project developed my skills in coming up with a research topic/question and designing data collection to answer that question to the best of my abilities.  TrolioBhutan3.pngThere are countless other ways in which I was changed by my experience abroad, but I’d say a last prominent one is how adaptable it made me.  I had never travelled by myself before, and I’d also never been to a developing country.  Things that are considered simple and common here, in many cases, were luxuries in Bhutan.  At first, many of the transitions were difficult, such as not being able to eat the foods I would eat at home and not being able to drink the water without purifying it beforehand.  Living as I did for six weeks in Bhutan was an incredibly eye-opening experience to how lucky I am with the things I have been blessed with all my life in America.  Although there was a large cultural shift involved with my time abroad, the experience was more worthwhile and life changing than I ever could’ve imagined.  Traveling to Bhutan was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and now that I’ve been there, I can’t wait to travel again.