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Himalayan Environment and Society in Transition


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Location Bumthang, Bhutan
Language English instruction with 2-credit Religion & Culture course

Fall 2017: August 28 – December 6

Spring 2018: January 29 - May 9

Deadline Rolling admissions.
Program Cost
Click here for program costs. Program cost includes all tuition, room, board, local travel. Excludes airfare.
Financial Aid Click here for more information about need-based scholarships, loans, and travel grants.
Prerequisites One semester of college-level ecology, biology, or environmental studies/science; coursework in international development, cultural anthropology, and/or Eastern religions is strongly encouraged; 18 years of age
Credits 18  credits


The program curriculum and research agenda address issues related to modernization in Bhutan: the support of rural livelihoods and the conservation of biodiversity in the face of a changing society and landscape. By getting to know the local and national institutions that contribute to the management and governance of environmental resources, students gain an appreciation of the complexity of identifying and addressing conservation issues in a developing region.

SFS staff and students, in collaboration with our partner, the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE), focus on enhancing the condition of forest, river, and mountain ecosystems while balancing modernization and cultural preservation. SFS students contribute to the advancement of SFS and UWICE's shared research agenda in several priority areas including sustainable forestry, conservation biology, water resources, socioeconomics, well-being, and policy. Underlying themes of the joint research we undertake include biodiversity conservation, natural resource and water management, rural-urban migration, climate change impacts and adaptation, and sustainable livelihoods.

The semester curriculum comprises three thematic components, all centered on the environment:

  • People’s relationship with nature: Students explore the human-nature interface through the lenses of religion, society, and culture. We strive to uncover the knowledge, perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes about nature from an array of stakeholders. Students evaluate human dependence on and vulnerabilities to the processes, resources, and events in nature.
  • Democratization, governance, and rural development: Students learn about the policies and institutions in Bhutan that provide conditions necessary for livelihood security, good governance, and equitable socioeconomic development.
  • Ecology, conservation, and resource management: Students study key species and their habitats, as well as Bhutan’s conservation and natural resource management strategies—main pillars supporting human welfare and economic development in Bhutan.


The three-month program operates primarily in the forests, fields, and villages of the central district of Bumthang. Trekking across valleys and ridges and through villages, students learn about culture, Buddhist philosophy, and environmental issues, and gain an intimate knowledge of the local ecosystems and rural livelihoods. Students develop skills in assessing environmental problems, defining research questions, conducting field research, and communicating results.



  • Explore Thimphu—the only capital city in the world without traffic lights—and experience the friendly people of Bhutan while engaging the senses visiting shops, temples, and market stands
  • Visit some of the most influential and inspiring places of Buddhist worship in the Kingdom including Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest Monastery), as well as Trongsa Dzong and Punakha Dzong
  • Participate in a multi-day trek through villages, old-growth forests, and riverine ecosystems up to 14,000 feet above sea level



  • Explore Phobjikha Valley, an important wetland conservation area for the threatened black-necked crane
  • Conduct biodiversity studies and habitat assessments in forests, fields, and along rivers
  • Study traditional agricultural systems and practices, and assess how modernization affects the agro-ecosystem and rural household economies
  • Explore lower-elevation subtropical Himalayan broadleaf forests (around 4,000 feet above sea level) to observe unique flora and fauna
  • Pursue socioeconomic research in towns, on farms, and with businesses to assess how development in the Kingdom has influenced livelihoods
  • Visit monasteries to learn about the role of Buddhism in Bhutanese society and culture, especially as it relates to environmental concerns and national happiness
  • Develop field research skills including species identification, biodiversity assessment, survey design and interviewing techniques, environmental impact and protected-areas assessment, GIS or remote sensing, habitat assessment and mapping species distributions, scientific writing, and oral presentation



  • Compare timber productivity in community forests and private forests
  • Examine the effect of cattle grazing on blue pine encroachment
  • Study the connections between land use and water quality
  • Assess the abundance and status of key economic species; perform baseline biodiversity analyses
  • Investigate the impact of roads on community forest and agrarian livelihoods
  • Determine how rural-to-urban migration impacts food security and nutrition across the country
  • Examine the interest in and potential for payment for ecosystem services



Community reciprocity is at the heart of the SFS organizational and educational model. SFS students face the real-world complexities of issues affecting our host communities. With the results of our research, we offer data and recommendations that inform decision makers and build relationships between SFS and local stakeholders involved in biodiversity conservation and resource management.

As at our other Centers throughout the world, SFS is a part of the social fabric of the communities in which we are hosted. SFS students get involved in community volunteer projects and social activities such as:

  • Stream cleanup in Jakar town
  • Soccer matches against UWICE and local teams
  • Environmental education with nature clubs in local schools
  • Trail maintenance and landscaping on UWICE campus
  • Service to the monastic community
  • Day-stays with local families
  • Attending local tsechus (festivals)



The Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) is a government institution that serves as a center for research, policy dialogue, and training in the fields of conservation and environmental sciences. SFS students live and study on the UWICE campus in the town of Jakar (Choekhor), set in Bumthang Valley. The facility is the former palace of Bhutan’s first king, built in traditional Bhutanese architecture with colorful decorations both inside and out. The UWICE campus offers magnificent views of the surrounding valley, the mountains swathed in clouds, and cattle or ponies grazing in the yard.