The School for Field Studies (SFS) Bhutan, Summer, Himalayan Forests, Watersheds, and Rural Livelihoods program introduces students to Bhutanese culture, society, and environment. Traveling and trekking across valleys and ridges and through villages, students will gain an intimate knowledge of the diverse ecosystems and rural livelihood strategies, and conduct research on Bhutan’s priority environmental concerns and resource management and biodiversity conservation strategies.
Bhutan is nestled in the remote and rugged eastern Himalayan region of South Asia, an area characterized by extensive and numerous mountains and valleys, the world’s highest mountains and a diversity of vegetation types and ecosystems. The country has also been identified as one of the ten biodiversity hot spots in the world. Bhutan is home to an estimated 770 species of birds, and the takin, snow leopard, golden langur, blue sheep, and tiger are among Bhutan’s diverse wildlife.
In the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, rich cultural traditions and social and political institutions reflect Buddhist principles of The Middle Path, integrating people and nature, traditional knowledge and Western science, and balancing economic growth and collective happiness.
In early 2008, Bhutan’s government shifted from a monarchy to a constitutional democracy. The commitment to devolve authority over natural resources to regional governments and rural communities is illustrated by the many community forest initiatives around the country. Since the majority of Bhutanese reside in rural areas, sustainable management of natural resources is critical for achieving the dual goals of poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation.
In this summer study abroad program, students will travel across Bhutan learning about Bhutanese culture, environmental issues, and rural development. Through excursions, classes, field exercises and research, students will become familiar with the unique cultural, political, economic and environmental characteristics of Bhutan. You will learn the principles of rural development and environmental sustainability and study the practical application of those concepts. Students will engage in a research project, collecting and managing primary data, and communicating research results to diverse audiences in Bhutan.
SFS is partnering with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment, an international research and training facility in Bhutan. SFS students are helping the Institute advance its research agenda in several priority areas, including community forestry, human-wildlife conflict, and watershed assessment. We will learn and apply field research techniques in both the social and natural sciences, including forest mensuration, species identification and enumeration, interviews and surveys, as well as participant observation.
- Observe four major vegetation zones during the journey from the capital city to the field station
- Visit the stunning Punakha Dzong and monasteries
- Overnight in Phobjikha valley, an important conservation area for the black-necked crane
- Field visits to community forestry projects, micro-hydropower stations and rural farms
- Homestay and cultural trek through villages and relict forests
The Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) is a government institution whose mission is to serve as a center for research, policy dialogue, and training in the fields of conservation and environmental sciences. We live and study on the UWICE campus, set in the pastoral Chokhor Valley in the central district of Bumthang.
The administrative building at UWICE is a former king's palace and is built in traditional Bhutanese architecture with wood paneled walls and colorful decorations both inside and out. UWICE campus offers views the surrounding valley, the mountains swathed in clouds, and the occasional cattle or ponies grazing in the yard.
The modern dormatories and cafeteria are just steps away from the Dzong, where classes are held. A running trail behind the campus winds through the woods where wild strawberries, roses, and stream crossings accent the landscape. After classes, students can head up the trails for a quick run, hike, or yoga retreat. There is also a volleyball court where students can challenge the locals in competitive play or opt to play a rousing game of Snooker in the lounge.
Note: The program operates in rugged and rural environments, taking us (often by foot) to high altitude and to villages with pit latrines and simple diets. The trek and field work requires participants to be in excellent physical condition. Flexibility and patience are equally important attributes for the successful participant.