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Eastern Himalayan Forests and Rural Livelihoods


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Location Bumthang District, Bhutan
Language English
Dates 2016: June 6 – July 14
Deadline Rolling admissions. Early submissions encouraged for acceptance into program of choice.
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.


No academic prerequisites; 18 years of age
Credits 6 credits
Our classroom followed our group to wherever we travelled. While on morning walks, and on our trek, we worked on plant IDs. Around campfires, traditional dances and songs were shared with us. While visiting a dzong, we learned about the meanings of paintings in the temple walls. During homestay with a local family, we learned how to cook traditional dishes. I have never taken so much new knowledge away from a program.        

—Theresa Wondra, University of St. Thomas, Summer ‘12



Traveling through Bhutan, students learn about culture and history, religious traditions, environmental issues, and conservation policies, all while exploring the role that environmental services and natural resources play in rural livelihoods and national development. On this program, the country itself becomes the classroom, as we explore local environmental issues and rural livelihoods through a broad array of learning opportunities including lectures from local experts, field exercises, treks, and a short research project.

Through their research, students contribute to the advancement of SFS’ joint research agenda with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) in areas including sustainable forestry, watershed management, and rural development. Students develop skills in assessing environmental problems, defining research questions, conducting field research, and communicating results to local stakeholders.

In this six-week program, students conduct a research project on themes related to natural resource management. Project themes have included the following:

  • Social, economic, and environmental impacts of community forestry
  • Payment for ecosystem services assessment
  • Blue pine forest encroachment and the potential for private forestry development
  • Climate change, water management issues, and flood preparedness


  • Conduct interviews with Bhutanese citizens who have resource-based livelihoods, exploring the relationship between human well-being and natural resources
  • Guided by UWICE staff, learn important features of local forest species, including species composition and community dynamics; practice field techniques for tree measurement and how to estimate timber volume
  • Consider how religion influences attitudes about the treatment of the environment
  • Take a multi-day trek through cultural and natural landscapes, up and over the ridge, between Chamkhar and Tang valley
  • Visit the stunning Punakha Dzong and Bumthang monasteries

Note: The program operates in rugged and rural environments, and we live and study at altitude (around 10,000 feet elevation). Our work takes us (often by foot) to higher altitudes. The trek and field work require participants to be in excellent physical condition. Our facilities and other rural infrastructure are rustic, and the Bhutanese diet is fairly simple.


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 dormitories and cafeteria are just steps away from the dzong where classes are held. The UWICE campus offers magnificent views of the surrounding valley, the mountains swathed in clouds, and cattle or ponies grazing in the yard.