This post is from student blogger Troy Wilkinson from Colorado State University, Journalism and Global Environmental Sustainability Major studying in Thimphu, Bhutan.
I’m in Bhutan. With Bhutanese peers who are conversing in Dzongkha, asking how one another are doing and cracking jokes I can’t understand. Chili hides within every meal I eat and rice has become most of my diet. I’m in Bhutan, but occasionally… actually quite often, I’ll be hanging out with my foreign friends conversing in English and protecting ourselves from the dastardly chili.
It seems every day I’m in Bhutan I find my way back to North America.
It’s hard to escape the pull towards the comfort of my international peers. Sometimes it even feels as though there are two sides to this trip, the international students and the locals. And it takes some effort to cross the gap.
It’s not always comfortable being with other Bhutanese students, especially when they’re speaking Dzongkha with each other, but it also gets boring when I hangout strictly with other international students.
The self-segregation that happens, while not tremendous, is something I’ve been weary of. Having the opportunity to be in a foreign community, in a different culture, is a great privilege, and it shouldn’t be squandered.
If I’m not careful about where I place my time, I may leave with more North American conversations than Bhutanese ones.
I’m glad to be taking a class in Dzongkha, the national language, though. I think it really helps to foster a relationship between local students and us foreigners. Asking about certain words or phrases is often met with excited lessons from our Bhutanese peers. Learning the national language is a way, at least for me, to tell others that I desperately want to understand their culture.
I don’t like looking at a culture from the outside. It feels like a lie to look at Bhutan through a warped lens. If I spend my time in Bhutan strictly in my comfort zone, with western friends and familiar comforts, the details of how many Bhutanese people live are sure to get lost.