On Feb. 6, after traveling thousands of miles, five students from Bhutan arrived at Wheaton for a two-week exchange program. Since 2009, Wheaton has been the only college in the United States to offer such a program and the eighth group of students will be sent to Royal Thimphu College (RTC) this semester. This is the first batch of students visiting from RTC in order to gain an educational and cultural understanding of the U.S.
“I think it really shows that Wheaton is a school that gets out in the world,” said President Hanno. “And doesn’t just define the world by the usual places that people have studied abroad.” International Relations Officer at RTC, Yeshey Choden, who accompanied the students said, “It’s been one-way for Wheaton students to come to RTC so far. [This trip is] really good for my students because it’s so different, what they are experiencing here. They can never learn this in ten years of being in Bhutan.”
RTC student Dorjee Om said that over 100 students applied to come on this trip and their academic, international and community participation were taken into account. She also said that although she did not experience a huge culture shock, it was very different from what she experienced back at home. Om stated that the classes and other activities planned for their time here allowed her to meet many new people outside of the house she had been living in. On returning to RTC she said that she would take back, “the team spirit, work ethics and punctuality” that she has seen at Wheaton.
Professor of Psychology and Coordinator of the Wheaton/Royal Thimphu College Partnership Program, Bianca Cody Murphy, along with Co-Coordinator Bruce Owens, accompanied the first group of Wheaton students to Bhutan. She said that their semester there took them to places outside of the city and they tried to parallel that experience by taking the Bhutanese students to Boston, Cambridge and New York. They also performed and presented to Norton elementary and Middle school students to impact the community outside of Wheaton. Murphy also said, “we are hoping to continue this in the future with a similar number of students but more will be established, such as a fixed class schedule.”
The timing of this trip has proven to have its challenges with the large amounts of snow. Some of the trips planned for the two weeks had to be altered or canceled to accommodate for this wild weather. Hosts had to share not only their rooms, but also blankets and coats. Despite the tricky weather, the Bhutanese students have still been able to engage in the Wheaton “college experience” by taking courses in environmental studies and anthropology.
Khadim Niang ’15 volunteered to host one of the Bhutanese students after spending the spring semester of his junior year in Bhutan. Through events such as movie and cooking nights, hosts did their best to make the campus more welcoming.
“When I was in Bhutan there were times that people were really willing to be there for you and support you even if they don’t know you,” said Niang. “And the fact that I was catered to there, people took care of me and showed me around, I wanted to give that back. That’s why I’m excited to help someone and show them around like how it is here and the differences how they can see the great things about Wheaton College because I saw the great things of Bhutan through them.” President Hanno announced that he too hopes to visit Bhutan in the fall of next year.