Second Group of Bhutanese Students Visit Wheaton

credit Gretchen Young
Some students in pose in front of Mary Lyon Hall.(Credit: Gretchen Young)

For the second year now, Wheaton has hosted a group of Bhutanese students and staff members from Royal Thimphu College (RTC). Four students and two staff members visited Wheaton from February 8 to the 21. Through our partnership with RTC, 10 groups of Wheaton students have had the chance to participate in the semester abroad program in Bhutan.

According to the Wheaton website, the four students selected received scholarships to participate in the Wheaton exchange. They included seniors Sonam Tshering and Choening Delma Tenzin, both studying English and environmental studies, and freshmen Sonam Choden, studying environmental management, and Yeshi Dema, studying political science and sociology.

Gretchen Young, Dean of the global education office, describes the Bhutan program as a unique one where Wheaton “students learn about a remarkable society in the midst of rapid transition yet determined to sustain its unique culture and pristine environment.”

While in Bhutan, Wheaton students and staff members “help promote a model of education that emulates Wheaton’s liberal arts curriculum in a country where education remains largely focused on acquiring information rather than critical thinking.” Since its founding in 2009, RTC has been acknowledged as an institution that promotes educational innovation.

In 2015, Wheaton hosted students and staff from RTC for the first time. Alyssa MacNeill, Administrative Assistant of the global education office, said that they made improvements to the program based on observations and feedback from last year. One of the goals was for the Bhutanese students to visit as many classes as possible. While at Wheaton, the student guests attended two classes a day, usually hosted by an alumnae of the Bhutan program.

Aside from attending classes, Wheaton’s Bhutanese guests participated in several other activities. They spent one of their weekends in New York City (NYC) with Young. While in NYC, they visited the United Nations (UN) and met Kunzang C. Namgyel, the permanent representative of the Kingdom of Bhutan to the UN.

In addition, the Bhutanese students visited historical sights in Boston and an aquarium with Macneill. They also gave a presentation on Bhutan and performed a traditional dance at the Mansfield Middle School and nursery school.

While the RTC staff members engaged in many of the activities that the Bhutanese students participated in, they also met with Wheaton faculty and staff who have similar roles to that of their own. The visiting staff members were Dr. Samir Patel, Associate Dean, and Budhiman Mongar, Student Services Officer.

Grace Kelly ’16, another alum of the Bhutan program, helped to organize activities for the Bhutanese students. This was done in collaboration with Young and faculty members who have lead a Wheaton program in Bhutan, such as Professor of Psychology Bianca Cody Murphy, Professor of Chemistry Elita Pastra-Landis, and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Program Co-coordinator Bruce Owens.

“In general, I think that this experience as eye-opening for the students who came here as it was for us when we went to Bhutan,” said Kelly. “They were overwhelmed by the food options at Chase, the amount of freedom of classes/schedules and movement to a degree because men and women aren’t allowed in each other dorm buildings – let alone their rooms.”

Emily Johnson ‘16, who spent a semester at RTC in the fall of 2014, reunited with Tenzin who was one of her roommates at RTC. Johnson said, “I think the main difference about the exchange program from the Wheaton in Bhutan Program is that when we go to Bhutan, it is to study and be a student for an entire semester. We get to go on many sightseeing and cultural trips as well, but we still have academic responsibilities to adhere to. When the exchange students come here, they only have two weeks to see all that they can see.”