To go where no one else will go

I, and all of my classmates here, can agree that we are indebted to the government of Bhutan for allowing us to study here for almost four months. The more of this country I have seen, the more I realize that it really is unlike anywhere else on earth, and this is partly because of the limited Western influence here that is so ubiquitous in most other parts of the world. Don’t get me wrong – there is TV and Internet here, but the difference is that the government made a conscious decision to allow it only in 1999. ‘Deliberate’ seems like an appropriate word for this country.

The landscape, the region, the people, the traditions, and the religion are full of contradictions that I am still trying to sort through, and I know I will continue to puzzle over long after I have left.

But the point of this blog post is primarily that I am happy to be here. I am glad that I didn’t go to Austria or Denmark, or even Costa Rica. I am really glad that I don’t have good Internet here, I can’t watch Netflix, I eat rice every day, I have become an expert at using the Asian squat toilet, and it’s hard to hike up the stairs because there’s less oxygen at 10,000 feet.

So many people encourage American students to go abroad during college. But when I look at the photos of my classmates spending their semester in Spain or Italy, I think, “what really is the point?” That might be harsh, it is harsh. But I don’t believe that those who encourage study abroad do it so that you can lie on a beach and drink a lot of wine. They encourage us to go somewhere far away, somewhere with a completely different worldview and culture than our own so that we can evolve and have a more nuanced sense of the world. I believe they’re encouraging us to get stuck in the mud (as we did literally, see below) and figure out how to get unstuck – because the world is facing tremendous problems and, at least in my experience, the U.S. is not confronting those problems very gracefully. We need a new perspective, we need some fresh thoughts, and we need to open ourselves up to new options and inquiries and to try things. We need to slow down and speed up at the same time – speed up our response to climate change and economic inequality, and slow down our lives and consumption. I’m feeling that the rut that I was in in the U.S. is at least a little shaken up here, and that is more valuable than I can say.

So go abroad, please. But don’t spend all your time doing what you would do in your dorm room back home or on vacation. The world is bigger than that and these problems deserve more consideration than that.

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