Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Wheaton in Bhutan


The Honeymoon is Over

Posted on August 10, 2010

Shopping for kirasNeedless to say, our “vacation” did not last too long.  After spending three days in Paro, we packed up our bags and headed to Royal Thimphu College in Thimphu, Bhutan. On the way, we stopped to buy our kiras and  ghos in Thimphu. We arrived at the college and, after saying our goodbyes to each other, we headed to our rooms to meet our Bhutanese roommates; this is when reality kicked in.

Finding our roomsFor many of us, we were instantly hit with a significant amount of culture shock. Sarah, a world traveler, described the culture shock as being beyond anything she had experienced in the past. Besides lacking the basic comforts, such as a hot shower, a toilet that flushes, and toilet paper, many of us were surprised by more significant factors, including the altitude change and the extremely spicy nature of the food.

There is even a difference in personal space here in Bhutan. Bhutanese people tend stand very close together. They also don’t have as much concern with personal property as we do and share things with each other very generously. Yuri was surprised to find her roommates looking through her computer at all of her pictures without asking her permission. On the other hand, Raffi appeared the second morning wearing his roommate's pointed Bhutanese shoes.

We also realized how different gender issues are here on campus—of course we didn’t expect that they would have coed dorms (and bathrooms), but we were surprised to learn that men and women cannot visit people of the other gender in the dorms.  Devon and Elana were reprimanded when Devon walked Elana to the front of her dorm.  We were also told that we could not move the furniture in our rooms and couldn’t put things up on our walls.  Again, individuality and personal expression is not as important here as it is in the U.S.

The social aspect has taken some getting used to for some of us. Although many students are very accommodating and approachable, relationships among them seem to be quite tight and closed off to a certain degree.  This may be due to shyness of first-year students. It is also interesting to be on a campus that is only one year old when  we are used to Wheaton, which has been around for 175 years.  Things are in flux here, but it is exciting to be part of RTC whose mission is “Inspiring Education in Bhutan”.

Talking openly about these issues among the group of Wheaton students certainly helped clarify many of the cultural differences and quell a certain amount of anxiety or frustration.  Atsu said he wondered how things would be different when the second-year students arrived.  Many of the first-year students were experiencing their own “culture shock” at being in school.  Some of the students are used to sleeping with family members around the hearth --which may be why many of our roommates want to have the light on at night in the dorm rooms.

It is important to note, however, that several of us did not feel this degree of culture shock. Lina described the orientation here at RTC as being “easier than Wheaton’s orientation.” Certainly the experiences varied on an individual basis.

Orientation in ghos and kirasAfter spending a little less than a week here at RTC, all of us are feeling more comfortable and confident. Many of us wear ghos and kiras to class, which prove to be quite a difficult challenge.  Our roommates are helping us put them on. Devon noted he hadn’t had anyone dress him since he was four years old. In addition to the difficulty associated with putting on the gho, Raffi admitted that he was caught completely off guard upon entering the restroom, stating, “I had no idea how to navigate around this gho in order to use the bathroom.” The women seem more comfortable in the kiras, which are quite beautiful.  Their roommates have lent them extra kiras so that they wouldn’t have to wear the same one two days in a row.   Fashion seems to be as important here as in the U.S.

Sunday, the second-year students arrived.  Atsu was right, they are more outgoing and have reached out to include us.

RTC FacultyAt this point, we have all found fantastic groups of RTC peers.  Sue and Bianca are included in the RTC faculty. As a group from Wheaton, we also cherish the time that we can spend together (a breath of fresh air from time-to-time) and continue to bond and become closer.

As the culture shock begins to wear off, we are all eager for more structure and purpose. We started our classes Monday and we are looking  forward to beginning our work at our respective internship sites next week. Our adventure in Bhutan has begun, and we cannot wait to share our stories with you over the next four months.

Until next time,
Raffi, Yuri, Devon, Atsu, Lina, Emilia, Elana, Sarah, Bianca and Sue

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