Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Claire Petersen

Summer course. Chemistry Professor Matt Evans and I went to Bhutan to sample water from hot springs and rivers. We traveled across the country from Paro to Bumthang. We also hiked a fair bit in the tropical south in order to get to the hidden and holy spring sites.

The goal. Once we were back at Wheaton, we tested the water for major elements. The elements found in certain waters can reveal the type of rock that it flowed over and sometimes how deep the water originated. The High Himalayas have very specific fault zones with their own elemental characteristics. We are using this information to see what type of rock the hot spring water is coming up through, which, for right now is a mystery.

New opportunity. This trip was funded by the National Science Foundation grant for Professor Evans’ research. I had never really traveled internationally before or been anywhere out of my comfort zone. I was hoping I’d learn about a different culture without being a tourist. We were partially there as tourists but also to do research, which allowed us to see a side of the country that most visitors don’t get to see.

Lessons learned. I learned that I have a passion for traveling and seeing the way others live, that hiking in the rain forest during monsoon season means an endless battle against leeches and nettles and that it’s more important to help a stuck cow than to stick to a time schedule. I learned that candy is an international peace symbol and that my blond hair is funny to people who haven’t seen it in real life. But most of all I realized that it is more important for me to measure my success in happiness rather than wealth.

The appeal. It was a mixture of the people, lifestyle, landscape, food and culture that made it such an amazing experience. Even complete strangers in Bhutan talk to each other as if they’re old friends. There was never a shortage of laughter. The sites were even more amazing, especially the centuries-old temples called Dzongs. It’s hard not to have a religious experience standing at the base of a 30-foot Buddha plated in gold while surrounded by monks chanting mantras.