Edited By: Anushka Bidani (UG22)
I reached Delhi, with excitement and confusion for the journey which was about to begin. This was my first ever student exchange program with students from Bhutan. I had known nothing about Bhutaneese culture before this and I couldn’t wait to learn more. It is one country which I had never, in my wildest dreams, imagined having an exchange programme with.
The harsh reality of cultural exchange programs
The sad truth is that when students go for exchange programs, they pick countries like Spain, Egypt, USA, France (because of the attractiveness of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre: good Instagram photo-op sessions are always a plus point for students.) Countries are often picked by students based on their appeal on social media. Under these circumstances, we often forget about the places which are closer to us, even though it is necessary for us to know more about our direct neighbours. Living in India, I know that sometimes there may be a necessity for a cultural exchange programme among different states itself because of its immense diversity. Here, every state and country has something different to offer.
Why being on the mountains is the best way for diverse communities to bond
The exchange program I attended was called the Indo Bhutan Youth Summit. The summit included a trek to Uroli, a mountainous region in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, India. Most traditional summits are restricted to one location only; however, this summit included a lot of travelling. This actually helped us to break the ice and learn more about each other’s cultures instead of simply discussing world issues. Living in a mountainous location is challenging, and doing it with people of a different nationality helps to get everyone to bond better. On the mountains, the daily tasks are demanding and survival is hard; any kind of help from anyone is necessary and much appreciated. There is no space for discrimination or for personal biases.
In the summit, we also learned practical real life activities like pitching our own tent on the mountains as well as cooking food with limited resources. Learning to live freely in the wild without any toilets was a challenge at first, but later it felt like the most normal way to live.
Some things I learned about Bhutan
Bhutan is a direct neighbour of India and is very culturally rich. They have preserved their culture through the generations. Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy where they have a mixture of a democratic process and a monarchy. Unlike most other countries, the Bhutaneese citizens have immense respect and love for their king. The fourth king is especially popular among Bhutaneese citizens and he is almost like a mythological character in whom the citizens place immense trust and respect. Most of the women of the royal family in Bhutan have their own NGO’s and the citizens and students actively help and volunteer to run the NGO and to carry out several programmes. Here are four interesting facts about Bhutan which will leave you surprised:
Bhutan is the only country that measures Gross National Happiness as compared to a simple Gross National Product. The mentality of Bhutaneese citizens is more centric on happiness as compared to money.
Brands like McDonald’s and Domino’s do not operate in Bhutan because Bhutan has many local brands which sell items embedded in local culture. Yak Burgers are a popular dish in Bhutan and are sold at burger shops there.
Bhutaneese Ngultrum has the same convertible value as INR. Hence 1 INR = 1 Ngultrum as well.
Bhutan has a local alcohol called Ara which is made out of corn and is supposed to be really tasty. It is a must try for those interested in cold beverages.
Evidently, the programme has taught me a lot about Bhutaneese culture and low key tourist spots and has got me really interested to visit the place. Had I not met these interesting people from Bhutan with whom I found common talking points, it would have been difficult for me to relate to the place so much.
Role of the programme in my learning
The youth summit gave us a platform to not only have a cultural exchange, but to also have an entrepreneurial exchange. The sessions included discussions about problems in each country, opportunities for entrepreneurial growth and possibilities for collaborations among students for several projects. The programme also included interactions with imminent personalities like the Ambassador of Bhutan to India. We also met the Speaker of the Parliament of Bhutan. The experience was enthralling as it gave us tremendous exposure.
Bhutan is now a part of me
I cannot wait to visit Bhutan sometime soon to experience all that I have heard of the place first hand from its citizens. I hope to stay in touch with all my Bhutaneese friends.
You can check this link out to know more about the summit: