Birthday in Bhutan

Blog by Sarah Reeves, UW Both­ell Com­mu­nity Psy­chol­ogy & Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies Major, Study Abroad — Nepal

When I first began look­ing into spring study abroad pro­grams I knew I would be spend­ing my 21st birth­day in a dif­fer­ent coun­try. As we all know turn­ing 21 is a big deal for most col­lege stu­dents in the United States, and I was a lit­tle sad that I wasn’t going to be able to cel­e­brate my 21st with my friends. How­ever once I got to Nepal I wasn’t really think­ing about my birth­day any more, I actu­ally for­got about it for a long time. While being abroad I have lost my sense of time, every­thing seems to move at its own pace. I was not reminded of my birth­day until we received our itin­er­ary for our Bhutan excur­sion, that is when it hit me that I was going to be able to cel­e­brate my birth­day in Bhutan. I became very excited, when was I going to get another chance to cel­e­brate my birth­day in a coun­try that most peo­ple can­not visit… And even though I had only known my fel­low stu­dents for a cou­ple of months I was very excited to cel­e­brate my birth­day with them.

I spent my birth­day in two dif­fer­ent cities, my birth­day began in the cap­i­tal city of Thim­phu and then ended in Paro. We reached Paro around 5pm and that is when the cake was brought out, and to my sur­prise there were three dif­fer­ence cakes. Which seemed like a bit much to me… But it was really nice and every­one was able to have two pieces each.

My birth­day falls on April 1st, which we all know as April Fools Day. And even though I am the birth­day girl I am not immune from any pranks, it is actu­ally the oppo­site. And even though I was in a dif­fer­ent coun­try with dif­fer­ent peo­ple I was still tar­geted. After I had fin­ished cut­ting the cakes and began eat­ing my own piece I sud­denly came face to face with a hand full of frost­ing… One of the girls on the pro­gram with me named Megan, whom I have become very close with decided it would be funny to smear frost­ing all over my face. Like she had planned the frost­ing got every where; up my nose, in my ears, in my hear, and stuck in my eye brows… Megan and all my other peers thought it was the fun­ni­est thing, some even man­aged to take pic­tures before I was able to wipe it all off. The pic­tures haven’t made their way to Face­book yet so I should con­sider myself lucky. It was a great birth­day, and I am glad I was able to cel­e­brate it in Bhutan with my new friends.

Trip to Bhutan

Blog by Sarah Reeves, UW Both­ell Com­mu­nity Psy­chol­ogy & Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies Major, Study Abroad — Nepal

While on my pro­gram I have been able to travel to many places in Nepal. I stayed in a small vil­lage at the base of the Himalayan Moun­tains in the region called Yolmo. I also spent a lot of time in what they call “old Kat­mandu”.  These trips have been amaz­ing and are by far some of my favorite moments here in Nepal.  How­ever, for the past three weeks my fel­low class­mates and I have been given the rare oppor­tu­nity to study in Bhutan.  It is a rare oppor­tu­nity because an aver­age tourist visa runs a lit­tle over two hun­dred dol­lars for just one day…

It was an adven­ture in its own just to get to Bhutan. First we took a flight from cen­tral Nepal to east­ern Nepal, from there we drove over the bor­der into India.  Once we were in India we then took another flight to north­east­ern India. Once we arrived at the air­port we then drove over the bor­der into Bhutan.  All together this trip from Nepal to Bhutan took about 12 hours of travel, and it was by far the most exhaust­ing trip I have ever taken.

While in Bhutan we have been trav­el­ing from one col­lege cam­pus to another. Each cam­pus we visit is a part of the Royal Uni­ver­si­ties of Bhutan.  We started in east­ern Bhutan in the Sam­drup Jongkha dis­trict, we stayed here for only two days.  We then drove about seven hours on bus to Trashigang dis­trict.  We stayed in the town of Khanglung for a total of five days, where we were hosted by col­lege stu­dents from Sherubtse Col­lege.  These five days went by incred­i­bly fast. I had a lot of fun mak­ing new friends.  My favorite part were the con­ver­sa­tions I would have with the stu­dents, their lives are amaz­ing and I could sit for hours just lis­ten­ing to them.  After stay­ing in dorms on cam­pus for five days it was time to leave to Mon­gar where we spent one night in a guest house.  The next day we were on the road again by 8am, this time we were dri­ving to the vil­lage of Ura where once again we spent one night.  After leav­ing Ura we drove to Bumthang dis­trict, where we stayed here for a total of three days it was just the rest we all needed.  On the third day we left Bumthang and drove for seven hours to reach Punakha dis­trict.  While in Punakha we stayed at the Col­lege for Nat­ural Resources for three days.  After our stay at CNR was fin­ished we got back on the bus and drove for three hours to reach the cap­i­tal city of Thimphu.

This jour­ney has been full of non-stop trav­el­ing, and even though it has been tir­ing and frus­trat­ing it has still been the most amaz­ing adven­ture, and by far my favorite part of my trip thus far.  The peo­ple of Bhutan are amaz­ing, they have been noth­ing but gen­er­ous this whole trip.  Here is Bhutan I have meant so many new friends and I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Food, Family & Laughs

Blog by Sarah Reeves, UW Both­ell Com­mu­nity Psy­chol­ogy & Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies Major, Study Abroad — Nepal

Writ­ten on March 11, 2013

Some things are the same no mat­ter where you are in the world. This is some­thing I have learned while liv­ing in Nepal.  This past month I was given the oppor­tu­nity to take part in a New Year cel­e­bra­tion called Losar with my home stay fam­ily.  The Tibetan New Year (Losar) takes place over a span of 15 days. This year the Tibetan New Year began Feb­ru­ary 11th.  This hol­i­day was like noth­ing I have ever expe­ri­enced. Before the hol­i­day began there were so many things that needed to be taken care of, I both watched and helped my fam­ily com­plete these tasks.

The first task that needed to be com­pleted was clean­ing. Before the first day of the new year you must clean every­thing: your house, your clothes, your dishes, and even your­self.  I helped by clean­ing my room, wash­ing my clothes and work­ing with my lit­tle sis­ters to clean the house. While we were doing this our Amala cleaned dishes, and washed all the bed­ding in the house.  After the house was clean we then one by one took turns showering.

The sec­ond task was pur­chas­ing new things such as offer­ings, gifts, and new clothes.  All of these things needed to be pur­chased before Losar began. Once the first day of Losar began you could no longer pur­chase new things.  I needed to pur­chase new clothes because for the first day of Losar I was told you that needed to wear either new or nice clothes, and seems how I didn’t pack any clothes that I con­sid­ered “nice” I chose to wear some­thing new.  Offer­ings needed to be pur­chased because for the first day of Losar Tibetan fam­i­lies dec­o­rate their shrines for Gods in which they wor­ship.  Dur­ing Losar I con­sid­ered these shrines to be the high­light of the house. It was inter­est­ing to see how dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies dec­o­rated their shrines, of course a lot of the dec­o­ra­tions were very sim­i­lar.  My family’s offer­ings for their Gods con­sisted of candy, cook­ies, dried fruit, fresh fruit, sugar, flour, nuts, grain, incense, juice, flow­ers, and money.

The first and sec­ond day of Losar was all about spend­ing time with the fam­ily.  I went from hav­ing a small fam­ily of five to hav­ing a large fam­ily of fif­teen, which I  was excited for. It reminded me of hol­i­days in Amer­ica and how it is a time where fam­i­lies come together to cel­e­brate. I was very amused by my Momo la which is Tibetan for Grand­mother.  Momo la can hold her liquor very well.  She began drink­ing whiskey around 10am and con­tin­ued through the whole day, and not once did she need help with any­thing. I was very impressed.  The only thing the liquor seemed to impact was her mem­ory, when it came time to pre­pare din­ner she had for­got­ten my name.   She­and I were sit­ting in the kitchen along with the other women when she asked for my name. I of course answered her ques­tion with Sarah.  After I told her she shook her head like she under­stood.  Appar­ently in Tibetan my name means sharp ice so my name was easy for Momo la to remem­ber, or at least that is what I thought.  How­ever not even a minute later Momo la again asked me for my name, I of course told her again and once again she shook her head. Some of the women laughed when I answered her ques­tion and I didn’t think much of it until a cou­ple min­utes later when Momo la asked me, “What is you name”?  At this point I couldn’t help but laugh with the rest of the women, I answered her ques­tion one last time and then left the kitchen to pre­vent fur­ther ques­tion­ing from Momo la.

Dur­ing Losar there were three dif­fer­ent groups in the house­hold. There were the men who were play­ing cards and gam­bling.  I had sat and watched the men play cards for a while try­ing to under­stand the game they were play­ing, but after about an hour I under­stood noth­ing so I gave up.  Then there was the women, they spent most of their time prepar­ing food and laugh­ing with one another.  I attempted to help with the food but Momo la’s inter­ro­ga­tion was too much for me to han­dle so I moved on to the last group and this is where I spent most of my time.  The last group con­sisted of the chil­dren, our ages ranged from ten to twenty one.  I had a lot of fun play­ing and hang­ing out the the chil­dren.  We spent a lot of time play­ing phase 10 and Monop­oly.  Monop­oly is a game that causes a lot of fights, this is true even in Amer­ica.  I can say from expe­ri­ence that fight­ing seems a lot more intense to me when it’s hap­pen­ing in a dif­fer­ent lan­guage.  While play­ing Monop­oly I spent a lot of time being frus­trated, my sib­lings had dif­fer­ent rules for play­ing that I was used to so I had a hard time adjust­ing. After about 20 games monop­oly  I felt like ask­ing Momo la for a drink…

My first Losar was quite the expe­ri­ence, I had a lot of fun with my home stay fam­ily.  They treated me like another mem­ber of the fam­ily and I wouldn’t of wanted it any other way.

Living with a Tibetan family

Blog by Sarah Reeves, UW Both­ell Com­mu­nity Psy­chol­ogy & Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies Major, Study Abroad — Nepal

Writ­ten Feb­ru­ary 18, 2013

For the past two weeks I have been given the unique oppor­tu­nity to live and be a part of a Tibetan fam­ily. This expe­ri­ence has been stress­ful, awk­ward, fun, and reward­ing all at once.  My eyes have been opened to a new lifestyle that I have been given the chance to live.

I was first intro­duced to my Amala (this is Tibetan for mother) when she came to pick me up from my pro­gram house.  She is a very sweet and small, when she picked me up she insisted on car­ry­ing my back­pack and sev­eral other bags only leav­ing me with one piece of lug­gage to carry.  I was lucky because my Amala was friends with another women who was pick­ing up one of my fel­low class­mates Danielle, so we were able to walk to our houses as a group.  My home stay house is about ten min­utes from my pro­gram house, which is where I have to go every day for my classes. It was a nice relief to know that I would have a walk­ing buddy every morn­ing.  As we walked home there was a lot of silence; my Amala speaks very lit­tle Eng­lish so we weren’t able to talk very much. In a way this was nice because it allowed me to take in my surroundings.

Once we reached the house that I would be call­ing home for the next month I was intro­duced to my Pala (Tibetan for father). He was very excited and happy to meet me which was nice. He also speaks very lit­tle Eng­lish so this made me a lit­tle wor­ried con­sid­er­ing that at this point I knew very lit­tle Tibetan.  My Amala and Pala showed me my new room which was fully fur­nished with a bed, table, small couch like some­thing you would see in a play house, and a garbage can.  It wasn’t a lot but it was cer­tainly more than I was expecting.

My new par­ents watched me as I unpacked a few things, they then began to speak to each other and of course I did not under­stand a word they were say­ing.  They then ush­ered me into the kitchen where I was served tea and a snack, once I began to sip on my tea my Amala retrieved an enve­lope which con­tained sev­eral pic­tures of me which I had sent to them before the pro­gram began.  They were very excited to share my pic­tures with me which made me feel extremely spe­cial.  After we had gone through all the pic­tures I had sent them I then retrieved my own enve­lope which con­tained new pic­tures that I printed and brought with me.  This made them very happy, we exchanged sev­eral laughs with each other while I was try­ing to explain the pic­tures to them.

At this point I was extremely ner­vous by the fact that nei­ther of my home stay par­ents spoke any Eng­lish. I began to think about the rest of my stay and how I was going to man­age com­mu­ni­cat­ing with them.  After freak­ing out for about ten min­utes a young girl entered the kitchen and took a seat across the table from me.  I then learned that she was four­teen, her name was Dechin and she was going to be the lit­tle sis­ter that I never had, and best of all she spoke very good Eng­lish! After talk­ing with Dechin for a lit­tle while I learned that there was another lit­tle girl name Tenchin who was also going to be my new lit­tle sis­ter.  This was very excit­ing for me, not only was I going to be able to com­mu­ni­cate with my home stay fam­ily but I was also going to be given the chance to expe­ri­ence younger siblings.

The first night in my new home went smoothly I was even able to get in a full nights sleep.  The next day Dechin and I went out explor­ing which was a lot of fun, she intro­duced to me to street food for the first time and I can hon­estly say that I enjoyed it.  She also intro­duced me to chew­ing gum with a liq­uid cen­ter that was very delicious.

Day two of my home stay expe­ri­ence was also event­ful. On the sec­ond day I taught my two lit­tle sis­ters how to play the card game phase ten.  They brought the cards to me ask­ing if I knew how to play the game because they didn’t.  While teach­ing them I learned that the cards had been a gift and were given to them about three years prior. For some rea­son I thought this was funny and of course when I started laugh­ing they did the same.  After play­ing cards for a cou­ple of hours we became a lit­tle bored so Dechin went out to get new street food for me to try, she returned with mix­ture that con­sisted of spicy pota­toes and this rice shaped food that tasted like corn nuts.  I didn’t like this street food as much as I had liked the food from the pre­vi­ous day, I only ended up eat­ing about half of my snack.

It was this same night that I decided that I never wanted to eat the street food Dechin brought me ever again.  I came to this deci­sion as I was on my hands and knees hurl­ing into a Nepali toi­let, which are noth­ing like toi­lets in Amer­ica. (If you are curi­ous about how they are dif­fer­ent Google it…) It was only my sec­ond day with my new fam­ily and I was already sick and spend­ing all my time in the bath­room.  I was only sick for about twenty four hours but it felt like for­ever. I wasn’t even able to keep water in my sys­tem it all came out just as fast as it went in.

Liv­ing with this new fam­ily as been an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence and I am enjoy­ing every minute of it.  I only have a cou­ple more weeks with my home stay fam­ily but I know that we are going to stay in touch for many years to come.

Time is Ticking…

Blog by Sarah Reeves, UW Both­ell Com­mu­nity Psy­chol­ogy & Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies Major, Study Abroad — Nepal

Writ­ten Jan­u­ary 26, 2013

There are sev­eral things that I have learned from my pre–depar­ture expe­ri­ence. I never thought there would be so many things to take care of before I left!  I have been prep­ping from my trip for about four months and it hasn’t hit me that I am about to leave the coun­try for the first time in my life.  As I get closer to my depar­ture date I am becom­ing more and more ner­vous, there are so many lit­tle details that are going into this trip such as shots, stu­dent visas, and health insurance.

I was glad I started my prep­ping early. I had almost every­thing taken care of and then it came time for me to apply for a stu­dent visa for India.  At first it was just another appli­ca­tion that I need to fill out and then mail in.  Except this appli­ca­tion also required me to mail in my pass­port.  The appli­ca­tion said to give it about 2 weeks to be processed so I was sure to send it in by the Jan­u­ary 8th, think­ing that would be enough time for my trip which started on Jan­u­ary 27th.  The stu­dent visa process was sim­ple enough up until my appli­ca­tion along with my pass­port and a money order was lost in the postal sys­tem.  Fed-ex had lost track­ing on my pack­age! Accord­ing to them I never sent it and it was still wait­ing to be shipped out.  It was about a week and a half away from my depar­ture date when I dis­cov­ered my pack­age had been lost.  At first I wasn’t so wor­ried because I assumed it would be deliv­ered soon and every­thing would work itself out. Well I was wrong, and you should never assume.  It was a week before my depar­ture date when I decided to take mat­ters into my own hands and begin work­ing on plan B.  Plan B con­sisted of four steps. Step one required me to obtain a new pass­port, this of course was expen­sive because I had to expe­dite it.  Step two: Make an in per­son appoint­ment with the San Fran­cisco Con­sul.  Step three: Rent a car Thurs­day, Jan­u­ary 24th, which was also expen­sive.  Step four: drive all the way to San Fran­cisco Thurs­day night in order to be on time for my  Fri­day morn­ing appoint­ment at 9:30am.  This trip to San Fran­cisco was extremely stress­ful because it was not a guar­an­tee that I would be able to receive my stu­dent visa the same day, which would have been ter­ri­ble con­sid­er­ing that I was leav­ing two days after my appointment.

How­ever, I was able to receive my visa the same day, I was extremely grate­ful because this meant that I was going to be able to leave from my trip Sun­day morn­ing like planned.  If I hadn’t dri­ven all the way to San Fran­cisco I wouldn’t have been able to leave for my trip on Sun­day, Jan­u­ary 27th. I would’ve had to delay my flight which was the last thing I wanted to do.  I was able to get every­thing taken care of, in the begin­ning it was not that bad, get­ting shots and med­i­cine where easy things to take care of because I was able to take care of them in per­son.  I should have given my stu­dent visa more time due to the fact that it was being shipped through the mail, and because I didn’t give it enough time I only made it harder on myself and had to rush at the last minute.