Mementos That Can't Be Photographed

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been many things I’ve experienced while in Bhutan. I think the most memorable (and what I’ll take away from the trip), however, was the relationships I built with the people, the nature, and the culture of Bhutan. 

I have never met a group of students and teachers so kind and generous to other people visiting their school (especially when those ‘others’ are foreigners to your country). I’ll always remember the principal, Madam Deki, of ELC greeting and handing me my plate for breakfast in the morning, and Sir Tenzin (dorm supervisor) helping me clean up my stuff around my bed. That being said, I think I grew closest with the ELC students, especially the boys who we lived with. Whether it was playing a game of cards, shooting around the basketball outside, or even just chilling in the dorm, there was never a moment of awkwardness between us. I distinctly remember one hot afternoon, when we were all playing basketball together. As each of us ran up and down the court I remember thinking that if someone had asked a stranger to separate the ELC students from the PA students, they wouldn’t be able to. I remember it being a bonding experience, one of many during the trip. 

The second relationship our group developed over our stay was with nature. When 72% of a country is green, it’s not hard to see the beauty. It was incredible to wake up to a picturesque view of the mountains every morning, something I had never had the chance to see before. But where was the relationship that grew, as just looking outside and taking pictures isn’t sufficient. Instead, we integrated ourselves into the very nature that Bhutan proudly represents. We started right away on one of our first days, milking a cow in the morning and then harvesting potatoes from a farm and cooking our own lunch. Instead of just witnessing the natural beauty we took part in it, something I hope to continue upon my return to Andover.

One of my worries heading into the trip was how we would all integrate ourselves into the culture of Bhutan without imposing ourselves on the people living there. Our tour guides helped us out a ton along the way though, in terms of how to wear the national dress, when to wear certain things (or not), and even teaching us some phrases that we used to talk to people in Bhutan. Unlike the above, though, there aren’t any pictures that can describe the culture. Some of the most memorable experiences during the trip for me was when we visited different temples or nunneries. We were able to be in the presence of different prayers, a memento that couldn’t be photographed by one that I’ll remember all the same.

Walking away from this experience, I am extremely grateful. To Phillips for presenting me with this opportunity, to our teachers who looked after all of us for two weeks, to my peers for sharing the experience with me, and of course to all those in Bhutan who helped us throughout the trip. So many people to thank that I’ll never see for making our stay as welcoming as it was. Through the relationships we built during the trip, I am extremely grateful to all those who had a hand in making this trip an experience I’ll never forget.

- Ishaan