College Culture: My real Bhutanese Culture Shock


It is 07:00.... there isn't even really any sun yet, but you can still hear a campus mutt fearlessly itching and a cement mixing- churning.  It's 47ºF degrees where we stand in the shade of the hostels (aka: dormitory). My eyes are fixated on a crumpled matchbox in the grass.  I am listening, if you can call it that, to the Dzonkha lecture that is taking place.  This is the "Residents Assembly." 

All of the residents are huddled up like penguins.  Exclusively paired, featuring all boys on the left, and all girls on the right.  The pairs: same gendered; the shape, in total, amorphous.  The boys are silent.  The girls burble like morning doves who have nested outside your urban window a/c unit.

The president of the college is giving the lecture; wearing a two piece black track suit with asymmetrical designs that align between top and bottom at the waist.  On and on he goes (or so I am told by my translators)... for a total of 11 min... about how to politely queue in the mess hall.  

As my vision and attention and hearing all start to blur - all I can think to myself is "Seriously?"

Never mind squatting to pee, heatless cement buildings, cold water bucket showers in, maybe, 40 degree weather, beer that is "up to 8%" alcohol content, violently turbulent road conditions, rise of HIV cases, trash burning as your wake-up call, that stray dog huddled over her dead pup, and bamboo as standard issue scaffolding... I am living with maxi-pads stuffed in the shutters of my hostel.

I am in my thirties, okay.  I have done everything in my power, YTD, to avoid living in dormitories or sorority houses or female group living of any kind... so how the heck did I end up doing so in Bhutan.  In hindsight, I can see that I didn't ask the qualifying questions, pre-departure, that would have helped me to really understand what this strict living situation would mean for my research (on woman and families), my freedom, my individuality, my emersion and my ego. 

For now, I am trying to subdue my resistance to an 8:30PM curfew and grow my appreciation for sharing a bedroom with 3, 4 or sometimes 5, people who are all sweetly jejune and terribly afraid of the dark. 

That being said - to my friends, family and readers who live back home in the United States who never thought that they could enjoy living without creature comforts, let me say this "College life is worse that third world anything!"


okay - okay - that is too bold a statement to make; what with poverty and hunger and so forth... but stay tuned and I will show you what I mean.