Weston got a special treat when visitors from the Himalayas, 7,500 miles away, came to town.
Members of the Royal Education Council of Bhutan (REC) visited Weston High School on Tuesday, March 26, to meet with administrators to discuss education and the possibility of establishing a future student exchange program.
The idea to introduce Weston to the council came from Julian Jacobs, a Weston High School junior, who did an internship with the REC in Bhutan last year.
“Bhutan is a very interesting country that not many people know much about. So I think it would be great to establish an exchange program between Weston and Bhutan,” Julian said.
The delegation visiting Weston included several members of the REC and a student from Bhutan.
When the group arrived early in the morning, they were greeted by high school administrators under a special banner in the main lobby. The council gave a presentation to 60 Weston students and then engaged in an educational discussion with the district administration, school board, and curriculum instructional leaders.
Weston High School Principal Lisa Wolak said it was an honor to host the Royal Education Council. “The members were very gracious in answering all of our questions about Bhutan. We are exploring the possibility of developing a connection with a school similar to what we now have with our Chinese sister school,” she said.
Bhutan is a landlocked state in South Asia, located at the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is bordered by China and India. Its capital and largest city is Thimphu.
Its landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to subalpine Himalayan heights in the north, where some peaks exceed 23,000 feet.
Bhutan’s state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism, but laws allow freedom of religion.
In 2008, Bhutan made the transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy and now holds elections for officials. Bhutan is a member of the United Nations.
Its national dress is a kimono, the national sport is archery, and its economy is based on agriculture, forestry, tourism, and the sale of hydroelectric power to India.
Getting to and touring Bhutan is an experience in and of itself. Julian explained that to get to Thimphu, the airport was an hour drive away, and then it was necessary to climb up a mountain. “On the highways there are cows walking, and they aren’t allowed to be disturbed, so you wait patiently for them to move, he said.
In the summertime, Julian saw many tents set up along the highway because that is monsoon season and it rains a lot, so workers stay in tents along the roads to keep the highways functional.
“The people in Bhutan are very nice. They aren’t rude and they treat others with respect,” Julian said.
Gross National Happiness
One of the things that is most different about Bhutan from American culture is its political system called Gross National Happiness (GNH).
While there is no exact quantitative definition of GNH, it refers to the measurement of the quality of life. “Weston students were especially interested in the concept of Gross National Happiness,” said Ms. Wolak.
Julian said during his internship with the REC in Bhutan he learned a lot about GNH.
There are four pillars that govern GNH: The promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.
The pillars are broken down further to domains of happiness: Psychological, mental and spiritual well being, living standards and happiness, good governance, health, education, community vitality, cultural diversity and resilience, time use, and ecological diversity.
“GNH is extremely specific to Bhutan and targets Bhutanese people,” Julian said. “It helps illustrate what their culture is all about,” he said.
As a result of the GNH philosophy, Julian said Bhutanese people are very free-spirited, environmentally conscious, and interesting to be around.
For his internship, Julian stayed in Thimphu for a week and then traveled 12 hours away to a boarding school in Punakha, where he interacted with Bhutanese students. “Education is not as much a priority in Bhutan as it is here, especially in rural areas,” Julian said.
Because the country is so remote, computer availability and access is extremely limited, so western culture is very much a mystery to many young people in Bhutan. He said students were very curious about America and asked him a lot of questions.
He noticed a big difference between city and rural towns in Bhutan. “Students in Thimphu who went to modern schools were more Westernized and were fans of Lady Gaga and Eminem. Not so much in the rural schools,” Julian said.
He thinks Bhutanese students would love Weston and vice versa. “I’ve done a lot of traveling and been to many places and what I found in Bhutan is you didn’t have to try to be immersed in their culture. You found yourself comfortable. Rather, they adapted to you and you didn’t have to struggle to fit in,” he said.
While there were language issue to overcome, Julian said he made friends easily and keeps in touch with 50 students from Bhutan, 10 on Facebook.
Julian first got interested in Bhutan from his father Brian Jacobs who has a friend who knows the director of the REC. Julian said he then applied to be an intern to learn more about Bhutan’s education system. He plans to do another internship in Bhutan this summer.
“I think Bhutanese kids would love Weston. It’s expensive and there are visa issues to deal with so I am trying to find ways to fund a program that would allow Bhutanese students to come to America,” he said.
He also thinks Weston kids would also love visiting Bhutan. “Once I show them pictures they are really interested in it,” he said.