I can see North America quickly approaching. I can feel it coming.
My parents are waiting for me in California. My time with them will, no doubt, be lovely, calm, and serene. And when I must return to finish my degree in Colorado, my house in Fort Collins will be dynamic and whole again. Six of my best friends will be living with me in a lively and interesting town, full of promising opportunities and surprising events.
I am almost there. And as I see that great land approaching, the Himalayas are slowly fading into the distance. I’m leaving and my heart is just beginning to feel it.
I can’t say when I’ll come back. I don’t know when I’ll return or even if I will; the future is too expansive to say anything for sure. I have so many reasons to return. Hopefully in the future I get that chance. What I can say is that this sparsely populated nation has gifted me plenty.
There have been countless interactions that have stricken me with happiness. I’ve been gifted insight and perspective from many of my new friends. A flood of support has lifted me to a higher confidence. My future, while uncertain, feels brighter.
And while I’m not exactly sure how to convey it in words, the people I’ve met here have made my experience whole. They’ve made this experience fulfilling and beautiful. Without them, I would not see Bhutan as such a warm and largely defining experience. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
But spending time with others was only half of this experience; Bhutan gave me to sit with myself, it gave me time to learn and think. The lifestyle and responsibilities I’ve had here are devoid of much pressure. I’m often sitting in a cafeteria with friends wondering what to do and joking around. And while that sounds murderously boring, it gave me opportunities. I could engross myself in drawing and music on a level I didn’t know I needed. I had time to sit down for hours at a café and create fantastical images in a sketchbook. I could sit in my room and fine-tune some difficult songs on guitar. And I got time for photography too. I had the chance to travel to domineering environments and capture photos of places truly worth being photographed.
Creative hobbies weren’t the only benefactor. Since I was positioned opposite the United States, I had time to step out of the fiery politics raging on throughout its communities. I could sit with myself and ponder about what to do, what to think, what to say. I began to appreciate the voices that calmly spoke out against the dualistic shout-fest that plagues modern politics in the United States. I’m just happy I had the chance to take a step back.
Being in Bhutan allowed me, really for the first time, to compare cultures, to see that there are many entirely different ways of living. I saw the absence of punctuality, an overflowing need to share, a deep presence of authority, and more distinctions within Bhutanese culture. Comparing this to the environment back home was an eye-opening experience. Thoughts about cultural relativity swirled throughout my head and ideas about right and wrong were challenged. Why do we live the way we live? Why do we choose these certain things? And if not choose, why are we complicit in their existence? Can we change? Should we?
A glass pane was shattered. I feel slightly more aware of the existing context we all live in. I feel that I have a slightly enlarged sense of globalism, of a mentality that focuses on people across the Earth. I understand a bit more that I am not, and have never been, the default human.
When I talked with people who have studied abroad or been abroad for a lengthy period, I was never sure why they spoke so highly of it Most everyone said that it was a life-changing experience, that they wish they could go back and relive it over again. Prior to coming here, and during the beginning of my Bhutan experience, I couldn’t relate.
At first, I didn’t feel anything special. I just witnessed a regular place, a place with more humans, with more cars, and more phones. But slowly I realized that the wonder of this experience doesn’t really smack you in the face. The wonder creeps up, and the experience of being with new people in a different culture culminates into a powerful sensation.
All the different memories begin to construct something tremendous.
Listening to Bhutanese and Chillup bands play at Mojo Park, dancing my heart out at Space 34, lying under the stars at Royal Thimphu College, making eye-contact with a yak while nature called on my way to Laya, freezing my ass off in the academic block during class, being enshrouded by fog on the Druk Path, watching a Bhutanese movie I couldn’t understand any of, taking a morning walk through a monastery in Bumthang, and of course sitting and drinking a cup of milk tea at the cafeteria. And all with amazing people who have carved a permanent and happy place within my life.
I can’t say that I loved every second of being here… but it’s been one of the most powerful, joyful, and inspiring experiences of my life.
But it’s time to say goodbye.
Goodbye to the beautiful souls that I’ve met this year. Goodbye to the Bhutanese and the international friends that have shaped me into a more mindful, reflective, and open person. I remember being little more than curious if I’d find a group of wonderful people to share this past year with; I’m happy to have received a great answer.
To those who’ve sat with me in my classes, who’ve hiked with me to monasteries, who’ve talked with me at tea time, who’ve helped me learn Dzongkha, and who’ve helped me discover a little more of who I really am, I’m very thankful.
Surely, when I fall asleep in California, I’ll be dreaming of mystical dragons roaring thunder through distant Bhutanese skies.