Friday, September 23, 2011

Where in the world... Bhutan? Literally on the other side of the globe. Not too long ago, the then-crown prince (now King) of Bhutan found himself enrolled at Wheaton College in Norton, MA, where I now work, thus beginning a warm relationship between our tiny college and his tiny kingdom. When he sent in his health information paperwork, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck listed his father's occupation as "Head of State," and his mother's as "Queen." And now our former student is Head of State himself, looking after a small, secluded, beautiful kingdom in the Himalayan mountains, south of China, east of Nepal. In Bhutan, economic success is measured by the term "Gross National Happiness," a concept created by the current King's father, and has helped solidify the kingdom's reputation as a real life Shangri-La.

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Of course, it's not perfect. But it's a pretty amazing place to spend a semester, which is what some Wheaton students have the privilege to do. Right now, there are eleven of them there, (along with one of our fine faculty members, Hyun Kim), attending classes at Royal Thimphu College. I got to wondering if those students miss their dean, so I thought I'd check in on them. And that's where I'm headed on October 5, along with my intrepid traveling companion Betsy Beaulieu, Dean of the Core Division at Champlain College (and co-star of my previous blog, "Lee of Arabia," documenting our travels to Jordan and Egypt in 2008).

I will be packing an assortment of protein-rich snacks at Hyun's behest ("We can get all the carbs we need, but could use some protein...and some Cold-Eze," she wrote recently) along with a wedding gift for the King, who is getting married while we're there. No, I'm not invited, but my pal Betsy Cracco suggested Betsy B. and I could take a page from the Sahalis and crash the reception. Probably not her best idea. Not sure what the gift will be. Wheaton shot glasses would fit well in my suitcase. My colleague Alfredo, Dean of Global Education here, has suggested a Wheaton blanket. Maybe matching Wheaton boxer shorts. And of course, as we all know, candlesticks always make a nice gift.

To get there, Betsy I will take a long flight from JFK to Tokyo, then on to Bangkok for a couple of days (and a visit to our new Wheaton partner, Mahidol University). We'll then board a Druk Air flight to Paro, the only airline and airport in the Kingdom. It's a truly crazy flight path through the Himalayan Mountains, perfected by the 8 skilled pilots who fly this route daily.

I understand that internet is reasonably available in Paro and Thimphu, so will do my best to post updates on our travel, and hopefully some pictures as well. Hope you'll follow me and the Betster as we learn some Dzonga phrases, eat way-spicy foods, and experience a small slice of what is often called "the most beautiful kingdom on earth."