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TGS heads to Bhutan for their 2012-13 intersession

It’s easy to mine the land and fish the seas and get rich. . .Yet we believe you cannot have a prosperous nation in the long run that does not conserve its natural environment or take care of the well-being of its people, which is being borne out by what is happening to the outside world.

-Thakur Singh Powdyel, Bhutan’s minister of education

The 2012-13 school year represents a sea change for THINK Global School, as for the first time in our school’s history the academic calendar includes a two week mini-term. This intersession, which began on Friday, January 4th and runs through Thursday the 17th, will provide students and the accompanying staff and faculty with an opportunity to fully immerse themselves in their destination. At TGS, we call this concept of pairing local immersion with an academic angle weXplore, and it plays an integral role in the TGS curriculum. This will be ever more apparent during the intersession, when textbooks are laid to rest in favor of continuous hands-on activities and service learning. So, where is this intersession taking place you might ask? None other than the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.

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The overarching theme of the trip regards the innovative attempt of Bhutan’s government and populace to develop and implement the four pillars of Gross National Happiness (GNH) in all aspects of local and national life. These pillars are:

1) Sustainable and equitable economic development
2) Conservation of the environment
3) Preservation and promotion of culture
4) Good governance.

A developing nation, Bhutan is dealing with the process of making the weighty decisions that present themselves over the course of industrialization. Unlike many of its neighbors, however, Bhutan shows great compassion in regards to its human and natural resources, opting not to engage in economic development at the expense of either the environment or its people. These conscious decisions are at the heart of Gross National Happiness, and examples of it in action will be prevalent throughout the intersession itinerary.

Not wanting to waste a minute of our valuable time in the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” (a nickname derived from the vicious storms that come rolling in from the Himalayas), we’ve packed a wide variety of activities into our two week intersession. You can find highlights from our travel calendar below, and also follow along with our adventures through Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.

  • Thimphu – Bhutan’s capital and largest city, Thimphu will be the focus of the intersession over the first three days. Famous for its lack of traffic lights (all traffic is directed gracefully by a policeman through the use of hand motions), Thimphu sits at a dizzying 7,610 feet above sea level. The subjects of ecological diversity and environmental conservation will be explored on visits to Takin Park, home of Bhutan’s national animal (the aforementioned Takin, a threatened species of goat-antelope). Students will also learn the principles of good governance, culture and architecture by visiting Bhutan’s seat of government, known as the Trashichodzong. Here, government officials will speak on the importance of the pillars in relation to Gross National Happiness.
  • On the six hour drive to Phobjikha, the topics of Bhutan’s landscape, ecological diversity, Buddhism, and environmental conservation will be covered as students make their way up the Dochu La (La is Bhutanese for pass), a stunning drive affording views of the Himalayas, including Gankar Puensum, which at 24,735 feet is the world’s highest unclimbed peak. The pass eventually winds down into the glacial Phobjikha Valley, where students will have the rare opportunity to spot the endangered Black-necked crane, of which only around 10,000 still exist. Phobjika is Bhutan’s largest wetland and a designated conservation area, and the presence of Black-necked cranes makes it one of the most important wildlife preserves in the country.
  • Three days will be spent in the Valley of Bumthang, better known as the “cultural heartland of Bhutan.” While here, students will focus on religion, cultural heritage and economic development as they explore the temples and fortified monasteries known as dzongs that jut out of the Himalayan mountain scenery. The Trongsa Dzong is particularly spectacular, and is perched so high above the river that clouds frequently form beneath it. Our time in the Bumthang region will also include a visit to the Chhume valley, where students will see local girls engage in the production of the famous hand-woven woolen cloth known as yathra.
  • The final day in Bumthang will include a visit to the 16th century temple (Lhakhang) known as Tamshing, where students will be given the opportunity to view some of Bhutan’s oldest religious paintings. The day will be capped by a visit to the temple complex known as Kurjey Lhakhang, a site regarded as sacred due to its historical ties with the Guru Rinpoche, who is responsible for introducing Tantric Buddhism to the Himalayan Buddhist world. Much of the artwork produced in Bhutan features Guru Rinpoche’s likeness, as he is revered almost as highly as the Buddha himself.
  • The weekend of the 12th-13th will revolve around a camping trip centered along the Mochu River. where students will focus on the topics of cultural heritage, ecological diversity and environmental conservation, and religion. Local environmentalists will lecture our students on the impact that the Punatsangchhu hydroelectric plant may have on the White-bellied Heron, one of the 50 rarest birds in the world and an inhabitant of the region. A visit will also be paid to the Punakha Dzong, where the first king of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck, was crowned in 1907. Regarded as the grandest of all of Bhutan’s dzongs, the Punakha Dzong is home to Bhutan’s most sacred relic, the Rangjoong Kharsapani, a self-created statue brought to Bhutan in the sixteenth century by its unifier Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyai. The Punakha Dzong has been destroyed several times by natural disasters including floods, fires and earthquakes, but each time has been restored well enough to reflect its original beauty.
  • The concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) will be brought full circle with a visit to the Chukha Hydro-electric Project in the Chukha District of Bhutan, where the students will explore the topics of environmental conservation, economic development, technology and sustainability. The dam, which generates large amounts of revenue for Bhutan through the export of electricity to India, incorporates “run-off-river-schemes” which have a minimal environmental impact on the communities living adjacent to the project sites. A prime example of all four pillars in action, the modern project also features impressive frescoes that line the walls of the tunnels.

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Ready to embark on the educational journey of a lifetime?

A passion for travel. A strong academic record. And the desire to improve the world as you experience it. If this sounds like you, you just might be our ideal candidate! Start your application with a five-minute inquiry form - you never know where you might end up.

It all starts here.

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