A journey to enrich the community: from Bhutan and back

12 July 2021

These young people, who are mostly first-generation university graduates in our families and communities, have to embark on long and arduous journeys, figuratively and literally

Aspirations of completing a PhD are not for the faint-hearted, but for those who face barriers to accessing such education even more resilience is required. 

Anthropology PhD candidate Dendup Chophel is in the latter category.  

Dendup says he was raised in a rural farming family in Bhutan, a small country in the Himalayas on an earnest path to uplifting the socio-economic conditions of its people.  

He says improving Bhutan's general literacy through the provision of universal access to primary education is a key milestone on the country's journey, but it comes at the expense of more aspirational educational needs. 

"Post-graduate study opportunities are still not available for our young people at home," Dendup says. 

"These young people, who are mostly first-generation university graduates in our families and communities, have to embark on long and arduous journeys, figuratively and literally, to distant shores like Australia to pursue our dreams of higher education. 

"We have big dreams of our own as well as that of our families and communities to shoulder, but little support and guidance in pursuing them as we are charting new territories." 

After overcoming significant barriers just to get to day one, Dendup had to contest with all the usual challenges that come with completing a PhD.  

A difficult 2020 saw Dendup completing his thesis from home, creating an added emotional burden for both him and his family. 

"My son watched me for months on end working away on my computer in our little apartment, and I think the sheer monotony of the task affected him much more deeply than me," Dendup says. 

Dendup is hopeful that if his son one day chooses to pursue research his early exposure will provide him with some of the resilience needed to succeed in his journey.  

"He saw me struggle through an unprecedented and unusually difficult period, and I am hopeful this will give him the skills and tenacity needed to find his way around in this field."   

Giving back to the community in Bhutan where Dendup started his journey is at the core of his research. Studying development anthropology, he explored the socio-cultural capabilities that allow a community to mobilise resources and uplift their community.  

"In many ways, I think my individual quest for advanced learning also reflects the journey of my country which embarked on its path towards modern education relatively late in the larger global context of higher education," he says. 

Dendup hopes his research will have a transcendental impact for not only him, but his country.