The Most Educated Household of Pam

I still remember the pride lingering visibly on my uncle’s lips – curved like a strung bow, upwards – after he had said, “Our ancestral house in Pam has produced more educated people than the rest of the village combined” Perhaps it was the way he said it; or maybe it was because of the adage that we were forced to parrot in secondary school, “Ser sang bja ley, yontoen naa chi gha” (Trans. A drop of education is worth more than a 100 KGs of gold); Or was it just that I had a wonderfully memorable experience of formal schooling throughout my life? In any case, his words left an indelible mark on my mind.

Photo: Kuensel / Pam village

Or…perhaps it was because of a story I heard some years ago about how my mother and her brothers were so poor at one point that they resorted to khang-song – a practice of trailing people harvesting maize, so that they could pick up the accidentally-dropped grains of maize to take home and grind into kharang (ground maize used as a staple of food in eastern Bhutan). With reminiscent eyes Amchi (mother’s elder sister) remarked, “Out of compassion for us, some villagers would have more ‘accidents’, intentionally leaving behind more grains”. My mom and her siblings couldn’t have been more than teenagers when this happened. While I have never experienced hardships of such existential magnitude in my life, such inherited experiences reside deep in our bones, knowingly or unknowingly.

It must be because of this reason that I have always felt wealth, and its associated privilege to be largely accidental and not a good enough foundation to base one’s sense of worth. Or maybe, it’s just a self-consoling mechanism for those economically less fortunate. Either way, I feel very strongly about this. This is not to say those that come from generational wealth (which is just as accidental) should be dismissed any more or less than someone who comes from poverty. I have always believed that the true test of worth is to measure where one starts off in life, and what one chooses to do with what s/he has; here I am able to find a foundation that is based on freedom and the agency of a human life. Here I am able to find a story that is worth the effort of writing, and telling.

It is high time Bhutanese stop asking each other Who one’s parents are; and start asking What one has done instead.

I believe education makes such a world possible (or at least increases the likelihood substantially). Personally, education has taken me to the other side of the world; I’ve been able to touch the statue of liberty in New York with my high school best friends, experience the gastronomic wonder of Aslam chicken at Jama Masjid with friends from SAARC, offer prayers at the Shwedagon Pagoda, recite poetry in the gleaming dawn of Taj Mahal, devour deep-dish pizza in Chicago at 2AM, and experience many such unforgettable moments. I remember being the first household in Paro to own and screen VCRs to fellow villagers because of my uncle’s connection to Japan – which was made possible by his education. I was bewitched by the magic of Harry Potter after my mother brought a complete collection from her tour in Bangkok – which was once again because of her education. Generational privileges have rarely been the reason for making all these moments possible in our family’s recent history; the belief in education and the grit in committing to this belief is another story altogether.

PHOTO: Deana Zabaldo / Flickr

Most importantly, education has helped lift the veil of parochialism and narrow-mindedness, which no amount of wealth can ever achieve (or at most times make worse). It has taken my family out of our ancestral village and put us in contact with not just the rest of the country, but with the world itself. I grew up mostly in Paro – enjoying both the unique distinction and the occasional regionally-inspired slurs of being the only sharchop household. After seven years of living in Paro, the next seven years in the US (through a scholarship) helped me see just how small our views of ‘us’ and ‘them’ were.

Nowadays, it is only the narrow-minded that still hold on to fragile and senseless criteria of dividing fellow Bhutanese into ‘us’ and ‘them’- very much like the frog that couldn’t fathom the ocean because he lived his whole life in a well.

This unshakable belief in education continues to be my driving source of power. It has kept me going for the past nine months and through all the drafts of Masters applications – about 20 to be specific (4 colleges in the UK, 2 for Erasmus and the Chevening scholarship; each undergoing around 3-5 rounds of revision). Out of the goodness and well-meaning intentions of the people I approached for advice, I was able to build up my confidence in the write-ups. It was also an unforgettable realisation of the generosity that makes the journey to one’s goal enjoyable and inspiring, and the need to reciprocate this in equal measure to future dreamy travellers as well. As of now, I feel extremely fortunate to be a Chevening scholar ’22 and to be going to my dream university, UCL (currently ranked #8 in the world). My first cousin, Lungten Wangchuk (commonly known as LWK in the music scene) has also been awarded a Chevening scholarship and will be sharpening what he already works so hard at, and pursues with an undying passion: music. He remains a pioneer in his field and in the world of Chevening which traditionally has not had musicians in their portfolio.

Our ancestral home in Pam adds two more Masters and a first-ever PhD (which our Ajang has just been awarded)! I say this final sentence with a lot of pride.


First and foremost to my family for their undying support and unconditional love at home - which is the place where I find my grounding and the confidence to pursue anything I put my mind to. Also to my partner, Nangsel who continues to be my first reader, editor and most ardent supporter for all my write-ups (including my applications and all blog posts). My love for you grows evermore.
Next to my dear professor, Doc Gordon Marino for his undying guidance even though it has been six years since my philosophy classes with him; a teacher's generosity truly knows no bounds! 
To Dasho Kinley, Aum Pek and Aue Chencho for your recommendation letters without which my grades alone would not have been sufficient. 
Also to Aue Yangchen, Ata Dechen Rabgyal, Lhazin and Namgyel Wangchuk for your support through the application process despite your busy lives - it is always better to seek directions from those who have walked the path before.
Finally to Trulku Ozin, for your thuk-men; there is only so much that is within our control and much more outside of it after all. May I and all sentient beings never be consumed by the drama of samsara, and always keep our eyes on that path of no path, that journey without any destination. 

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