From Auburn to Bhutan and back again

Bhutan Times - - Editorial - By: Eyragon Ei­dam of the Auburn Jour­nal

Bhutan may not make the list of top 10 va­ca­tion spots for your av­er­age per­son, but that didn’t stop one Auburn na­tive from mak­ing the long jour­ney to a re­mote coun­try for science.

Known mostly for its rich his­tory and cul­ture, the small, land­locked coun­try in the eastern Hi­malayas of­fered a rare op­por­tu­nity for hor­ti­cul­ture and forestry stu­dent El­iz­a­beth Ri­dolfi.

The 21-year-old UC Davis stu­dent, ma­jor­ing in en­vi­ron­men­tal hor­ti­cul­ture and ur­ban forestry, made the long jour­ney to the south­ern Asian coun­try to study as part of a School for Field Stud­ies sum­mer pro­gram.

Mon­soon sea­son or not, Ri­dolfi and 18 oth­ers spent six weeks meet­ing new peo­ple and study­ing the unique plant and an­i­mal life of the di­verse re­gion.

“It’s not like study­ing abroad in Italy or Mex­ico,” she said. “In Bhutan, pretty much all of the plants and an­i­mals are en­demic.”

At an av­er­age el­e­va­tion of around 8,000 feet, the coun­try is a mix of dense rain­forests and moun­tains. De­spite its cur­rent stand­ing as a de­vel­op­ing na­tion, Ri­dolfi said in her ex­pe­ri­ence, the lit­er­acy rate su­per­sedes crime by a huge mar­gin.

The gov­ern­ment is also very protective of its nat­u­ral re­sources, even with out­side pres­sures from the sur­round­ing more in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions, she said.

“Not a lot is writ­ten about Bhutan. Pretty much ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence you have, you can bet that not too many peo­ple have seen that,” Ri­dolfi said.

Dur­ing her field re­search of hu­man and wildlife con­flict, the young re­searcher was able to trek in the Hi­malayas and even had a run in with quick­sand and a day’s worth of mon­soon rains.

The trip cost around $12,000, but left her with the urge to travel the world. With­out many of the mod­ern re­search tools we largely take for granted in Amer­ica, Ri­dolfi said she learned valu­able lessons and would strongly en­cour­age other stu­dents to study abroad.

“The big thing I took back is a de­sire to travel more. I also took back a lot of prob­lem solv­ing skills,” she said.

The third-year col­lege stu­dent said she plans to grad­u­ate in 2016 and travel with vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tions be­fore pur­su­ing her larger goal of grad­u­ate school.

“Who knows, I could end up go­ing back to the trop­ics dur­ing mon­soon sea­son once again,” she joked.

Area woman shares her hor­ti­cul­tural learn­ing mission

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