Anna Obermeier and Elise Scribner are taking on the growing pains of an infant democracy.
The two Quest University students left for Bhutan on Sunday (Feb. 16). Six years ago, the landlocked South Asian country held its first election after transitioning from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. The duo will spend five months working in different social service capacities of the budding democracy.
“I am interested in how Bhutan’s people talk about democracy,” Obermeier said.
In her second year at Quest, the Ontario native is exploring how political rhetoric influences public opinion. Obermeier will lead workshops with Bhutanese youth examining the relationship between media and democracy.
Ever since elementary school, Obermeier has been interested in politics. It was often a lonely passion, she recalled, one that left her debating policies with adults.
“I was always trying to sway my parents,” Obermeier said.
Scribner is set to intern at a women’s domestic violence shelter. In her hometown of Portland, Ore., Scribner worked at such a facility. She will examine the similarities and differences between issues Bhutanese women face and those in North America.
At Quest, Scribner is delving into the question of how international development programs can empower women.
“I feel like this will be the perfect case study to accompany my learning,” she said.
The duo’s trip is a part of the university’s exchange program with the Royal Thimphu College, located in northeastern Bhutan. Quest tutor Jim Cohn will teach curriculum at the college. In the Buddhist country’s culture, teachers are treated with reverence, resulting students tending to reserve questions — a vast difference from Quest’s small group discussion focus.
Obermeier and Scribner will stay in the college’s dorms. Neither one speaks Dzongkha, the country’s official language; however, English is taught in Bhutanese schools starting in Grade 5, Obermeier noted.
“I don’t really know what to expect,” she said. “I am ready to be out of my comfort zone.”