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George Mason UniversitySchool of Business

Not Your Typical Destination: Students Study Gross National Happiness in Bhutan

Written by Jennifer Anzaldi on .

Bhutan Student Picture 400x200How can you see culture? Books. Movies. Literature. Lectures. Studying a foreign country doesn’t compare to stepping foot on its soil, breathing in its culture. And Bhutan offers a culture like few others. In a world dominated by money, Bhutan weighs the nation’s happiness above their economic growth as a measure of a healthy country. One lucky group of Mason students received a firsthand view of Bhutan (prior to the pandemic), led by now retired Jeff Kulick, instructor of marketing and teaching faculty fellow.

At the School of Business, faculty strive to open the eyes of students to new perspectives. Kulick took this idea further, creating this international course through Mason’s Global Education Office (GEO).

“Bhutan is a great microcosm for studying change, which is what is fascinating from a marketing perspective,” says Kulick. “Television was only introduced 20 years ago, and you can definitely see the impact it has made.”

A small Buddhist country sandwiched between India and China in the eastern Himalayas of South Asia, Bhutan focuses on the idea of gross national happiness (GNH), an index that measures the collective happiness and well-being of the population rather than gross domestic product (GDP), which is the typical economic indicator of a healthy economy.

“I would definitely say that this trip changed the way I think about international business,” says Joel Peverall, BS Marketing ’19. “GNH makes the citizens’ happiness the first priority over growing a profitable economy.”

While in Bhutan, students visited the Institute of Gross National Happiness, businesses, as well as dzongs (fortresses built to be a combination of administrative center and temple). “There are no malls as we know them, and students had chances to see how commerce goes on in a developing country,” says Kulick. “Shops are very small, and since much of the country outside the main cities is focused on agriculture and self-sustaining, the merchandise is limited.”

“The trip had a huge impact on me,” says Peverall. “From experiencing the unique culture of Bhutan to creating lifelong friendships with fellow classmates on the trip, it has helped change the perspective of how I live my daily life.”

In preparation of the trip, the students explored the history of the country, Buddhism, sustainability, and the threats the country faces as it emerges into the 21st century. Students studied novels, feature films, documentaries, and conducted their own research through class assignments. Peverall attended the first trip to Bhutan. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the most recent class had to cancel their in-person trip.

Kulick is no stranger to global instruction. He’s taught four global residencies for the MBA program, visiting Chile, South Africa, and Brazil twice, and also taught a semester at Mason Korea. But Bhutan is different.

“It’s relatively easy for students to travel to many destinations,” says Kulick. “This was a chance to get o€ the beaten path and visit a place in the midst of great changes.”