National Institute of Zurig Chusum, Thimphu

The practicum site I intern at is the National Institute of Zurig Chusum Thimphu. It is located at Kawang Jangsa, Tashi Gephelling, above the National Library (about a thirty minute taxi ride from R.T.C., or a twenty minute walk from the Changlam plaza bus stop). The vision of the institute is as follows: “A pioneer institute that produces high end skilled Arts and Crafts artisan to be gainfully employed and to promote culturally and traditionally enriched diversity of arts and crafts products striving towards socioeconomic development in achieving the GNH.” Their mission is to “strive to preserve the traditional arts and crafts by reviving and sustaining the old traditional arts and crafts and continually improving on it with value addition to meet the emerging market needs through quality training delivery and endless research and product innovation activities.”

It was established in 1971 as a painting school under the Ministry of Development to preserve and promote traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. In 1985 the institute was transferred to the Ministry of Finance, then to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Then in 1999 the National Technical Training Authority took over control of the administration. Come 2003 the National Technical Training Authority became the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR). It is this Ministry that is at the top of the organizational structure of National Institute of Zorig Chusum (NIZC). Under it is the Honorable Minister and Dasho Secretary. Under them is the Directory of Department of Human Resources. Then under this position is the Principal of the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, Thimphu, Jigme Dorji, who is my supervisor. Under the Principal fall the Institute Advisory Board and the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources/Departments and other agencies. The next tier under this consists of a Research and Development Section composed of Training/Market needs analysis, Product innovation and designing, and Course diversification; AFD consisting of Administration section, Accounts section, Store management and Support staff; and Training Section Coordinator. Under the Training Section Coordinator fall the regular courses and short courses. Currently offered in the regular program are the courses lhadi (mural painting, 4 years), shing tshonpa (house painting, 1-2 years), jimzo (sculpture, 5 years), tsemzo (tailoring, 2 years), tshemdup (embroidery, 2 years), patra (woodcarving, 2 years), and babzo (mask carving, 2 years). When there is the staff for it, courses in trezo (silver, gold smithery 4 years), thagzo (weaving, 2 years), slate carving (2 years) and black smithery (2 years) are available. The teaching learning system practiced by NIZC follows the Competency based Training System, undertaken through development of National Occupational Skills Standards, Curriculum Development, and Capacity building of Instructors. This means that the student can only move on to the next level of training if they have mastered the level that precedes it.

In addition to the aforementioned courses there are some compulsory courses that all students must take. These are Drawing, English, Dzongkha and mathematics. There is presently no math teacher, so it is not being taught. My job is to teach English. I teach two classes on Saturday to the students and on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays I teach English to the Dzongkha instructor, Peldon Wangchuk, and he teaches me Dzongkha. These lessons take place after the school day, while the rest of the students are at evening prayer. When I’m not teaching, I sit in on the first year embroidery class. I also attend drawing class with them on Mondays and Tuesdays. This drawing class is one of the most challenging aspects of my internship. I have never excelled in drawing. I have to try really hard to create something that mildly resembles the example he has drawn for me to replicate. My biggest challenge at this internship is not letting the people down. I feel so privileged to be allowed to learn their traditional crafts that anything less than the best I can do is shameful. Another facet to this internship I find challenging is my relationship with the students. I feel like I have to choose between being their friend and being their teacher. Should they call me Sara or Miss? Can I joke around with them without compromising their respect in the classroom?

The most rewarding experience is the feeling that I am seeing a more traditional side of Bhutan, where the classes are all taught in Dzongkha and the focus of the school is the preservation of the culture whereas my RTC class is about waste management, something that hasn’t been a problem until modernization. As I mentioned earlier I feel privileged to be learning these arts. Also, I feel more accepted and less like a foreigner. A friend at my internship said, “At first I thought you were a tourist and didn’t want to give you the time of day.” But now that they see I’m not coming in here to snap photos but actually to learn, they have a different opinion of me. The Bhutanese really appreciate that I am trying to learn their language and their crafts, and this is a rewarding feeling. It is sort of like I’m trying to express my gratitude for being allowed to see this side of Bhutan.

I asked the principal what he would want future interns to know. He said it was all very new and couldn’t think of a response. My advice to students in the future would be to not take for granted the opportunity that this internship provides. Learning the traditional crafts of Bhutan to me is the best way I can be spending my time at an internship. Try hard with the work you’re doing because it would be insulting not to.
Sara Mitsinikos (aka Sara Wangmo)

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