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Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey Into Bhutan

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  3,252 ratings  ·  337 reviews
At age 24 Jamie Zeppa, a Canadian who had never been outside of North America, said goodbye to her fiancé and her plans for graduate school and moved to Bhutan, a remote Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas.

Beyond the Sky and the Earth is an autobiographical work that details her experiences and transformations after spending three years in Bhutan. It is as much a book about Zepp
Paperback, 303 pages
Published May 1st 2000 by Riverhead Books (first published May 18th 1999)
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Debbie Zapata
Apr 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: saturdaymx
You are 22 years old, uncertain about your future. You know the proper thing would be to continue your university studies, but Life beckons. You feel the need to Do Something Real with your life, to have an adventure, to face your fears. So what do you do?

If you are Jamie Zeppa, you apply for a teaching position in Bhutan. This book relates her experiences there, from the first awkward days of being afraid of everything to the realization that the word home can mean something besides tha
Nov 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
This book is a gem.

When Jamie Zeppa tires of her doctoral studies and ponders whether the world might offer something more, she spots an announcement for a teaching opportunity near Tibet. The book Zeppa creates about her experience in Bhutan represents travel writing at its best. In theory, travel provides knowledge. In reality, many people leave dumb and come home just as dumb. Zeppa’s journey transforms her, and she gains wisdom in its truest sense, a combination of knowledge and humility. ...more
Oct 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Consider reading instead of Eat Pray Love for a similar experience sans the egocentricity.
Feb 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who loves to travel and is interested in Bhutan
A wonderful book about living in another (extremely remote) culture as a young person. This is Zeppa's true story about the years she spent teaching English in remote villages of Bhutan in the early 70s when Bhutan was just opening its borders to foreigners. The descriptions of the landscape are lush and Zeppa takes you along with her as she struggles against isolation, hardship and the process of falling in love with with a culture and also a young Bhutanese man. An enjoyable read.
It's not a unique story, but it's well-told and the setting is far eastern Bhutan, a remote region that I didn't know much about. At the start, Zeppa had me so convinced that she'd made a mistake in accepting her posting to teach in Bhutan, that I fully expected her to jump on a plane, return to Canada, and spend the rest of the book kicking herself for her lack of resilience. But no, within a fairly short time she fell in love with it all; the children (of course), the school, her village, her ...more
Nate Parsons
Apr 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone who loves travel
This is one of my favorite books of the last five years. Jamie Zeppa does a fantastic job exploring what it means to be an outsider in a new culture, what we gain and lose ourselves when we try to become an insider, and weaves that delicately in between the sites and sounds of an exotic and distant land. Reading this book can't help but make you want to both travel and wonder what you might be holding onto too dearly in your existing life.
Feb 19, 2008 rated it did not like it
What coulda been: travel memoir of Bhutan comes woefully undone by a writer seemingly incapable of distinguishing between self reflection and self absorption.

'Thank you very much' in Dzongkha the Bhutanese dialect is 'name same kadin chhe' which means 'thanks beyond the sky and the earth'. In the late 1980's Jamie Zeppa had just graduated after a masters in English Literature in Canada and decides to sign up with WUSC and go to Bhutan to teach English.

In the 1960's a Canadian Jesuit named Father Mackey founded some secular education initiatives in Bhutan. The lessons were taught through the medium of English, so they needed to recruit for
Aug 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
I get weekly emails about jobs for librarians in other places, both in this country and abroad. Recently, a job opening was listed in Bhutan. I remembered that Bhutan is the country with a Gross National Happiness Index (I kid you not), and into my imagination came an image of working in a library in the Himalayas. Hmmm...When I searched for books about Bhutan, this one popped up. The author had put her life in Canada (which included a fiance and plans for getting a PhD) on hold to take a two-ye ...more
Nov 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Bhutanese phrase 'Name same kadin che', translates into 'I thank you beyond the sky and the earth'. Quite a poetic way to say thank you, I must say.

I was in Bhutan recently, and on my last afternoon in that beautiful country I had visited this really cozy bookstore in Thimphu, aptly named Junction Bookstore. I had gone in hoping to pick up a book about Bhutan. I'd been recommended a few by various people I met there, from books on the Royal Dynasty (The Raven Crown) to books on practical ev
Jul 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone, especially those who plan to live overseas
This might be my favorite book--EVER. Jamie Zeppa creates Bhutan in such an accessible way I feel like I've lived there. Her heartbreaks became my own. She becomes a broader person in Bhutan. She says (not a direct quote), when I lived in Canada, I didn't really think about the consequences of my actions. When I put the garbage out, it was taken away. Here in Bhutan, I am forced to contemplate what will happen to something when I am done with it.

This book also asks, am I doing more harm than go
The author speaks of her personal experiences as a teacher in Bhutan and how this changed who she was and what she did with her life. I have never run into someone who had such a hard time with change, even those changes she herself chose! There is an awful lot of worrying and whining in these chapters! Nevertheless, you do learn about life in Bhutan at the end of the 1980s, about Buddhism and occasionally she just so perfectly expresses her thoughts. She will take a complicated idea and say it ...more
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this quiet, honest, thoughtful travel memoir about a 23 year old Canadian woman, Jamie, who decides to leave a future PhD program and her fiance to teach abroad in Bhutan in the late 1980s.

Like Jamie, I knew 0% about this small landlocked country near India, and through her vivid, concise writing, I felt like I learned and grew right along with her as she moves in a rural town to teach grade school. The culture shock, the vastly different landscapes, living situations, language,
Sep 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012, non-fiction
I absolutely loved this book; it felt like a story I've been waiting for, and I think anyone else who has considered dropping all their plans for a safe, solid life in favour of the unknown will feel the same. When Jamie Zeppa decides to leave behind her marriage plans and graduate school applications behind to teach English in a remote corner of Bhutan she is not entirely sure of her motivations or whether she has what it takes, but she does know that she is determined to try. At first it all s ...more
Anita Shirreffs
Nov 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Several years ago I was walking down an aisle of book shelves in my local library, looking for something to read, when all of a sudden, “Beyond the Sky and the Earth” by Jamie Zeppa, leapt off the shelf and fell into my hands like a gift. At least that is how I remember finding this book, or it finding me!

Since then I have given, “Beyond the Sky and the Earth”, as a gift a number of times, smiling, knowing what a wonderful treat the recipient of the book was in for. Judging by the fe
Özlem Bulut
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I love reading travel literature but this book is much more than that. Maybe it's because I already had a soft spot for Bhutan and I had been aching to do something like what Jamie Zeppa did. She leaves her 'ideal' life in Canada and goes to teach English in the remote villages of Bhutan for 3 years. I've read and watched a lot about Bhutan, "the happiest place on earth", but nothing made me appreciate the uniqueness of this little country and its people like this book did. I wish to experience ...more
Jul 03, 2014 rated it liked it
3.5, really. I warmed to this slowly, sort of like the author warming to her new surroundings, but ultimately really enjoyed her reflections on culture, language, religion, and more. Very thought-provoking and full of beautiful landscape descriptions.
Wendy Jackson
Definitely a five-star book for me: I had houseguests this week and it nearly killed me to socialise with them and not read this book instead. You know the feeling. I should note that I am heavily biased on two fronts: first is that I have been to Bhutan and think it is one of the best places on Earth; and second, I had one of my first formative overseas experiences with the organisation that sent the author to Bhutan (World University Service of Canada), so related to that aspect. Even without ...more
Nancy H
Sep 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This is an intriguing true story about a teacher from Canada who goes to teach in the country of Bhutan. As often happens when people go far away from home into cultures that are fairly unknown to them, she is not prepared for what she finds. However, despite the hardships, cultural differences, and politics she dislikes, she finds that she falls in love with her students and the country, and eventually, one of its inhabitants. The story of her journey as school teacher and then university teach ...more
Terri ducay
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't know whether to give this a rating of 3 or 4, but decided on the later based on how well the author blended together her experiences of travel, description of landscape, history, political landscape and personal changes. The vivid scenes she created not only informed how a place looked but the emotion and personality of a location.
It's a good book to read before going to Bhutan.
I think I set myself up for disappointment with this one. I had seen a review of it about 4 years ago, and put it on a list of books to track down. It took 4 years for me to locate a copy at a price I was happy with, and so had really been looking forward to it, despite not having read anything further about it.

I have just finished reading it, and it was a good book, but I guess I had elevated my expectations with the long wait. It is likely to effect the rating I give it.

Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
Jamie is young, sheltered woman with a well-constructed plan for her life when she experiences something of an epiphany and decides to embark on a two year teaching committment to Bhutan in February of 1989. A Canadian who for the most part had never left her native country, this decision shocks her family, friends, and fiance but off she goes to a country few have heard of, never mind find on a map.

The novel succeeds at introducing Bhutan through Jamie's eyes as she adapts to a vast
Nov 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Here is a great sense-of-place book. Beyond the Sky and Earth offers a vivid glimpse into a nation most readers will never visit: the isolated Buddhist Himalayan country of Bhutan.

Canadian Jamie Zeppa, raised by a Polish Catholic grandfather in Sault-Ste-Marie, Ontario, has written an insightful memoir about her first years in Bhutan. Roughly twenty years ago, English literature masters in hand, she answered the call from a Bhutan Canada teaching program and set off thousands of miles from hom
Murray Gunn
Aug 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I was disappointed not to meet Jamie when she briefly returned to Bhutan in 2006 because her book was inspirational in my writing Dragon Bones. Along with the likes of Sarah Turnbull's Almost French Zeppa manages to break the Bill Bryson-esque trend of superficial, condescending travel books. In Beyond the Earth and the Sky she describes her experiences of the people and their life with love and compassion that is a joy to read. I admired her courage in writing of personal experience with night hunting a ...more
Ml Lalonde
Mar 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really couldn't put book down. The author, who spent several years teaching in Bhutan for WUSC, perfectly captured the feeling of having been suddenly transplanted in a place that was completely different from every reality you've ever known, and then the peeling (like an onion) of cultural understanding that happens over time. It's this sense of "anyone can live anywhere" which has pretty much directed my life. The ONLY reason I'm not giving this book 5 stars is that I wish it was longer. Som ...more
Mar 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this memoir of a young Canadian teacher in Bhutan. She has put her English degrees to good purpose here relating her experience in a foreign culture and confronting a wholly different landscape. Her writing brings the beauty of Bhutan right off of the page. I found myself diving back into this book as often as possible. It is a rewarding read for someone who loves other cultures and learning about them through the eyes of a newcomer. She also gives context to the political sit ...more
Vivien Fung
May 09, 2011 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this biography of a teacher reluctantly journeying to Bhutan to teach for about 3/4 of it. Then it kind of degenerates into maudlin Western hype about an Asian place. I can say that because I'm Asian. Haha

Also, I read afterwards that Jamie's only gone back to Bhutan twice in the last ten years. For someone so supposedly lastingly affected and changed by Bhutan, she's not really putting her money where her mouth is.

Okay I'll stop hating and say it's worth reading for
Kaptain Kniccas
Jan 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Even though this book was based on one woman's experience of living in Bhutan at the end of the 1980-90s it is a thorough and honest insight which is still relevant to toady.
I read it in my 11th month of living here in Bhutan before I am due to leave, and I wish I read it withing the first few.
Jamie gives an honest account of her experiences. She is dignified in the way she writes about her deployment, employment and life both professionally and personally.
Even if you're not in Bhut
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This was the first book that our book club read, and it remains a favorite. I've given it as a gift to many of my (favorite) students as they embark on their teaching careers, for the author asks the reader to contemplate not just what it means to be a good teacher, but what it means to be a good person. How are we fulfilled? How do we reach others and allow them to reach us? It is a truly remarkable book about a woman's journey to know herself and a land that remains both mysterious and mystica ...more
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommended
I have used Goodreads to only include books that I have read since getting on this site in 2007 but I recently came across a list of books that I read when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and this book was on that list. I vividly remember the emotions of this book as the author details her experiences living and working in Bhutan and I highly recommend it if you are looking to be transported and moved.
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“I wanted to throw myself into an experience that was too big for me and learn in a way that cost me something” 10 likes
“Everything is more meaningful because it is connected to the earth. There are no signs to read, no billboards or neon messages; instead I read the hills and the fields and the farmhouses and the sky. The houses, made of mud and stone and wood, are not hermetically sealed. The wind blows in through the cracks, the night seeps in through the rough wooden window slats.The line between inside and outside is not so clear.” 2 likes
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