Reflections on a travel course to the Philippines

Katie makes fire! The Aeta tribespeople taught the students how to build a fire from dried bamboo, as well as all about the different types of flora and fauna in the Philippine tropical rainforests.

In Intersession 2008, fifteen students (mostly Biology majors) went to the Philippines for three weeks to take part in the Biology 295 course (Philippine Tropical Organisms and Ecosystems). This course is designed for hands-on learning of the principles of ecology, organismal and population biology.through direct experience and exposure to tropical environments.

During their travels, students immerse themselves in a number of different ecosystems: coral reefs (the Philippines has some of the most biodiverse reefs in the world), rainforests, cloud forests, lakes, mangroves, islands, and dormant volcanic craters, just to name a few.

For Katie Tempaugh, a senior Biology major, this trip was special. It was her first time on an airplane! Her first flight ever was a 15-hour flight to Hong Kong from New York aboard a Cathay Pacific Airways jet, followed by a 2 hour flight to Manila. She arrived in Manila and immediately immersed herself in a whole new culture. She also traveled around the country (with the rest of the class) using all modes of transport - plane, ferry, pumpboat, and even 4x4 off-road jeeps (on the way to the volcanic crater lake). Here is Katie's impression of her course:

"The class was such an amazing experience. It was my first time on an airplane and in a foreign country, and everything I experienced and encountered will stay with me for years to come. Among our activiteis were: hiking up extinct volcanoes, learning about the rainforest from the tribespeople (Aetas) who live there, snorkeling in a number of different reefs and islands, spelunking in several caves, examining artifacts from historical churches and museums, swimming in hot springs, and land tours of each island.


This trip was an excellent way to learn about a number of different things about the tropics, such as rainforest vegetation, ecological succession following volcanic eruptions, and land and oceanic animal habitats. We even learned about other cultural aspects not originally included in the syllabus, such as differences in bathroom etiquette, dinning customs, laundry duties, and social status. My favorite parts from this trip were having the freedom to hold the animals we encountered, being able to venture and explore on our own, and meeting the Aeta tribespeople (see photo, right), who possessed so little compared to the average American, but nonetheless had a great sense of humor and appreciation for what they had.  It was amazing to experience this tropical paradise not only as a biologist, but also as a foreigner, and thus, a minority."    


"My experience in the Philippines was unforgettable; learning came so naturally because you actually got to interact with everything you’ve read about in the textbook. The trip wasn’t entirely work, though. On free days, we had the option to revisit places we’ve been to, visit new places, socialize with each other or vacationers, or just relax and enjoy the tropics. We were able to experience the Philippines in a way that would be impossible with just the help of a travel guide."

"Until you actually get on the plane and leave America, your life is just a bubble, filled only with what you want to be there. When you expand your horizon and see the world, you gain an education, you gain friends, you gain experience, and you gain an appreciation of the people back home who love you."

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