The science of Kosrae

Kos­rae, FSM is a dream loca­tion for field work in the nat­ural sci­ences.  It is hot, muggy, trop­i­cal, beau­ti­ful, and there are not a lot of things liv­ing on the land that can kill you (I don’t think that I can say the same for the water, though).  With the pop­u­la­tion remain­ing small over the past sev­eral thou­sand years, the islands ecosys­tems are rich and pristine.


While there, I got to par­tic­i­pate in sev­eral eco­log­i­cal sur­veys, my favorite of which being the coral reef sur­veys.  We got the oppor­tu­nity to hold our class­room out in the water near a place called the ‘blue hole’, where we snorkeled around with clip-boards tak­ing notes on coral iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.  It was fairly dif­fi­cult not to get dis­tracted by all of the fish and the occa­sional sting ray, but I learned tons nonetheless.


We also got to learn about man­grove ecosys­tems, which involved hik­ing through mud (at some points waist deep) from inland to the coast.  The trees were gor­geous as many were very old, and their impor­tance to the islander’s tra­di­tional and cur­rent way of life were never understated.

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In our offi­cial ‘off time’ we got the chance to explore the island a lit­tle bit more.  I was excited to get to scuba dive on three occa­sions, and I even got to call (friendly) sharks to me on my last day there while snor­kel­ing.  I got to enjoy kayak­ing up one of the island’s rivers while watch­ing the giant fruit bats (fly­ing foxes) swoop around at dusk.  The island was so dark at night, some­thing I am not used to any­more, that I even got to see some stars (but watch out for the crabs after sun­fall!). Over­all, this lit­tle island inspired me both to con­tinue to pur­sue my cho­sen career path and to keep find­ing ways to explore the world and to meet unfor­get­table peo­ple along the way.

Beautiful culture, breathtaking island: Kosrae, FSM


Before my trip to Kos­rae, Fed­er­ated States of Microne­sia, I would never have been able to com­pre­hend the beau­ti­ful expe­ri­ences that I would gain from meet­ing the peo­ple who live on the island.  As it is very small and remains rel­a­tively geo­graph­i­cally iso­lated in the equa­to­r­ial pacific, there is not a lot of tourism or traf­fic to and from the island from peo­ple other than the Kos­raens.  Because of this, our visit went hardly unno­ticed by the locals.

As we left the air­port for our first ride around the island, it seemed like every one of the island’s 6000 cit­i­zens was wav­ing to us from the road which spans a par­tial perime­ter of the island.   The kids would run after our truck, and every­one would should a greet­ing (which I would become very fond of) Lwen Wo (Good after­noon)!  I was ini­tially over­whelmed with the imme­di­ate enthu­si­asm of the islander’s on behalf of our visit, but I soon became very used to this as I real­ized that they are really just that friendly all the time.


As reli­gion is wide­spread among the islanders, it is very impor­tant that Sunday’s remain a day solely of rest, and no activ­i­ties are per­mit­ted which may cause a per­son ‘to sweat’.  We were warmly (no pun intended) wel­comed the day after our arrival to attend a large church on the south side of the island in the vil­lage of Utwe.  Group after group of men and women went to the front of the church to sing, with voices clear and melodic (they are very mod­est about their singing, but it is known that the islanders have a par­tic­u­lar tal­ent).  After the ser­vice there were snacks of fresh fruit such as green tan­ger­ines and bananas set up out­side for us, which was an ini­tial taste of the gen­eros­ity which we were to expe­ri­ence through­out our month there.

One of the goals of our class is to help pro­mote sus­tain­able prac­tices and edu­ca­tion about the man­grove forests on Kos­rae.  To do this, we planned a teacher work­shop where we could assist the teach­ers in devel­op­ing les­son ideas as well as pro­vid­ing addi­tional knowl­edge about why man­groves are impor­tant to the health of the island. Although I (sadly) missed the actual work­shop because I was sick, I got the oppor­tu­nity to teach a cou­ple of Kos­raen women the same mate­r­ial, and the exchange of infor­ma­tion that took place was very enlight­en­ing for all of us.


Through­out our sci­en­tific endeav­ors we began to become more acquainted with peo­ple who helped to guide us or work with us through our stud­ies.  One man in par­tic­u­lar, named Erik, is the head forester of the island and proved to be par­tic­u­larly spe­cial to every one of us stu­dents.  As we spent quite a bit of time vis­it­ing with him we got to know him and his fam­ily.  As we were prepar­ing to say good­bye on our last week he invited us to his house for a ‘party’.  As I arrived I saw four tables full of tra­di­tional Kos­raen food which he and his fam­ily had pre­pared for us.  He had hand caught lob­ster, reef fish, and man­grove crabs for us, as well as catch­ing a tuna for some fresh sashimi.  The amount of effort on their part to pro­vide us with this uniquely gen­er­ous expe­ri­ence was one that I will remem­ber forever.

I also got the oppor­tu­nity to meet a num­ber of peo­ple on the island through my 24 hour home­s­tay with a fam­ily in the vil­lage of Malem.  I was excited to learn that the father of my home­s­tay fam­ily was an envi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist, and so it was very easy for us to become acquainted and build good con­ver­sa­tion.  How­ever, the major­ity of my time was spent with his chil­dren and their cousins, who were so excited to have us stay.  They showed us all of their favorite spots to play, as well as games that they enjoy and they even attempted to teach us how to speak Kos­raen (I now think it was so that they could gig­gle at our poor pro­nun­ci­a­tion).  They were absolutely adorable, and we were all sad to part ways.


Dur­ing our trip the islander’s cel­e­brated one of their biggest hol­i­days, Lib­er­a­tion Day.  They invited us to join in with their parades and games, and they sat us with their elders as guest of honor while we spec­tated.  Every­body was light­hearted and hav­ing so much fun, and it was pleas­ant to see such a large group of peo­ple inter­act­ing with each other in such a care­free (yet at times slightly mis­chie­vous) way.  As women and men par­tic­i­pated in games, there was some play­ful sab­o­tage (I am fairly sure I got hit in the back by a fly­ing flip-flop after I passed a laugh­ing Kos­raen woman in the race)… The sec­ond Lib­er­a­tion Day cer­e­mony was par­tic­u­larly spe­cial to us because we were joined by the Gov­er­nor of Kos­rae, who later made it a point to attend our final banquet.


This trip has taught me that some of the best expe­ri­ences that you have in life are the ones that you don’t antic­i­pate. I knew that I was going to ‘expe­ri­ence a new cul­ture’, but I had no idea how much it would warm my heart and how impor­tant and enrich­ing it would be for all of us collectively.

Kulo Malu­lap (thank you) for reading!

Link for more pictures:


Reflecting on Quito, Ecuador


It has been nearly nine months since I was in Quito, which has given me a good amount of time to reflect on the qual­i­ties of the city that I found to be the most influ­en­tial to me.


One of the first things that I noticed about Quito was just how expan­sive it was.  It really seemed to never end, no mat­ter how far you trav­elled through it.  Houses and build­ings were spread both through the val­leys and high up onto the peaks of the moun­tains sur­round­ing the city, and in this respect it was unlike any place I have been before.


The sec­ond thing that really struck me about Quito was all of the amaz­ing murals and beau­ti­ful graf­fiti around the city.  A lot of the art found along the streets really seemed to con­tain mean­ing and reflected the col­or­ful culture.


I also really enjoyed a lot of the older archi­tec­ture found through­out the city. With mixed his­tor­i­cal influ­ences, the old build­ings such as churches and the square in front of the president’s house were full of life.


The final thing that really impressed me with Quito was the over­all busi­ness of the city. Peo­ple were always hard at work, whether in the fruit mar­ket or in the shops and restau­rants in the square that we fre­quented.  How­ever busy they may have been, they still always greeted us with hos­pi­tal­ity and friend­li­ness that I will always appre­ci­ate and remem­ber.  I also found enjoy­ment in the way that the city was both famil­iar to me, with cute lit­tle cof­fee shops and some famil­iar brands, yet main­tain­ing many qual­i­ties dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent from what I know.

Oh, and the deli­cious food and juices.. can’t for­get those!

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Oh Ecuador, I Miss You!

I am finally set­tled back in at home after the long trip back from Ecuador.  Hav­ing had a lit­tle bit of time to recu­per­ate from jet-lag and to rest (I came down with a bad flu at the end of the sem­i­nar), I have finally had time to process and inter­nal­ize the sig­nif­i­cance of many of the amaz­ing expe­ri­ences that I had over the last month.  In order to keep this some­what short-winded, I have decided to just go ahead make a list of all of my favorite things about the coun­try and the trip…


1. The peo­ple.  Every­one that we met along our trav­els through Ecuador were just beau­ti­ful.  Every time we arrived in a new loca­tion re wel­comed by a smil­ing face, whether it be the owner of the hostal that we stayed at or our guide San­dra in the Gala­pa­gos. The peo­ple of Ecuador made us feel com­fort­able and were more than happy to share their knowl­edge with us.

2. The peo­ple (again).  I have to admit that I was a lit­tle ner­vous when I departed about liv­ing with 13 other peo­ple for a month that I didn’t know.  How­ever, I should not have been what­so­ever, because I would now con­sider every sin­gle per­son that I trav­eled with a friend.  We all made great mem­o­ries together, and enjoyed every sec­ond of it.

3.  The vari­ety.  Ecuador is an amaz­ing coun­try in the fact that it con­tains so many dif­fer­ent cli­mates and envi­ron­ments in such a small area.  We were able to travel from the bustling city Quito, perched high in the Andes, to the cloud for­est, the Ama­zon basin, a vol­cano, and the Gala­pa­gos Islands with the max­i­mum travel time to any one place at 6 hours.  The scenery changes so dras­ti­cally, and there is always some­thing beau­ti­ful to look at and admire wher­ever you go.


4.  The food.  The seafood in Ecuador is deli­cious.  We were lucky enough to get to go fish­ing with local fish­er­man in the Gala­pa­gos Islands, and it was really excit­ing because it was some­thing that many of us had not got­ten to expe­ri­ence before (we caught a tuna and ate it on the boat).  There are also many deli­cious juices served daily with break­fast and lunch (guava, papaya, pas­sion fruit, tree tomato), and the plan­tains… I could eat them for days!


5. The bio­di­ver­sity.  Many places in the coun­try are con­sid­ered bio­log­i­cal “hot spots”, and when you get there it is imme­di­ately appar­ent why.  Some of them con­tained plants and flow­ers in such vari­ety that it was like you would see some­thing new every­where you looked (espe­cially in the cloud for­est, where there would be flow­ers lay­ered all the way up through the canopy, with the orchids being a per­sonal favorite of mine).  On the main­land we saw so many dif­fer­ent ani­mals; mon­keys, par­rots, owls and other birds, igua­nas, lizards, but­ter­flies, and a very hand­some taran­tula.  The Gala­pa­gos were espe­cially spec­tac­u­lar with their endemic plants and unique ani­mals and the marine life.  We saw giant tor­toises, hawks, marine igua­nas, land igua­nas, very friendly sea lions, pen­guins, blue-footed boo­bies, sea tur­tles, and of course finches.  The fish were beau­ti­ful (espe­cially the reef fish), and the group even got to snorkel with sharks and sting rays!

6. The ‘adven­ture’.  This trip really forced me to con­front all of my fears, and allowed me to dis­cover what I am capa­ble of as an indi­vid­ual.  Whether it be con­fronting my fear of heights while I am walk­ing over 100 feet up in the air through the canopy at Tucanopy, to just step­ping out of my com­fort zone here at home to travel inter­na­tion­ally for the first time, I dis­cov­ered that there are so many expe­ri­ences wait­ing to be had if I just push myself a lit­tle bit fur­ther.  Every sin­gle day that we were on our trip we would set­tle in for the evening or go to bed at night say­ing some­thing along the lines of “I can’t believe I just got to do that.…!”.  To me, that means that this explo­ration sem­i­nar was more than an edu­ca­tional expe­ri­ence; it changed the way that we per­ceive the world, our­selves, and our environment.


Over­all, I can say that I am so thank­ful that I got this oppor­tu­nity, because it has really truly enriched my life.


I am offi­cially halfway through the explo­ration sem­i­nar and I can hon­estly say that it has been the best edu­ca­tional expe­ri­ence of my life.  In just two weeks we have hiked to over 15,500 feet on the active vol­cano Cotopaxi, we have toured Quito (which has an amaz­ing his­tor­i­cal cen­ter), and we have taken GPS data points to help an organic farmer map his farm.  We have also trav­elled to the cloud for­est, where we learned more about organic farm­ing and the phys­i­cal demands of hik­ing through such dense veg­e­ta­tion (sting­ing plants and big spi­ders!).  Over the last cou­ple of days we have been near Lago Agrio in the Ama­zon basin, where we took water sam­ples for the local com­mu­nity which has been plagued for years by the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of oil exploitation.

I can­not wait to see what the next two weeks of the trip on the Galá­pa­gos Islands show us, since every­thing this far has really allowed us all to grow not only as stu­dents but as individuals.


I only have five days left until I fly off to Ecuador, and I am SO EXCITED! As the time to leave gets nearer the real­ity of the fact that I actu­ally get to go on this trip is set­ting in, and I am just full of antic­i­pa­tion. Although I do have to admit that I am deal­ing with a slight case of pre-travel nerves, they are gen­er­ally lim­ited to mak­ing sure that I am pre­pared as far as sup­plies and pack­ing goes (pack­ing clothes for a month in vary­ing cli­mates is a task for a ser­ial over-packer such as myself). How­ever, the fact that the study abroad process has been such a breeze and has offered so much sup­port has allowed me to elim­i­nate a lot of wor­ries that could have accom­pa­nied trav­el­ing around the world, because in no other cir­cum­stances would I feel this safe and secure trav­el­ing so far away from home for the first time! I am so grate­ful to have this oppor­tu­nity, and I am count­ing down the days until I get to set off on this adven­ture.