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.