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GLOBAL ISSUES IN LANGUAGE
EDUCATION NEWSLETTER
September 2006 - Issue No. #62 (p. 10 - 13)
Other articles from this issue:

Issue#62

Taking Students on an s
Overseas Eco-Tour

Part II: Eco-tour to Indonesia (2005)

See also Part I: Setting up the tour

by Jonathan Lynch (Azabu University, Japan)

In the first part of this two-article series, the potential for using an eco-tour to build a study abroad program was examined and some of the steps required to set up an eco-tour were described. In this second part, an eco-tour undertaken by students at Azabu University in 2005 is described as an example of such a program, with the aim of encouraging educators and students at other institutions to initiate their own programs.

The Institution and Students

Azabu University is a relatively small university, traditionally known for its Department of Veterinary Medicine. The newer Faculty of Environmental Health attracts many students interested in learning about a wide range of environmental issues and the students who attended this tour came from the Department of Environmental Policy within this faculty.

The tour formed the core for the “Senmon Zemi” (specialised seminar course) for these students, an elective course for small groups of third year students. When choosing this course, students are aware that participation in the study tour is required and that the medium of study will be in English. In 2005, nine students were recruited for the course; five female and four male.

The Course and Tour

The goal of the seminar was to use English as a medium to study a particular environmental problem in depth. Coral reefs were chosen as a particularly interesting ecosystem to study, and one facing problems as a result of both local human activities (example: dynamite fishing) and global threats (example: bleaching due to global warming).

During the first semester we covered the basics of coral reef ecology; what are coral reefs, how they are formed, how they feed and reproduce and how other life forms are supported in and around the reef. The study tour itself was scheduled in September during the summer vacation, and preparation for this trip also formed a major part of the first semester’s activities. The study tour involved examining at firsthand the ecology of coral reefs, learning how to make a rapid assessment of the health of the reef, finding out the causes of any damage observed and what rehabilitation steps (if any) were being taken to repair damaged reefs. The Japanese participants undertook these activities in cooperation with local Indonesian university students, and therefore team-building and cross-cultural communication were crucial for the success of the tour. In addition to learning about the ecology of coral reefs and the environmental problems facing them, participants obviously had a chance to develop their English communication skills and also learn about a culture very different to their own.

Location

Our tour coordinator, Stefan Ottomanski, choose Bunaken Marine National Park as a suitable location for the program. Located at the North East tip of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, Bunaken National Park consists of a number of small islands and also part of the mainland coast and is well known amongst the diving community for its spectacular reefs and sea life. We stayed on the main island, Bunaken, in the small village of Tanjun Parigi.

A friendly local community welcomed the students to do a homestay (a major part of the program), in which Japanese students were paired off with their Indonesian counterparts to live together with a family in the local village. It is important to note that this was also a homestay for the Indonesia students, most of whom came from mainland Sulawesi and were making their first visit to a small coastal community.

Staff

Stefan had arranged the staff on our behalf and they included (of course) himself, Dennie Mamonto and Frangky Runtulahu (both coordinators for local marine conservation NGO, ASPICIA), Frets Pieter (community organiser and NGO coordinator), Salha Alban and Sofia Johari from the Borneo Marine Research Institute and Mai Anzai, a graduate student from Azabu University. Together the staff members brought a wealth of experience in coral reef ecology and the environmental problems facing this ecosystem. Staff also participated in the homestay program and were thus based in Tanjun Parigi with the students.

Program Activities

The activities which made up the program can be divided into a number of categories:

1. Training

A coral reef is a dangerous place to study and, as safety is of paramount importance, a whole morning session was given to training in snorkelling techniques, organizing a buddy-pair system and basic safety reminders when snorkelling over the reef. For students who lacked confidence in the water, especially when snorkelling over the steep reef drop-off, extra one-on-one tuition was scheduled on subsequent days. For this group, any initial problems with technique or confidence were quickly overcome, although it was necessary to provide constant reminders to stay together with buddy pairs, especially with the male students who would often swim off alone to follow fish or examine other areas without warning.

2. Coral Ecology

Using clipboards and worksheets pre-printed on waterproof paper, students undertook a range of activities to gain a greater understanding of the coral reef ecosystem. These included observations of the various zones of a typical reef, the abundance of the various types of corals, the different substrates, the variety of fish and other marine organisms that make their home on the coral reef and also a study of their behaviour and interactions with the reef and each other. These activities did not finish in the water, however. Each one was followed up on the beach with instruction, discussions, learning games and quizzes to reinforce and deepen our understanding of the ecosystem. Book work involved students cooperating to find information from a small but well-stocked portable library of well known coral reef publications1.

3. Reef Damage and Rehabilitation

The program was arranged to ensure that a variety of locations were observed, from pristine areas to reefs with almost all the coral cover destroyed and a range of different conditions between these two extremes. Students learned how to make a rapid assessment of the reef’s condition based on observations and also learned how to make an educated guess as to the causes of damage observed. Our knowledgeable local NGO staff were in most cases able to confirm whether these guesses were correct or not and complete the story regarding the state of the reefs that we were looking at.

Bunaken National Park is pioneering some methods at rehabilitation and students were able to observe at first hand a new kind of artificial reef constructed of ceramic material in a “snowflake” design and fixed to the substrate in damaged areas at various locations around Bunaken Island and nearby Manado Tua Island. Previous tours arranged by Stefan at other locations have enabled participants to participate in the rehabilitation process by transplanting coral fragments from coral nurseries to artificial reef structures. Whilst this was unfortunately not possible during this tour, the students were able to duck dive to the shallower artificial reefs and note the progress of coral recruitment for themselves.

4. On-shore activities

With the Japanese participants majoring in Environmental Policy, it was natural that the group would have some activities scheduled that would to help to explain the government policies that helped set up Bunaken National Park and the policies that serve to protect the coral reefs whilst also maintaining the livelihoods of the local people. In fact, just entering the National Park is a lesson in policy as all visitors are required to pay a park entrance fee, a large proportion of which is diverted to conservation activities. We were able to learn more about this system directly from park officials and local NGO members, and see for ourselves some of the results of the projects funded by this system. We also learned about the zones which are demarked around the island, with access to each zone restricted by user-activity.

5. Homestay and Communication
The homestay provided an ongoing lesson in culture and communication. Just by living with a local family, students discovered for themselves the differences (and similarities!) in culture and lifestyle between Indonesia and Japan. Given that most of the homestay families spoke very little English, the decision to have Japanese and Indonesian participants do homestays in pairs helped communication to be established much more effectively, although Japanese students also developed their own approaches by learning some basic Indonesian or simply by helping around the house. For some students the homestay extended beyond the home and they accompanied family members to work and were able to find out how livelihoods are maintained in a village such as Tanjun Parigi. Perhaps inevitably, food played a major role in the discovery of Indonesian culture and students were enthusiastic to learn how Indonesian dishes were cooked and even helped to cook themselves. In return, towards the end of the trip the Japanese members cooked a Japanese meal and served it to their homestay families and Indonesian students. On the final day of the program the Japanese and Indonesian students were put into two groups and required to prepare, rehearse and put on a play displaying some aspects of their respective cultures. Given a free reign as to the contents, both groups were able to come with amazingly imaginative skits, some being highly amusing and entertaining for the homestay families who had so graciously hosted them for the two weeks.

The homestay provided an ongoing lesson in culture and communication. Just by living with a local family, students discovered for themselves the differences (and similarities!) in culture and lifestyle between Indonesia and Japan. Given that most of the homestay families spoke very little English, the decision to have Japanese and Indonesian participants do homestays in pairs helped communication to be established much more effectively, although Japanese students also developed their own approaches by learning some basic Indonesian or simply by helping around the house. For some students the homestay extended beyond the home and they accompanied family members to work and were able to find out how livelihoods are maintained in a village such as Tanjun Parigi.

Perhaps inevitably, food played a major role in the discovery of Indonesian culture and students were enthusiastic to learn how Indonesian dishes were cooked and even helped to cook themselves. In return, towards the end of the trip the Japanese members cooked a Japanese meal and served it to their homestay families and Indonesian students.

On the final day of the program the Japanese and Indonesian students were put into two groups and required to prepare, rehearse and put on a play displaying some aspects of their respective cultures. Given a free reign as to the contents, both groups were able to come with amazingly imaginative skits, some being highly amusing and entertaining for the homestay families who had so graciously hosted them for the two weeks.

Output

During the tour, students had a variety of activity worksheets to complete. They were also encouraged to keep a diary and required to gather information for a report to be completed on their return to Japan. They chose the topic for this report themselves, based on anything that caught their interest during the tour or that they most wanted to communicate to people back home. The reports the students produced included: Indonesian Food, A Snorkelling Diary, Lifestyle Differences, Water Use (water shortages are a problem on Bunaken Island), Marine National Park Administration and Children’s Lifestyles on Bunaken Island.

Problems

Any trip of this type will encounter some problems and it is always useful to discuss these in hindsight. Thankfully all the problems that arose during this particular program were minor but the following list serves to illustrate the kinds of different problems that the staff had to deal with.

1. Health:

Minor health problems such as cuts, blisters and colds.

2. Tiredness:

Daily snorkelling under the equatorial sun can prove exhausting. Students were told from the start that if they did feel they had reached their limit they were most certainly allowed to take a day off from activities at any time.

3. Study-related problems:

Studying in the field in a language other than one’s native tongue is evidently quite demanding. It is possible that some students might feel they are not adequately absorbing all the information or are falling behind their friends. Our approach to this potential problem was to schedule daily “wrap-up” sessions in the evenings after dinner. We would all meet and do follow-up work on the day’s activities in a fun and relaxed setting. One regular activity was to put students into smaller groups and encourage each member to think up a question based on our field work during the day with the key phrase being “There are no stupid questions!” Other members would then discuss the question and finally report back to the whole team.

3. Personality conflicts:

Thankfully this did not prove to be a problem but the potential is obviously there in a large group. The staff for this program decided to take an open approach from the start and encouraged students to find their own practical solutions to such problems. One idea that we suggested was, if there was someone who you did not particularly like, just always to be polite but to try to avoid them! Students were advised to get a friend to let the staff know about it and then, when smaller groups were made for a particular activity, we could avoid putting together people who might rub each other up the wrong way. Small steps such as this seemed to go a long way to preventing major fall outs.

4. Language and communication problems:

The great thing about doing a tour in Asia is that, generally, groups from different countries will have similar levels of English. Obviously there will be some variation in ability within the group but we repeatedly observed Japanese students who had previously seemed shy to use English in Japan communicating very effectively in English with their Indonesian counterparts. Nevertheless, a small minority of students may have problems in this area and again, practical steps were advised. One good idea was to bring some copies of the “Tabi No Yubi Sashi Kaiwa Chou” phrasebook2 for Indonesia. These are very visual phrasebooks where you can literally point at things in the book and get a conversation going. They are great fun to use and helped some of the more reticent students to find out that communication is something to enjoy and have fun with.

5. Romance:

A somewhat delicate topic but one which must be discussed nevertheless! Put any group of lively young men and women together, mix in an exotic setting far from home and the scene is set for liaisons to be formed which could cause problems within the group or, perhaps even worse, from parents back home. The approach we adopted was to bring this topic into the open from the start with the official line being that whilst we of course encouraged making friends, boyfriend-girlfriend type relationships were most certainly not on the agenda for this trip. Making it an openly discussed topic from the start seemed to have the desired effect and perhaps even helped students of the opposite sex to relax more in each other’s company.

Conclusion

Overall, the tour was a great success. As part of the seminar course, it proved to be a great motivator, for lessons both before and after the trip. The fall semester lessons were based on specific topics we had learnt about during our trip and students seemed very pleased to be able to reminisce about the trip week in week out and study these topics in more detail.

Communication amongst the students continued well beyond the end of the program and still continues to this day. The Japanese students and Indonesian students became friends and frequently contact each other by email, mobile phone text messages or else chat online using a service such as MSN messenger.

The Japanese students decided to put on a small exhibition of their tour at the school festival in November, raising awareness amongst a larger audience about the threats facing coral reefs and solutions being implemented. They even demonstrated their knowledge of Indonesian food culture by cooking and selling some Indonesian dishes as part of the exhibition.

The tour as whole added a new dimension to a course of study that might have otherwise proved to be a monotonous series of lessons based on a textbook or worksheets. The students themselves confirmed that participation in the tour has been one of their most memorable life experiences and the educational benefits in terms of knowledge gained, horizons broadened and improved communication skills are evident.

Could an eco-tour benefit your students? There’s only one way to find out.

Links:

Photos from the 2005 tour may be viewed at: http://www.ottomanski.com/480t/programs/kinabatangan.html More information about Stefan Ottomanski’s programs may be viewed at: http://www.ottomanski.com/480t/programs/myprograms.html

References:

1. Ryan, P. (1994). The Snorkeler’s Guide to the Coral Reef. University of Hawaii Press.
Debelius, H. (2001). Asia Pacific Reef Guide. Ikan. Frankfurt.
Allen, G. (1997). Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South East Asia. Western Australian Museum. Perth.
Gosliner, T. (1996). Coral Reef Animals of the Indo-Pacific. Sea Challengers. Monterey.

2. Takebe, Y. (1998). Tabi No Yubi Sashi Kaiwa Chou (2: Indonesia). Joho Center. Tokyo.

Jonathan Lynch Azabu University, Department of Environmental Science, 1-17-71 Fuchinobe, Sagamihara City, Kanagawa, Japan 229-8501

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