A life-changing experience comes to an end.

I have completed the Freeman Asia internship. It was a truly life-changing experience for me. I have had many adventures, met many new people, tried new foods, and learned new things. This internship has made me a better person. I am more well-rounded. 

I knew my life was a privilege, but living in rural areas and doing research in a country that is very different from the US, was a potent reminder of that. 

It was very sad to leave all the friends we made. I felt very sad especially when our guide, Ma’am C, had to leave us in Palawan. The last day was a bag of mixed emotions since we were happy to come home but sad to leave this wonderful experience. I will probably not see the Food and Nutrition Research Institute for a very long time. I do plan to come back, however.

Here is what I have to say overall. Filipinos are extremely hard working. Everyone is committed to their work and often works extra hours. Especially the field researchers and medical technologists. Everyone is very happy. No matter the circumstance, I haven’t met one person who appeared down. Even the locals didn’t have much food or water. Everyone is extremely nice, friendly, and hospitable, and treats you like family. 

Currently, I am in Doha airport on a 9-hour-long layover. Saying goodbye is hard, but that means I’ll say hello again one day.

Week 8 – Tiny Update

The beginning of this week was great. On Monday, we went to San Pablo City to see Madelyn’s friends from her mission trip in 2019. We continued to do statistical analyses of the surveys taken during our fieldwork. We are currently working on our end-of-internship presentations.

The statistical analyses were great. I think it topped off the work I did. I attended presentations, did field work, did office work, attended a seminar, did lab work, and finally did statistical analyses. It felt great to play a part in all the steps FNRI goes through starting from data collection to data output. I think the only thing where we didn’t play a part is the final data output to barangay captains or mayors. That is the final step FNRI does to combat food insecurity.

Today, there was also an earthquake 45 kilometers away from Vigan City, Ilocos Sur. We are about 428km away from there, or 7 1/2 hours away. However, I could still feel it all the way from Manila. I felt a wobbly sensation, and I didn’t know whether it was the ground moving or if my brain was acting weird. I asked if people felt that the ground was shaking but everyone said no. However, 10 minutes later it was announced there indeed was an earthquake. I must have some strong senses.

Week 7 & 8 – Palawan Excursion

We went on a short vacation to Palawan from Thursday to Sunday. It was a lot of fun. We went surfing with whale sharks, snorkeling, and island hopping. The whale sharks were surreal and it was so cool swimming so close to such a big animal. Snorkeling and island hopping were also fun. The islands were extremely pretty. El Nido is a hidden gem, with beauty like the Maldives but at a fraction of the price. We were extremely tired after island hopping and slept for 16 hours after.

We went to Puerto Princesa for our fieldwork. We stayed in a tiny hotel the whole time. It was similar to our first excursion where we took measurements, bloodwork, and surveys. The only difference was that we didn’t stay in the Barangay hall like last time. We met the Barangay captain and had dinner with him on the last day. At the end of each day, we also did activities like biking.

On the last day, we took our field supervisor, Ma’am C, to the Puerto Princesa Underground Cave, a giant cave system filled with bats that extends for miles. We could only go about halfway through the cave. We topped the day off with ziplining.

We had to say bye to Ma’am C, which was super sad. She was so nice and always made sure we were ok, especially me. We spent most of our time with her on the last field excursion and this excursion as well. All of us are super close with her and it’s sad that we won’t see her for a while. We flew back to Manila and have work on Tuesday.

I have to say that we did more exploring during this trip than on the previous excursion. How could we not, though? Palawan is so pretty.

It is dawning on me that the internship is slowly coming to an end.

Week 6

This week, we did a lot of lab work in the office.

We shadowed medical technologists and observed how to do analyses of iron, vitamin A, and iodine levels in blood serum. We did high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to do this. HPLC is a technique in chemistry used to separate, identify, and quantify each component in a mixture. For iodine, we had to run 18 test tubes and rapidly switch them out when putting the solution in them, or when putting them in the centrifuge. It was like a puzzle.

We normally talked with the team after our time in the lab which was informative.

We started going to work earlier at 7. We are required to stay for 9 hours, so if we go to work at 7 we stay til 4. We typically used to stay from 8 to 5.

I am currently in Palawan, a very pretty province in the Philippines, today and will be staying till Saturday. We are doing field work on Monday, so we were able to go a couple days early for vacation. We are in Puerto Princesa and will be going to El Nido tomorrow. Both of these are vacation spots. We are going to swim with whale sharks, go snorkeling, and island hopping.

This week was super interesting because I really wanted to do lab work, which will help me grow my skills as a researcher. Doing lab work was very engaging. I really liked how we got a bunch of different experiences overall such as doing office work, attending a seminar, doing fieldwork, and doing lab work. This variety of experiences makes this feel like a truly great internship. It was tough at first, but it was all worth it.

More about my Palawan excursion to come!

Week 5 – Food Validation, Spot Checking, & Seminar Series

This week we continued our office work. We continued food validation and we started something new called spot-checking. This is to ensure that the surveys match the list of foods each household eats. If there is a mistake, we note it on the sheet. I really liked doing this office work. Before the excursion, we only had to view presentations that informed us of the surveys and gave us information on what we will do on the rural excursions. Now, I got to act as though I work at FNRI which was great. It felt like I had done good work since I collected data in the field, and am now going through it for errors.

On July 7-8 we attended the FNRI Seminar Series. It is a 2-day seminar in which FNRI presents their data from the last year. It was at the Manila hotel, and we got to see lots of cool posters and presentations. It included data on food insecurity, how different populations can be impacted differently (e.g how growth is delayed in children who don’t eat protein), and plans devised to combat it. We stayed the night at the Manila hotel and went to the pool which was fun. We got catered some delicious food as well!

I felt super accomplished after the seminar series. Even though I didn’t contribute to any of the data presented, I worked hard and got to attend the event where I witnessed the fruits of my labor.

One notable thing that happened this week is one of the interns I came here with got an infection and had to get care fairly quickly. She struggled to find a doctor that could treat her. She walked to a clinic that couldn’t take anyone, called another clinic that turned out to be a pet shop, and finally went to a pharmacy that directed them to a medical hospital. When she went to the medical hospital, they said she would need to come back tomorrow to see a surgeon. Finally, she asked the nurse there where she could be seen that day, to which the nurse told her about Makati medical center. Finally, after getting there she got treated. The total cost was $120 and it was a very short wait. This is because only a few people can afford proper healthcare here. While it was not me who went through the experience, it was also humbling and made me realize my privilege.

Week 4 – Concluding our First Excursion and Going Home

This week, we had our last excursion in Tagudin, Illocus Sur, and went home on Friday night. We did the same tasks such as interviewing locals with the expanded national nutrition survey (ENNS), taking measurements, and inputting data. This barangay was especially fun because I actually got to interview a local myself instead of just shadowing. On our last day, we hung out with all of the teams at the beach, went swimming, and ate dinner with the mayor. We also went boating. At 11:30 pm, we took a bus to Manila.

It was extremely hot in our room in Tagudin, and the A/C felt heavenly when we got back. We had two days to relax before work on Monday. On Saturday we went to the pool and just relaxed for a bit. On Sunday, we went to the Mall of Asia. It was very big and looked like a mall in the US.

Our living conditions were highly variable on this field excursion. We first stayed at a hotel which was very nice, but after that, we stayed in daycare centers with no AC, sleeping bags, and bucket showers. It was a great, humbling experience. On one of the first days, we had a power outage for the whole day with no running water. I saw this trip as an opportunity to live in the shoes of people less fortunate than me. 

On Monday, we started working on our presentation where we described our work on the rural excursions. We also did some food validation which is the evaluation that provides evidence that food went through a particular process (cooking, frying, etc.)

Overall, the rural excursion was a blast. I think it felt like a leap of faith. I didn’t know what to expect, but I had a great time taking in a new culture, and distinct cultural perspectives. It was great trying new food, customs, traditions, and social atmospheres. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to witness a completely new way of life.

Week 3 – Surveying and Traveling

This week, we went on several rural excursions.

We first went to San Jose where we got settled and basically toured the city. After that, we had our first actual deployment to Danuman West, Santa Maria. At every location, we stay at a “Barangay Hall”. A “Barangay” is the most minor administrative division in the Phillippines typically overlooking a village. The hall always has a basketball court with a large roof covering it. We shadowed researchers and medical technicians as they interviewed locals to assess food insecurity. The survey they used was the “Expanded National Nutrition Survey”. It consists of several sections assessing the food people eat, and their living conditions.

Our next stop was Biao, Santa Maria, a few minutes away. Over here we didn’t have good cell service, we only got somewhat good cell service near the beach, but not near where we stayed. It was a good experience though. We had so much fun with our coworkers and the locals. Immersing myself in their living style and culture was transformative. Living without wifi was not bad at all because there was always something to do. We did the same surveys, and also took measurements of people like their height and weight. Our adventures were fun, there are so many stray animals like dogs and cats. I love cats a lot and playing with stray cats is fun. We went to the top of a beautiful waterfall where we could see the river below.

Caburao, Santiago was our next stop. We did the same tasks such as surveying and taking measurements. Of course, meeting locals was the highlight of my trip. However, a notable second was that I found a purple dragonfruit. It was exhilarating. I only see white dragon fruits in the US. It was super pretty.

I am currently in Cabugbugan, Tagudin. Yesterday, to get to the Barangay we had to cross a river using a boat made of bamboo. That was an experience. Our surveying and measuring were the same. I enjoyed talking with the locals again. Some of them are super interesting. Notably, two of them had family members working in Qatar which I thought was cool.

One night when we were finished surveying homes, we went to the beach and played with over 20 children who lived nearby. It was so much fun. One thing that saddens me is the happy faces of all these children hiding the fact that they often don’t know the next time they will get food. Many of them were thirsty, and when asked if they could get water regularly, they said no. 

Overall, I loved living in rural areas. It was very nice to be in communion with nature all the time. There were very few buildings and most of them were not very modern. The beauty was amazing and going on walks with our team was great. There was a strong sense of community and a more relaxed environment compared to the U.S.

Weeks 1 and 2 – Getting Oriented and First Excursion

Here I begin my adventure – an internship in the Philippines. Just to give a brief background, I will be working at the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI). I will be doing fieldwork to assess food insecurity in certain communities through data analysis and anthropometric measurements.

We had a 31-hour trip from O’Hare to Manila. A 13-hour flight from O’hare to Doha Airport, a 9-hour layover, and an 8-hour flight from Doha to Manila. During the layover, I explored the airport and it was very pretty. 

Once in Manila, we met with Tito Mon, our coordinator, and ate dinner. If you don’t know I have a gluten allergy. I was very scared of finding gluten-free food but it turned out to not be a big deal. Most restaurants serve rice, vegetables, and meat. The term “gluten-free” is not well known but Filipino food is mostly gluten-free. Most times I eat rice and some meat like chicken, beef, or pork. 

We had our orientation at the University of the Philippines – Los Banos for two days. It was a city, about a two-hour drive away from Manila. We had a crash course on Filipino culture, and Tagalog, the language spoken by Filipinos. On our last day at orientation, we had dinner and everyone started to leave. First, the interns at Cabrini left, then the interns at IRRI left. The interns at FNRI (us) left last. 

We live at Siena Park residences, a nice condo with a swimming pool. We went out to buy groceries and a wifi box. After that, we settled and rested for a bit. 

Our first few days of work were a bit of an adjustment, to say the least, but we got through it. We had two full days of work from 8-5 then on the third day we left early at 12. The day after we had our first excursion, we left at 10 pm by bus and arrived at Candon, Ilocos Sur, the city and province we started our fieldwork at 6 am. The city and province are largely rural.

The weather in the Philippines is very hot. It is crazy to think about home much time people spend in the heat. Many people in the Philippines work in farming and construction. Most of them don’t return to an air-conditioned room. 

Our job in the internship is to collect data in rural communities to assess food insecurity in the Philippines, analyze the data, and come up with plans to combat it. On our first day of fieldwork, we set up data collection at a barangay hall. A barangay hall is the center of each town in the Philippines. Most of them, if not all, have a basketball court. Basketball is very popular here.

I am very lucky to have gotten this internship. I think that a rapid and major difference in the way I live will make me a better person. A change in my environment will change the way I see that world. The biggest problems for me have been my dietary restrictions, getting accustomed to the heat, and being in rural areas. However, I haven’t met one person that isn’t nice. Everyone is very nice, joyful, and hospitable. Knowing that there are people who want to help makes this new environment so much easier to navigate. I think in the U.S people tend to be self-sufficient and keep to themselves, but exposure to a community where people want to help others is good for me.

We had a great first day touring the town. On the second day, we shadowed medical technologists while they conducted surveys on some households in underprivileged communities. We also learned how to take blood pressure and take measurements. It was very interesting to see and learn about. I can’t wait to do this in the field. Today, we toured Vigan, Ilocos Sur. It had a lot of Spanish-style buildings presumably due to Spanish colonialism in the past. 

I’m Interning Abroad – Freeman Asia 2022

Hello Everyone!

I am studying abroad in the Philippines. I will be working in FNRI’s Nutrition and Monitoring Division, and post a blog update weekly starting June 11.

Thank you to IWU for this incredible opportunity.

Hello world!

Welcome to another Blog at Illinois Wesleyan. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!