Final week, with surprises

Hello everyone! I’ve actually been back home for a few days, but I would like to provide an overview of my final week in the Philippines.

Last week, I finalized my internship report with other interns at FNRI. I created a powerpoint with some of my favorite photos, and an overview of my internship. I was impressed by everything I completed this summer, and I have learned quite a bit. I hope I can make meaningful contributions in my academics and my last two years of college as a result of my internship.

Last week I briefly mentioned a surprise which occurred last week. Jessica and I arrived at FNRI before 8 am, though our productive morning was interrupted. An earthquake in northern Luzon occurred at about 8:17am affecting some other countries, but this was one of the worst earthquakes in several decades. I only noticed my chair shifting, I wasn’t sure if I was dizzy or just disoriented. It was not just me, Jessica was also confused but our coworkers let us know that there was actually an earthquake. Everyone was safe, which is incredibly relieving to know.

Besides from the earthquake last week, I presented an internship report on Friday since Thursday was a rest day. My colleagues made me feel like family, and comfortable to complete new tasks. I didn’t go on many adventures alone in the Philippines, but I enjoyed getting coffee with Dars last Thursday (or Wednesday evening?). Completing this internship has been stressful and it was difficult to live somewhere new, but going home was hard. I definitely want to go back to the Philippines, and gain new experiences. Living in a gated housing complex made me feel sheltered from some aspects of living in the Philippines, and there’s only so much I can experience in eight weeks.

Traveling abroad is incredible, and it’s affecting me in more positive ways than I currently realize. As a side note, I want to find some photos for this blog, which will hopefully be uploaded in the next few days or in my next post.

Week 7

Hello everyone! Next week I’ll be back in Illinois, which means this week is my final week in the Philippines. This week will include some small adventures, random walks to SM Bicutan, packing, and completing my internship – plus some surprising moments to share in my next blog. It’s so weird how some peers will study abroad this fall, and I’ll spending my time in Bloomington. Instead of elaborating on the end of my internship, here are some wholesome moments from the past few weeks.

  • colleagues gifting juice, corn, avocados, and marang
  • strangers helping my peers and I navigate jeeps (I’m very glad I didn’t get lost anywhere)
  • colleagues greeting me daily, many of whom work in different sections of FNRI
  • swimming in the ocean with fish I’ve never seen in person before
  • sister sending me cat photos, and kind texts from other family members
  • using a DSLR camera at work (I haven’t even used the DSLR back home I invested in yet) and taking some cool photos
  • Sir VJ driving me to SM Bicutan after work (twice)
  • going to The Bang Cafe in Rizal (works with healthcare facilities and community members, community advocacy)

Photography is an incredibly special art form to me. It’s a privilege for me to capture moments of joy or beautiful scenery. Although I may not always own the photos, the images will allow individuals to reflect on beautiful things. Also, marang is a fruit similar to durian and jackfruit. It’s kind of sweet and slightly savory, though the smell is less distinct than durian. I enjoyed tasting some marang at work a few weeks ago.

Though some small projects are being completed before my internship ends, last Tuesday I joined ma’am Celina and Josie on a morning trip to Marcelo Village in Paranaque. The morning trip served as a work function to go over safe food handling, general food safety, good manufacturing practices (GMP), and a workshop for staff.

Staff at product facility in Marcelo Village, I took this photo

Last week included some rest days, but on Saturday Sir Dars, Jessica, and I traveled to Calatagan, Batangas. Around noon we took two jeeps to Pasay for 39 pesos, then a DLTB bus for 277 pesos – about 7 USD for 6 hours of traveling. Planning ahead is really important in the Philippines, though I tend to be quite stubborn at times. Though we left late in the day, we strolled on the beach front of the resort and rested in our room. On Sunday, I swam a lot and got sunburned (though my skin is doing well considering).

More specifically, Sir Dars, Jessica, and I saw the sun rise on Sunday. After the sunrise, we enjoyed the beach and breakfast. We weren’t sure if we wanted an official boat tour or explore local areas on our own. So, after a moderately stressful conversation considering our options, we went on a boat ride to go swimming in the ocean (technically not snorkeling, but extremely fun). I was relieved to see fish since I saw trash in the water before reaching the swimming area. Some trash aside, the water was very salty and incredibly beautiful.

Updates in the next week!

Week 6

Hello everyone! This past week was my sixth week in the Philippines, and now I’m falling into my last two weeks here.

More on waterfalls later, though I haven’t offered many descriptions of work tasks in the Philippines. A few weeks ago, I familiarized myself with iTrain – a training website for professionals and registered users. iTrain helps FNRI fulfill its mission of disseminating nutrition information to the public. Producing cooking videos is an aspect of iTrain, and several are available on the YouTube channel of DOST-FNRI. By familiarizing myself with iTrain, I started considering the work behind producing the recipe videos.

During middle school, watching cooking videos were quite popular. Time lapses in cooking videos can be quite entertaining, and allow individuals to learn how to produce a particular recipe. However, cooking videos are more complicated than just grabbing a camera and a mixing bowl, along with other miscellaneous cooking utensils. A recipe needs to be chosen by video producers, and the point of view in each segment is important.

So, back to what I actually worked on this past week. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I worked on a few storyboards. You may be wondering what a storyboard is, which makes sense. A storyboard may be created for personal creativity, film projects, or short videos. For a storyboard featuring a recipe, each clip includes the sequence number, shot description, camera angle, and text. For three recipes developed by FNRI, I found stock images to develop a cohesive visual representation of how to successfully cook the recipe. I was glad this project was more creative, though it seemed tedious at times. Each specific step of the recipe is depicted to mitigate any possible confusion from viewers.

Thursday and Friday were spent on running some errands, along with finalizing plans for the weekend. Saturday morning, Jessica and I used a Grab to travel to Antipolo, Rizal. Cloud 9 is a popular destination for visitors due to the amazing 360 views. The only catch is, you need to walk on a 100 meter suspended bridge – without a harness. I seriously considered not doing it, I didn’t know how I could rationalize walking on a suspended bridge at least 50 ft from the ground. I am pleased with my decision, plus Jessica was casually taking photos when I was focused on the stability of the bridge.

Back to waterfalls and nature: Mount Mapalad features a 4-10 km hike which requires a very early hike located in Tanay, Rizal. Since Mt. Mapalad seemed a little too intimidating, Jessica and I explored some waterfalls in Rizal over the weekend instead. Plus, waterfalls are so incredibly peaceful. A fun moment was swimming at Batlag Falls, and resting by the cool rocks.

Week 5

Hello everyone! Here are my adventures from this week, my fifth week in the Philippines. It seems like these next three weeks might fly by. These past five weeks have been filled with many notable moments – too many to include in this blog.

Building on the campus of the University of Saint Thomas, built in 1611, making it one of the oldest universities in the Philippines.

On Wednesday, I presented basic methodology on tracer studies, with applications for DOST-FNRI. I’m so accustomed to presenting with my peers, not for superiors in a work setting. Overall, this was a notable experience reminding me research methods is something I can actually apply as an undergrad. It was also useful to consider the positive outcomes of tracer studies. My presentation was about twenty minutes, even though I still struggled with screen sharing my PowerPoint. I take that as a good sign though, that there are more in-person events to connect with individuals (though it was awkward professionally).

On Thursday and Friday, I attended the 48th DOST-FNRI Seminar Series at the Manila Hotel. Speakers at the seminar discussed nutrition, data from the national nutrition survey, improving nutrition standards, and much more. The topics were based on [making] nutrition a priority in the new normal, as life seems to be less disrupted as covid-19 cases have decreased. One idea that I genuinely agreed with was shared by Mr. Benjamin G. Tantiansu, “prevention is better than [the] cure ( … ), our approach [to nutrition solutions are] comprehensive”. Nutrition is more than wasting, stunting, or weight variations; genetics, lifestyle, access to food products, and behavioral factors. Considering other factors like recurrent infections help explain micronutrient deficiencies as well.

In an earlier talk, recurrent infections and micronutrient deficiencies were described as two barriers to proper nutrition among Filipinos. One solution includes developing coconut based products, rich in iron and other vital nutrients. Another presentation featured MeaLusog, consisting of three forms of instant noodles with protein, fruit, and vegetables especially helpful in times of disaster. Friday also included several interesting discussions, but I repeatedly checked my news on what would unfortunately become the successful assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. As other world leaders have stated, may Shinzo Abe rest in eternal peace.

Besides from attending the seminar series, Jessica and I walked to Rizal Park in the evening. Rizal Park is about a five minute walk from the Manila Hotel, which is extremely accessible to visit. We walked in a Japanese garden with pretty architecture creating a peaceful environment overall. Unsurprisingly, I noticed someone meditating near the pond as well.

I’m really glad I went with Jessica to the National Museum of Natural History, Fine Arts, and Anthropology. The way society develops intrigues me, from the behavior of the individuals to the advancements in technology. I love abstract art with geometric features, it’s appears like the art is breaking away though always leaves the viewer with a message.

I thought of my sister Phyllis, who is currently completing a master’s program related to museum studies. Museums are a nice place to explore and relax, though so much work is needed to complete the exhibits. Though a small action, I took some photos of the text featuring the scientist and curation team behind several exhibits.

Outside the National Museum of Fine Arts, the golden cap in the photo is from Manila City Hall, which reminded me of the old capital building in Iowa City (my sister attended the University of Iowa for undergraduate studies).

Another lovely component of this past week was exploring Rizal with Sir Dars. We explored the National Museum of Fine Arts and Intramuros. I felt appreciative of the architecture at Intramuros, considering how the “Walled City” is dated back to Spanish colonialism, specifically the 1570s. Exploring places like Intramuros makes me feel part of something larger than myself, each individual aspect of Intramuros has a story.

And yes, this week I took the most photos I’ve taken on this trip. Sometimes I feel awkward taking photos, but the photos will be so nice to have in the long run.

Week 4 Adventures

Hello everyone! I’ve officially completed half of my internship, and I’m excited to see how this next month goes.

Here are some highlights from this week:

Earlier in the week, my mom sent a beautiful photo of my cat, Jaeckle (J). I’m very glad J has such a loving family and safe place to sleep (a lot). At work, stray cats sneak in sometimes and I can hear them meow. That or the cats just meow really loudly from outside.

Jaeckle wondering when I’ll get back – in four weeks!

So yes, this past week was eventful. On Monday and Tuesday I worked on an upcoming presentation related to tracer studies. Though tracer studies are quite different from nutritional surveys in the Philippines, data gathered in tracer studies is important.

Read example questions (immediately below) or skip to Wednesday adventures:

How can the job market improve without learning about its weaknesses? What training actually benefits workers? Without tracking graduates of training programs or higher education, the system put in place can not be improved.

On Wednesday, Jessica and I were fortunate enough to join fellow workers of FNRI along several site visits in the Province of Bulacan. Three locations were checked, and took most of the work day. One of the site visits was a surprise check to more accurately determine the quality of the work. Once again, incredible kindness was shown by the workers at the site visits. All of the workers we engaged with were willing to provide information for the site visits. One worker spoke in as much English as possible so Jessica and I understood more of the conversation. At all of the site visits, the workers provided small meals – which definitely contrasts the serious work environment in the US. Site visits included meeting with workers, exchanging information, touring relevant areas, and further conversation during a small meal.

On Saturday, Jessica and I rode a Grab to Mall of Asia (MOA). After we got settled, I was amused by the Chili’s at the mall – I was not expecting it so I was very surprised. Lunch at Genki Sushi was wonderful, even though I kind of burned my tongue on the tempura shrimp. Is it possible to eat too much sushi? It is possible, but tupperware solves everything (and the sushi did not go bad either).

After walking around a lot, we went to Mary Grace – which seems to be a bakery/cafe chain the Philippines. Mary Grace has comfy seats with pretty lights and metallic doves above. Even the table had kind letters strangers have written, for themselves and for other visitors. One letter I noticed detailed the love within a relationship, and the desire to connect again. I love that sort of random kindness – everyone has a story.

After visiting Six Flags in Gurnee, Illinois when I was younger, I’ve realized I’m not a roller coaster fanatic (which disappoints some people). Either way, there are several fun rides at Manila by the Bay. One ride consisted of rising very high in the air, then spinning around and rotating upside down. I’m very glad the engineers are good at their jobs, because I still rationalize how one safety bar protects me when I’m spinning quite fast very high up in the air.

unedited photo – the clouds look like they could’ve been drawn with pastels

After exploring Manila by the Bay a little more, I grabbed some milk tea with boba at 19 Degrees – very aesthetic tea spot at MOA near the ice skating rink. MOA is literally a mini-city.

On Sunday, a change of plans occurred due to shenanigans with buses and jeepneys. I stayed hydrated, bought Pocky’s (chocolate cookie treat), and ventured to the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians. Very calm area with stores in the area, which I imagine get busier after services. The shrine had a very positive atmosphere. I enjoyed seeing so many individuals connecting within a holy space.

Koi fish pond – moments like this are when I enjoy some reflection, but also the conversations I would be able to have with family members.

New blog next week! Then only three weeks left in this internship – so much to do!

Week 3!

Hello everyone! For my third week in the Philippines, I wanted to stay local and plan for upcoming adventures outside of my internship.

Before sharing some thoughts from this week, I want to share another adventure from last week. After going to Pagsanjan falls last Saturday, I swam for a short period of time before preparing for afternoon adventures. One adventure last Saturday was thanks to an invitation from ma’am Cean from FNRI. Cean invited Jessica and I to her brother’s coffee shop, Plaza Cafe. Plaza Cafe is a beautiful cafe with a black and white painting of a mountain. There is also another painting of the gate of Pagsanjan Falls in Plaza Cafe.

Back in the U.S, I love going on coffee adventures with my friends – a tradition of sorts that I want to continue when I return later this summer. At Plaza Cafe, I ordered an iced latte with sugar candy on top. As the sugar candy gradually melted, it sweetened the latte nicely.

This past week has been slow, though these upcoming weeks should gain more traction with events. I enjoy how I’m interacting with my co-workers a little more and becoming more comfortable with my internship. I have also gotten a better sense of the lunch menu, which I’ve learned has really good chicken curry. A few weeks ago, a small mistake was made.

On my first full day at FNRI, I ordered bitter melon. I appreciate certain elements of Filipino meals, though bitter melon is not my favorite (my small mistake).

On Wednesday, I ordered fried chicken and rice for lunch, which was quite tasty even though it’s definitely not the healthiest meal. After Jessica and I found the pantry room after our meal, we talked with a co-worker who showed us a beautiful bento box with homemade sushi. A highlight of my week was being offered some sushi from this co-worker, which I happily accepted. 

During my junior year of high school I needle felted sushi for an art project.

I did laundry upstairs in my condo Wednesday evening, so now I don’t need to pay to get my laundry done. I didn’t think doing laundry would be unsettling, but I made the mistake of doing laundry in the evening. Therefore, I did my laundry in a small space with poor lighting – the laundry room for my residence unit on the roof. Kind of random, but I’ve seen stray cats and dogs in my residence complex too.

On another note, Catholicism is a very common religion in the Philippines and the religion is usually incorporated into daily tasks. Work meetings and work days usually include prayer. There is also a small room of worship in the building my internship is in. I don’t pray at work since I’m not Catholic.

One interesting event occurring in the Philippines this week will be the inauguration of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., with considerable controversy due to the actions of his father, Ferdinand Marcos. “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. will be formally inaugurated as the 17th president of the Philippines on June 30 in Manila. Sara Duterte, the 16th Vice President of the Philippines, has already been sworn in.

In terms of living in America, I’m shocked the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade this past Friday. We need to be adding social services and improving healthcare in America, not dismantling systems that many Americans rely on.

I’m relieved to know some friends back home have been participating in protests, considering my actions are somewhat limited in the Philippines.

Philippines Week 2

Hello everyone! Here’s an overview of my second week in the Philippines.

Monday consisted of typical routine. I walked with Jessica to FNRI in the morning, worked on internship tasks, ate lunch, then worked on tasks until 5pm. The walk to our internship is an adventure and about a mile. It consists of about a quarter of mile to reach the gate to exit our condo (which is fortunate to say), under ten minutes to reach the main footbridge, about nine minutes on the footbridge, then about ten more minutes to reach the building in FNRI.

Paranaque is definitely a busy place, there’s crowds of people on the way to the internship. I really enjoy the nature surrounding the buildings of FNRI. Though it took Jessica and I a few days to figure out, there’s actually a short cut to reach our building our internship is located in. The path honestly makes me feel like I’m in Temple Run, a game my siblings and I would play when we were younger.


After work, Jessica, Sir Dars (one fellow co-worker), and I ventured to SM Mall. It’s fun to try different stores in SM. Tuesday night, I swam at the condo and relaxed in an egg-shaped suspended seat after my swim- 10/10 highly recommend.

Swimming pool view – swimming is so peaceful, it’s so quiet under the water

Wednesday, I made it on time to my internship, though not as early as I would have liked. Luckily, a security guard offered a sidecar ride to Jessica and I. This experience was actually a highlight of this week since it was a really kind gesture. Plus, the short ride was fun and it saved some time in the morning.


So, Wednesday is where this week picked up, in a good way. In the afternoon, there was a rainstorm – which isn’t surprising considering it’s the rainy season in the Philippines. The rainy season is about June to November, then the dry/sunny season is from December to the end of May.

Sir Dars and Jessica recommended we take a tricycle back to Siena Park, which I was kind of hesitant about. I’m not a fan of being in a small vehicle going almost 30 miles/hour or more when traffic in the Philippines is like a very chaotic game of Tetris. I got in after Jessica, and I literally almost fell out because the tricycle started going before I completely got settled. Fortunately, another woman watching all this occur noticed and yelled at the tricycle driver to stop. I learned my lesson if I don’t get on a tricycle swiftly.

Yes, a somewhat candid photo of myself before (or after?) the tricycle ride. Credit to Jessica Tran

Meanwhile, it was also pouring and my umbrella was still open, though I did close it after I actually got in the tricycle. After I actually got settled, the back of the tricycle was shut and we rode close to SM. Despite this tricycle fiasco, which I could definitely elaborate on more, the rest of the evening went really well. After Sir Dars, Jessica, and I dried off in our condo, we went to SM to watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. In the Philippines, many places require you to show proof of vaccination, which the three of us gladly presented before the film. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness included a plot of reasoning and creativity I liked, kind of a mind-bender.

Tempura shrimp ramen before the movies

Thursday was kind of uneventful, though I watched a webinar on Food Defense.

Now, my extremely fun and memorable weekend.

Over the weekend, one of my internship supervisors was kind enough to drive Jessica and I to Pagsanjan, which is the tourist capital of Laguna. Ma’am Cean and her husband joined us in a Korean barbecue restaurant on Friday, which consisted of one of my favorite meals so far in the Philippines. Ma’am Cean also made a reservation for Jessica and I at Casa del Rio, a small resort right on the edge of the Pagsanjan River.

River view from Casa del Rio, the resort Jessica and I stayed at Friday and Saturday night

Saturday morning, Jessica and I enjoyed banana pancakes with scrambled eggs. After breakfast, Jessica and I went on a boat tour of Pagsanjan Falls – an extraordinary experience. The two locals helping us were so kind. To provide a better description, one guide was in the back, Jessica sat behind me, and another guide was in front of me.

The tour of Pagsanjan Falls consists of an hour to the falls, and about forty minutes back. There are fourteen sections of currents the local guides led the boat through. We were surrounded by the valley with rock faces and tropical trees. And this is not easy for the local guides, as they seem to elegantly jump from rock to rock to shift the boat over sections of currents. There are 1,006 boats for tours, all part of the United Boatman Association of Pagsanjan – every worker typically does one day of river tours a month, which makes complete sense to me considering how physically demanding a tour is, especially several times in one day.

River view during the boat tour (similar to canoe, but smaller) Credit to Jessica Tran
I finally arrived at Pagsanjan Falls! I also went on a mini-tour under the falls behind me. Credit to Jessica Tran

While in Pagsanjan, Jessica and I walked to the Pagsanjan Arch from the center of town; built from Spanish soldiers at the end of the 19th century (image below).

Individuals I’ve come across in the Philippines tend to be relatively open about their mental health, which is something I genuinely appreciate.

Updates next Sunday!

Philippines week 1!

Hello everyone!

I made it through my first week in the Philippines, and I’m excited for this adventure to continue. Some of my peers have traveled internationally before, though this is actually my first time leaving America. I wrote about traveling as a goal in my college application essays, and I’m starting to follow through with my goal.

Air travel consisted of a 13 hour flight to Doha, Qatar, a layover, then a nine hour flight to Paranaque, Philippines. The flights went well, and luckily there was minimal turbulence – which reassured me even though flying is statistically safer than driving.  

Terminal 1, NAIA

If security customs and covid-19 weren’t concerns, I would love to travel to Doha in the future. Regardless, my travel to the Philippines went well even though I initially thought it was Friday, not Saturday until my peers helped orient myself. I would be more stressed if I wasn’t completing this internship with my peers, and the support from many other kind individuals.

After arriving in Los Banos after a short car ride last Saturday, my peers and I stayed in SEARCA hotel for two days for some rest and orientation. It’s fascinating to live in a completely different country from the U.S. and try new food. Chicken adobo is one common dish in the Philippines, and Balut (fertilized unhatched chicken) is also a delicacy to Filipinos.

Los Banos park, photo taken on walk to breakfast while staying at SEARCA hotel

On Tuesday I walked with my fellow FNRI intern, Jessica, to FNRI for our orientation. Orientation included tours of labs, including biochemistry labs, PCR equipment, and one of the only exercise physiology labs in the Philippines.

Traveling to Tagaytay, Philippines on Friday included a scenic drive and an afternoon nutrition forum. Staff from the Department of Science and Technology organized the forum, and workers from several food service companies attended. Most importantly, the forum focused on combatting malnutrition in children. Though the Philippines did not meet some previous goals on decreasing malnutrition in the past decade, the government is committed to improving.

Ridge overlooking Taal volcano, credit to Google

My first project at the FNRI is conducting research with previous literature, a very independent project so far. After this initial literature research and review of related literature, I’ll gradually work towards formulating a survey for FNRI.

One aspect of culture in the Philippines is the love for singing and Karaoke. Roberto del Rosario invented a karaoke machine in the 1970s, and the culture of the Philippines would be different without the love for singing. A week before I left for the Philippines, I had planned to attend a AJR concert, though my plans changed.

Over the course of this past week, I have been shown so much kindness and generosity. I am not surprised by this, but I am incredibly grateful. I have so much knowledge to gain and so much to explore while I complete my internship through FNRI.

At the end of my internship my peers and I will present key points from our internship at the Manila Hotel.

Manila Hotel, prestigious hotel in the Philippines. Credit to Google

This upcoming week will be busy, and I’m hoping all will be well. New post next Sunday!

Pre-departure greetings

Hello! I’m Sarah Baron, a junior at IWU studying neuroscience and psychology. Next Friday I leave for an internship with the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, FNRI for short. The FNRI is an agency within the Philippines Department of Science and Technology.

Traveling to the Philippines to complete an internship is such an incredible opportunity. I’m excited to share plenty of photos and ideas as the Philippines becomes my temporary home until late July.

Immense gratitude goes to Dr. Amoloza, staff at the FNRI and IWU, along with Stacey Shimizu in the IWU international office.

Updates soon!