Final Week

Wow… the last week! It’s crazy to think I’ve been in the Philippines for almost 2 months! Here comes my last post… I hope you’ve enjoyed just as much as I have!

Last Week in the Office

At the beginning of the internship, we were informed that we were going to give a final presentation documenting our entire experience with the FNRI and in the Philippines altogether. Each of our supervisors in the office would be in attendance, along with some faculty back at Wesleyan through zoom. Having said this, we had Monday through Wednesday to prepare prior to presenting on Thursday. The presentation went great and just like that… 235 hours of interning with the Food & Nutrition Research Institute complete!

Last Weekend in Batangas

Our last thing on the bucket list to be crossed off was to scuba dive for the first time. A popular diving destination is down south on the main island in a province called Batangas. Abi, Hunter, and I hopped on a bus and booked a place to stay while on our way there! Thank goodness we didn’t end up without a place to stay… I’m not sure how many more mosquito bites my body can take! Anyways, our place for the weekend was a small 4 room dormitory resting on a beach! Such an awesome homey feel.

Scuba diving was amazing! I was super excited as I’ve always wanted to have this experience, however the nerves started to kick in while receiving a brief 10-minute introduction on how to us the breathing apparatus and the mechanism of equalizing pressure in your ears (holding the nose closed while trying to push air out). Overall, it was so much fun. The gaining of pressure in my ears was frightening at first… but the feeling that my head was going to explode eventually faded, thank goodness! I was able to see and touch so many cool things. There were huge sea urchins everywhere which left me panicking internally as it seemed like I was getting way too close at times. Those things are scary! Altogether, it was another awesome weekend filled with lots of adventure and meeting more amazing people.

Departing Remarks

Well guys… we made it. My summer internship in the Philippines comes to an end. I am overly grateful for this opportunity as I learned so many life-applicable lessons, gained insight on an entirely different way of living, and most importantly… met some of the most amazing people. The world needs more people like those I’ve met in the Philippines. A culture based on friendliness, respect, and positivity is something the world needs to adopt!

Thank you to all the readers out there although I’m unsure of who that may be apart from my family haha! I hope you’ve enjoyed following my journey just as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it. Remember to just go for it in life as right on the other side of fear often lies some of the greatest things in life! Signing off with love… Lukas Wenz!


Week 6

Yo yo yo! Welcome back to the blog (thanks for sticking with me)! This will be a report on our third & final field deployment, along with our 3-day weekend adventure!

Cavite Deployment

Last and final deployment, wow time flies! Cavite is the closest province yet, only about an hour-long commute via van. Throughout our 8-day stay, we spent time with three separate teams. All of which were stationed in different areas within the Cavite province. I will give a brief report of the events that took place with each team below!

Team #1

This team was stationed closer to the main city within Cavite. Having said this, it was different compared to my previous experiences which primarily consisted of rural, farm areas. In one aspect, it was less of a shock for the local people to see foreigners. We didn’t experience any floods of people wanting to take pictures which was kind of relaxing… now I understand why celebrities get sick of paparazzi haha! In another aspect, we were in the range of Grab (the equivalence of Uber/Uber eats). Having said this, I was able to order food whenever I pleased haha! Nothing against the Filipino food made by the teams in the field, it just didn’t always fill the tank. With this being said, it was nice to have a Costco-sized hot dog available for delivery at the tip of my fingers (yes, I ordered a few hot dogs and a pizza during my stay).

In terms of data collection, it was all the same as it’s been on the two prior deployments. However, being near to the city made it much harder to find willing respondents. In the rural areas, the people spend the majority of their time at home working on their farm, causing them to have availability for the time commitment that comes with the data collection. In the city, many people spend a lot of time away from home for work, causing them to not be so readily available.

After our 3-day stay with this team, they ordered pizza and donuts for our last night as a sendoff. If you remember back to my previous blog posts, I’ve had some trouble trying to fill my pizza craving here. No pizza has been able to meet my level of satisfaction and I’m happy to announce that this time was… drum roll please… not satisfactory. Never before have I tried a fried sushi or spinach cream pizza. They weren’t as bad as they sound though, I still chowed down! That first bite of good pizza back home is going to be so good. Deep dish Giordanos here I come!

Team #2

This team was stationed a bit further from the city. With this being said, they were a bit more shocked to see us foreigners. The place we were staying in was right next to a big basketball court where kids gathered all day long. They were all so happy to see us and kinda went crazy for our presence… felt like a celebrity! They were so much fun to spend time with through playing basketball, volleyball, badminton, and just hanging out. Their English was pretty good too, which they have picked up in school and through enjoying American music/movies/TV shows.

Upon our arrival, the local barangay officials were unable to meet. We always set up a meeting to introduce ourselves and the work being done prior to starting data collection. Their unavailability granted us with a free day to do whatever we pleased! With this being said, we spent the day in Tagaytay which was only about an hour away. If you remember back to one of my previous posts, we traveled there one day for fun on a weekend. It is a big tourist destination due to its breathtaking views of the Taal Volcano in the middle of the lake and its rolling highlands. We had breakfast, rode horses, and had a late lunch on a hill overlooking the beautiful lake. Although we’ve been here before, my level of enjoyment didn’t fade and the sights were just as beautiful. It was so much fun hanging out with our fellow team members in a non-work setting too!

Team #3

This team was stationed in a more rural area within Cavite… unfortunately out of range for Grab food delivery. The local people were shocked to see us so the photos started flowing once again! Instead of sleeping on the hard tile within one of the community buildings like I’ve become accustomed to throughout the deployments, our team was given a house! One of the local families was out of town for the time being and they offered us to crash at their pad! Although there was no air conditioning, I was ecstatic to have a mattress.

We observed data collection for only about half a day due to our limited time with the team. Having said this, I only took a few blood pressures and observed interviews. This team was super friendly and it felt more like a group of friends living in a house rather than colleagues at work. They made us feel like home and even offered to make our favorite Filipino dish for a meal, which mine is pancit so far!

Weekend with the Waves

On Friday, after arriving back at our condo the night prior from Cavite, we (Hunter, Abi, Kennady and I) traveled to La Union! It’s known as the surfing capital of the Philippines so I had to give it a visit. It is on the same island as Manila, so we didn’t have to travel via plane or boat. It was a simple 7 hour bus ride!

We stayed in another hostel which was motivated by our awesome experience in El Nido. This was a bit different though. Instead of having a room, we had two sets of bunk beds on a wooden structure with a roof above us. It was all open air but the beds had mosquito nets surrounding them… thank goodness! It had a great location as we were right across the street from the “best surf spot” in town. There was less of a social atmosphere in this hostel compared to El Nido as we only met one other resident who happened to be from Illinois and named Lukas too! Small world!

I came into this trip with a craving to try surfing once again. I’ve been once before but that was years ago in California. Stands that offer surfboard rentals and surf lessons line the beaches so we took our pick. We decided to get a one hour surf lesson as it wasn’t pricey and it was basically everyones’ first time. It was so much fun and we all got the hang of it pretty quickly! We had so much fun that we decided to wake up early the next morning to hit the waves again at 7am as it’s said to be the gnarliest time to be out there! However, surfing came with a price more than just renting the board… sunburn. It doesn’t feel too cozy but hopefully it turns into a nice golden brown pretty soon! I experienced “surfer nips” for the first time too. I guess due to the friction of your front side on the board while paddling irritates the nipples a bit and causes pain… which is then exponentiated in the salt water haha! Anyways, I’m so glad I had the opportunity to fill my surf craving. It was so fun meeting other cool people out there shredding as well!

La Union is a popular area for handmade pottery making. With this being said, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to bring home some unique souvenirs… as long as they survive the long journey home in my luggage. We went to a popular place that offers pottery making lessons which was so much fun! My structures aren’t the best but it’s the effort that counts. Little story: after this we were all hungry as we hadn’t eaten since before the 7am surf-sesh. Google maps directed me to a restaurant… 4.2 stars and a 6 minute walk down the road. It was called “Casa Margarita” and my mind instantly went to nachos… yum! The internal excitement to chow down on some nachos grew as we walked down the road, just to arrive at a small, house-shaped building hidden behind a parking lot full of weird sculptures. Anyways, once we walked through the maze of strange, inanimate objects and found the entrance, the one worker turned the lights on and hit the power button for the AC… I guess they weren’t expecting company! It surely gave off a strange vibe but nothing that a big plate of nachos can’t make up for. After getting the menu and giving it a quick skim, the entire thing comprised of Filipino dishes… no nachos for me. My one question is why would you name a restaurant “Casa Margarita” and not have it be Mexican food? They didn’t even have a margarita on the menu! #FakeAdvertisement

On Friday night, we met a cool group of friends around our age at one of the beachside bars. We met them out again on Saturday and now we’re planning to meet them in Manila sometime this week! The friendliness of the Filipino people really is something special!

Altogether, it was an awesome weekend filled with sand, salt water, and good company. Can’t beat it!

Stay tuned for the final blog post documenting my last week here in the Philippines… time sure does fly!


Week 5

Welcome back! This week was less eventful with regards to the actual internship as we weren’t deployed in the field. This doesn’t mean there is a lack of events to report though, read below!

Wednesday & Thursday Post-Pangasinan Deployment

Upon arrival back in Manila, we were asked to attend a two-day seminar series hosted by the FNRI (in case it slipped your mind- Food & Nutrition Research Institute). This was held in a hotel banquet room within the high-end area of Metro Manila.

The seminar consisted of various presenters introducing new information found or interventions put in place regarding the nutritional status of Filipinos. The list of presenters included officials from the DOST (Department of Science & Technology), FNRI, WHO (World Health Organization), and senate members. All things presented were interesting; however, many of which seemed like information already known and acted on within the United States.

On the other hand, there were many statistics discussed that hit me with a moment of realization regarding the malnutrition issue within the Philippines. Some of which include the following: 33% of Filipino households suffer from food insecurity, 29% of Filipino children’s growth is stunted due to malnutrition, and 86% of Filipino children aged 6-23 months do not meet the minimum dietary diversity level. The minimum dietary diversity level is consuming 5/7 main food groups daily. Not reaching this level shows correlation with the occurrence growth stunting and being underweight. In comparison to the United States, about 90% of households were food secure throughout the year and of the remaining percentage, only 3.8% experienced very low food security (US Department of Agriculture).

The audience consisted of some potential investors which gave purpose to presenting new nutritional interventions created. Some of which sounded like they could create a positive impact such as Opti-Diets. This is a new software that uses linear programming to provide users with customized low cost, nutritionally adequate diet options. Linear programming is a tool used to find the “happy medium” between two factors. In this case, the happy medium is found between cost and nutritional adequacy. In simple terms, it uses the user’s inputted budget to compile a list of up to 1,500 local food options that are nutritionally satisfying. This sounds like a great software with the potential to benefit an abundance of the population; however, it sparked some questions regarding its effectiveness driven by my experiences in the field. A lot of the households I came across had no access to a computer or smartphone, so what about them? I feel like people with limited access to the internet are the ones that new nutritional interventions should be targeted to help… I’m assuming they make up a good amount of the food insecurity. Along with this, all of the food options within the software use prices from 2013. Why would a program be launched using food prices from a decade ago? Criticism aside, all of the interventions presented have the potential to create impact in the right direction against the common enemy… malnutrition!

El Nido, Palawan

Let the fun begin! We were given Friday-Monday morning off… had to report to the office by 1pm on Monday. With this being said, we sure made the most of it! We traveled to El Nido, Palawan for a 3-night getaway. It’s known worldwide for its stunning lagoons, beautiful white-sand beaches, and huge limestone cliffs so we had to pay a visit. We sure made the most of our time through departing at 5am Friday morning for a quick 1.5 hour flight to the island!

We stayed in a social hostel which has been something I’ve always wanted to do. A social hostel is like a cheap hotel where you rent a bed in a dormitory or a private room, and everything is based on creating a social, party feel. They are common destinations for backpacker travelers to stay at due to their cheap price and great vibes! It sure did not disappoint. Everyone put themselves out there and was so welcoming. I met so many cool people from all over the world including London, Australia, Mumbai, etc. All-in-all, I had an absolute blast and will definitely look to stay at more social hostels throughout my travels!

On Friday, we hung out in the hostel taking in its breathtaking views, as it’s located right on the beach, while enjoying the bar while waiting for more interns from Wesleyan to arrive. It was so much fun to catch up with all 10 other interns stationed all around the Philippines and meet a bunch of new people staying there too!

In El Nido, one of the main attractions is to island hop which we did on Saturday. This consisted of going on a 8-hour boat journey “hopping” from destination to destination. We went to 5 different spots led by an awesome boat crew… imagine your everyday job as hopping through some of the best beaches in the world! On the islands, we played beach volleyball on the beautiful, white-sand beaches. My favorite thing, however, was kayaking through this amazing lagoon. Rowing through the water which was transparent with a chilling, light blue tint while surrounded by towering limestone structures is easily the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The limestone structures had natural caves we kayaked through too! It was absolutely amazing. Never in my life have I seen more beautiful sights. Although the photos below definitely don’t do it justice, they can give a glimpse of what I experienced! On our way back to the hostel, we played a drinking game with the boat crew which was a perfect end to the tour. It led perfectly into the rest of the night! We went out and enjoyed some live music at a cool beachside bar which was especially fun as we met some new friends from France!

The primary form of transportation in the Philippines is motorbikes. With this being said, I had to get the whole experience! Hunter (who I mentioned in the week prior- another FNRI intern) and I rented motorbikes for the day. We spent an estimated total of 6 hours simply driving up and down the coast of Palawan (the island). Little story: we followed this road so far with hopes of finding the sea that we weren’t paying much attention to our gas levels. Long story short, I had to buy a liter of gas from a family in a very rural part of Palawan haha! Although the language barrier was especially present in this case, we understood each other just enough to make it work! On our way back to the hostel, it started pouring down rain… not ideal when driving a motorbike. Once the other Filipinos started to pull over due to the rain, we took it as a hint to do the same. We waited for a while and eventually it slowed down enough to start driving again… wasn’t exactly the safest thing (sorry to my Mom & Dad reading this haha)! Anyways, we made it back safe & sound but absolutely drenched. The night ended with going to a nice Italian restaurant on a beach, enjoying some pizza and wine!

Overall, Palawan was amazing and I’m so grateful to have been able to see such beautiful sights. Sights like these serve as a reminder to appreciate this beautiful, floating rock we all call home!

Monday-Wednesday Post-El Nido

Prior to our last deployment on Thursday, we reported to the FNRI office. While there, we were introduced to each division including dietary and biochemical. We got basic introductions to what exactly is being done in the office with the data collected by the researchers in the field which was cool to see!

Monday was all about the dietary component. One thing I found interesting was the process completed when researchers come across food in the field that isn’t on the PhilFCT (Philippine Food Composition Table) database. This database is used to document what certain nutrients/components are in a food to determine the nutritional status of the respondent eating it. When a respondent reports a food not on the database, a team in the office does research on it in order to find its nutritional-makeup. This is done by using foreign databases. For instance, they can use the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) to gather the data if the food is more prevalent in the United States, to then determine its nutritional value to the consumer!

On Tuesday, we were introduced to the biochemical division. We were taken to two separate laboratories- one that measures vitamin A content in the blood serum and another that measures the iodine presence in the urine samples. It was cool to see what was being done with the samples retrieved in the field! In the vitamin A lab, we observed the chemist separating the retinol from the blood serum. For background, vitamin A comes from two sources. One group, called retinoids, comes from animal sources and includes retinol (what this lab was measuring as an indicator of vitamin A levels). The other group, called carotenoids, comes from plants and includes beta-carotene. The body then converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Both measurements are significant as vitamin A and iodine are among the most common micronutrient deficiencies in the Philippines!

We depart Thursday for our last deployment… time flies! Cavite City here we come!


Week 4

Thank you to all who have stuck with me thus far! I hope you enjoy this report of yet another eventful week here in the Philippines!

Tuesday & Wednesday Post-Marinduque Deployment

We arrived back at our condo pretty late around 1am, following a full day of travel on Monday. Having said this, we were pretty beat. We were granted an off-day on Tuesday and Wednesday before our next deployment on Thursday, which was greatly appreciated. An actual mattress has never felt so good. Although I tried to sleep in, my internal clock decided to hit the alarm button at around 7:30am. While sleeping in sounded nice at the time, I still woke up feeling refreshed and ready to attack the day! I was able to catch the end of the College World Series Championship game too! It was happening at that time back home… keep in mind I am 13 hours ahead of Chicago. Moreover, my sore hips from sleeping on hard tile for the past week and a half felt better than ever too!


Granted with an off-day, we weren’t going to let it go to waste. I scoped out a cool brunch spot within the Poblacion area of Metro Manila- home to many restaurants/entertainment spots and a high-reputable nightlife! After the fantastic brunch, we hopped around to various fun places and it ended up being a super fun day which spilled into the evening! One of the other FNRI interns, Hunter, joined us later in the evening after his day in the office too. For reference, he’s been a part of our group joining us on all our endeavors!


Today consisted of resting and doing laundry in preparation for our deployment Thursday. Not to mention chowing down on Panda Express & Popeyes… taking advantage of the food in Manila before being surrounded by rice fields and cows while being fueled solely by local homemade dishes. Along with this, we hit the hay early as we had to report to the office by 5am to begin the journey to Pangasinan!


Deployment #2! We departed from the FNRI building at 5am headed towards the bus station. Our bus was scheduled to depart at 6:40, although it ended up being more around 7:00. Unlike Marinduque (previous deployment site), Pangasinan is not an island itself but rather just a bit north of where our residence is on Luzon (the main island in which Manila is located). With this being said, no boat travel is necessary! It was about a 4 hour bus ride to the main bus station in Pangasinan, followed by a 30 minute van ride to our designated barangay.

Instead of a day-to-day format like the structure of my previous post, I will give an overall summary of the events that took place and major takeaways from this deployment.


Our designated barangay was a very rural part of the province Pangasinan. I have no previous exposure to rural settings whatsoever… after all I’m from Naperville, a very populous suburb of Chicago. Having said this, being surrounded by rice fields, free-roaming cows/goats/chickens, and an entire community comprising of only three roads was an entirely new setting for me. In another light, the small-town community was very apparent when meeting all the people. It seemed like everyone knew each other and it was a community made up of nothing but close-knit friends. Moreover, it seemed like everyone would gather around the central building of the barangay (which happened to be where our headquarters was) whenever they had nothing else going on just to hang out! I’m not sure if this was simply because of the presence of us foreigners (a rare occurrence) but the closeness between all of the residents was apparent either way.

With regards to where we were staying, it was the local health building located at the intersection between the three roads of the barangay (meaning it was the most central part). Abi, Kennady, and I stayed in a small room which included one sink and a bench. Abi and Kennady took the floor (hard tile again), while I claimed the bench as my sleeping territory. It may sound like I got the better arrangement; however, this bench is not what you are probably envisioning. To put it simply, it was a slab of wood in the shape of a smile (curved up on each end). Keep in mind I’m about 6’2″ 200lbs. Knowing this, I had no moving room due to its narrow figure and was forced to curl up like a ball since my legs would hang off if not. Let’s just say I’ve had better nights of sleep haha! On the bright side, there was 24/7 running water and our little room had its own air conditioning unit! The toilet was still not equipped with automatic flushing though… back to the tabo (described in last post), woohoo!

Data Collected

All of the collected data included the same components as last deployment. First of which being personal interviews regarding the respondents’ nutritional habits comprised of where they buy food, what they consume, cost, physical activity, smoking/alcohol use, etc. Secondly, anthropometric measurements are taken which include collecting the clients’ blood pressure, height/weight, and circumference of their upper arm, waist, and hip. Thirdly, biochemical specimens are collected which include taking the clients’ blood (after fasting for at least 8 hours to maintain accuracy of the tests such as lipid profile) and collecting a urine sample. Lastly, the dietary component is reported. This includes traveling to each respondents’ household, three separate times in a day, to measure what they consume for each meal along with what they don’t (aka leftovers).

The sub-team Abi, Kennady, and I were assigned to for this deployment was the most inclusive thus far. Previous teams have been very hesitant with regards to allowing us to take part in collecting data, but understandably so… after all, they are professional researchers with many years of experience in collecting data and we are 20-year olds who showed up a month ago. However, this sub-team was incredibly inclusive and I’m so grateful for that. I was able to conduct interviews (with a fellow researcher acting as a translator when needed), take several blood pressures, and collect measurements for the dietary component. Along with this, I conducted a personal interview regarding the clients’ mental health status. I was unaware that this was something we measure in the field until now, which I think is really important and I’m grateful for the opportunity to conduct that personal 1-on-1 interview regarding this topic!


It’s official. I’ve had the most interesting week of eating in all my 20 years of life. After visiting the mayor’s office, one of the city council chair members took a liking to Abi, Kennady, and I. She generously took us out for a late lunch! The lunch was normal, I had a double cheeseburger and fries… so American I know I know. What comes next is where the fun starts. Her son insisted on getting an assortment of street food across the street from where we were. I’ve seen these “street meat” stands several times… but never had the courage to try anything. Here was my chance!

The “mystery street meat” included the following parts of a chicken on a stick: feet, kidney, head (brain included), ear, intestine, and last but certainly not least… anus! This wasn’t all though, we got a couple gourmet pig dishes such as its blood and liver… yum! They say “no body part goes to waste” here and I can certainly confirm the truth in that.

Now, review time. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Although they looked quite terrifying (see pictures below), once you get over the thought of what is actually in your mouth it’s not so bad! My least favorite was the chicken head and feet. With all due respect, not my thing. The rest wasn’t too bad. Don’t get it twisted though, I wouldn’t go out of my way to order chicken anus on a stick to crush my hunger haha!

In addition to this, I tried a fried frog for the first time! Some barangay officials had it in a bag (still alive and hopping), and next thing I knew I was eating its fried leg! Tasted like chicken. Oh yeah… crickets too! Good, salty snack.

I finally crossed something off my list of foods to try here too… balut! This is a traditional Filipino street food (yet controversial). It’s a fertilized developing duck embryo that is boiled or steamed within the egg. You then eat it by sucking the soup out, peeling the shell away, and eating the tiny looking baby duck. Like I said above, once you get over the thought of what’s in your mouth, it’s not so bad! However, I definitely wouldn’t go out of my way to order this either.

The Local People

Although each site I stayed in during the last deployment were special, this barangay was beyond that. I truly don’t know if there are existent words that can do my feelings for these people justice. Never have I met new acquaintances so overwhelmingly welcoming and generous in nature. They took us strangers in and made us feel like family right off the bat.

There were probably about 8-10 local barangay officials that cooked every meal for our team, cleaned up our dishes, maintained the cleanliness of the building, offered coffee/tea several times throughout the day, etc. They were there from the start of our day at 5am until the end around 9pm. Never once did they complain, show any sign of annoyance, and always greeted me with high energy and an outshine of happiness. People with this energy are contagious and they served as a reminder to myself to reflect that attitude in my own behavior. On our last day, they surprised us with a chocolate cake and a boodle fight. A boodle fight is a “feast” in which many people gather around a long table covered in banana leaves. In the middle of the leaves is an assortment of food including fish, tofu, spring rolls, egg, vegetables, and of course… rice (a staple with every meal). See photo below of the setup. After this, we all joined together for dancing! I was trying my best to follow along as it seems like everyone practiced each dance together in sync prior to our arrival. I definitely looked out of place but who cares haha… it was so fun!

All of the respondents I had the pleasure of meeting/working with were incredibly welcoming as well. All of which were so easy going with the data collecting process that isn’t very convenient as it spans over a few days with a moderate time commitment. One elderly couple in particular stood out. When we arrived to collect data for the dietary component of the survey, they had prepared pancit (a traditional Filipino noodle dish) for us to take back and enjoy, along with a 2 liter Coca-Cola… which is everywhere by the way. They even have coke floats at McDonalds! It seems like it’s the default beverage here. Anyways, they were incredibly generous and act as a source of inspiration for me to do the same for others!

Lastly, the kids were awesome. I had so much fun joining them in basketball, volleyball, and phone games. A 12-year old even took me on a moped ride! I get the sense no one patrols the age of drivers as many of which looked under the age of 10… crazy right! The size difference definitely looked interesting to distant observers haha!


Week 2-3

Welcome to week 2-3! This will be a bit longer since I wanted to fit the entire 8-day deployment to Marinduque on one post!


Two fellow interns from Illinois Wesleyan took a trip to our apartment through a 2 hour journey via bus and a grab (similar to Uber) for a weekend getaway. On Friday night, we went to the same rooftop restaurant within the BGC (business district) of Manila we tried the first weekend and loved. We had some delicious food and drinks while taking in the awesome view overlooking the city. After this, we walked to a nearby bar that a grab driver from a previous encounter recommended. It ended up being a super fun night!

The next day I went to Tagaytay with my roommates, Abi and Kennady. Tagaytay is a city in which borders Taal Lake, home to the Taal Volcano in the middle of it. The city is absolutely beautiful and provides a great place for pictures due to its breathtaking views. We spent the day walking around and taking it all in. It’s said that usually the area is packed with people but since the volcano is now active and thought to be the possible source of the earthquake that took place 2 days prior, it was empty. The area is known for a Filipino dish called “Bulalo”, composed of beef shanks and bone marrow submerged in a broth and topped with an assortment of vegetables. The large piece of bone floating in the soup was intimidating at first, but it ended up being delicious!

Sunday composed mainly of chilling by the pool within our apartment complex and heading to a nearby laundromat to prepare for our 8-day deployment the following day.



Deployment day! We departed from the FNRI building at 5am although we needed to arrive at 4 in order to prepare. Talk about bright & early (well… more like dark and early)! Marinduque is an island, causing us to take a ferry in order to carry the supplies within the vans across the sea. Altogether the trip composed of a 3.5 hour van ride to a port in Batangas (city on the southern coast of the province) and a 3 hour ferry to the island. Upon arrival we got oriented to the place we are staying at by local officials. Our residence for the week is a small floor within a community center. We’re all sleeping on the tile floor, side-by-side to each other. It composes of 2 bathrooms. There is a lack of running water so the toilets don’t automatically flush as to how I’m used to back home. They use a tool called a tabo- a bucket of water in which you continuously scoop into the toilet until it slowly (and very much hopefully) flushes. I will never take an automatic-flushing toilet for granted again! In addition to this, showers aren’t exactly existent. You pour water on yourself, scrub, then pour more water on yourself to rinse using the water in the tabo (bucket of water) and a handheld pale. All of this is done in the tiny bathroom so the room itself is always soaked. This will get some getting used to that’s for sure! Later in the evening, some team members went into the local market and gathered ingredients to cook dinner for everyone. We all sat outside around a table to enjoy and it was delicious!


I’m happy to announce I took my first ever make-shift “bucket shower” this morning! Mission accomplished. I wasn’t alone either… a massive spider in the upper corner kept me company. I made sure not to take my eyes off of it… definitely wasn’t going to give it an easy chance to pounce and initiate battle. I’m glad to say things remained peaceful. After this, the team enjoyed breakfast outside before we began our tasks.

The two other interns, team leaders, and myself headed to the mayors office to have a meeting with him with the mission to introduce our business on the island. Everyone is super friendly and thrilled about the presence of foreigners! Something I’m assuming they don’t see much of. After this, I joined a researcher to observe him interviewing one of the locals that consented on us collecting data from for the next few days. Although the language barrier is very much present and the entire thing is done in a Filipino dialect, I was able to pick up a few things through following along on the interview document and reading facial expressions. It was very impactful to get an inside look on how many Filipino people live and I’m excited to continue to be exposed to it! I can already tell this is going to be an eye-opening experience, granting of many takeaways.


We started taking anthropometric measurements at 6am with all of the respondents who agreed to participate in the nutrition survey the day prior. These include measuring the clients’ blood pressure, height/weight, and circumference of their upper arm, waist, and hip. Along with this, biochemical specimens are collected. This includes taking a blood sample to measure hemoglobin, vitamin/mineral levels, and liver enzymes. We ask the client to fast for 8 hours prior to getting the blood drawn in order to maintain accuracy of the lipid panel and levels of insulin/glucose. We have the client turn in a small urine sample too. One significant thing assessed through urine is the content of iodine being excreted, as 90% of iodine is excreted through urine causing it to be an easy and effective way to measure an individuals’ levels. Iodine is one of the largest deficiencies among Filipino adults, to the extent that it is a law for all markets to sell iodized salt. Fun fact… this intervention was implemented based on data gathered from a previous survey completed by the FNRI! Later in the afternoon, I joined a researcher on taking a journey to the individual clients’ households to record what they consume for each meal… meaning we take three separate trips to account for each meal that day. Along with recording the weight and types of food they consume prior to the meal, we weigh their leftovers as well.


We finished up with recording anthropometric measurements for the remainder of the respondents in the morning and gathered the final dietary data (recording food consumption at each household) throughout the afternoon. I experienced a few “firsts” in my life too. I butt heads with a goat using my fist, pet a couple cows, and held a chicken. It’s like a natural petting zoo! After the work day, we traveled to the local market to gather ingredients for dinner that night and snacks to take on our endeavor planned for tomorrow. The mayor arranged for the team leaders and us three foreign interns to travel via boat to one of the islands just a bit off the coast of Marinduque (the main island we are staying on).

At one of the households I visited to gather dietary information, they were incredibly welcoming to me. I was introduced to the entire family (15+ people), enjoyed a cup o’ joe they offered, and was even invited to join them for bingo later that afternoon… unfortunately had to turn that down due to it being in the middle of the work day. However, I played basketball with two of the kids around my age for an hour or two during my lunch break.


Island day! We left at 6am for the long trek to the nearest beach… literally our backyard haha! The real reason we left so early was to be able to hangout on the sandbar that’s only existent early in the day before high-tide when it get’s engulfed by the rest of sea. We boarded the boat which was made of wood and bamboo with a super loud engine on the back. I can’t get enough of the water which is crystal clear in transparency and a beautiful blue tint. Upon arrival, the local Filipinos that call the island home prepared two dishes for us. The first was pancit, a traditional Filipino noodle dish. The second of which was a big, freshly caught fish accompanied by mangos, rice, vegetables, and two different types of eggplants. The usual way to eat it is with your hands while using banana leaves as your plate… I can now safely say that forks are overrated. After enjoying the food, meeting the most welcoming people, and swimming in the beautiful, crystal clear water, it was time to head back to the mainland. The boat took us around the island enabling us to see all of the beautiful sights before arriving back.

Later in the evening, the local people of Marinduque had a surprise for our team. A gathering occurred right outside of where we are staying and they greeted us with a traditional ceremony they put on when visitors come to the island! This was a super cool/enriching experience and something I’ve never came close to experiencing before… except from seeing in movies of course. This ceremony consisted of singing to us in Tagalog (the local language), dancing, giving us crowns and flowers, throwing candy and coins, and tossing confetti. At the end of it, we all chowed down on the feast that the local Filipinos prepared for us! Some of the best food I’ve had on this journey thus far. This was an experience I’m certain will never leave my memory and will be forever cherished. The people here are above and beyond in terms of making visitors feel welcomed, regardless of how much I stand out. Not once did someone greet me without a smile and or a lack of positive vibes. Their attitudes are truly inspiring especially after getting an inside look at the conditions in which they live in everyday. This is something I think everybody should be exposed to as I truly believe there is much to learn from their positive attitudes towards everything in life!

Abi, Kennady, and I are being transferred to another team stationed within a different barangay (similar to a city/region) on Marinduque tomorrow morning. My time within the Bacong-Bacong barangay is something I will forever cherish!


Transfer day! In the morning we were moved to another barangay within Marinduque to join another team of researchers for the day. This one is called the Caganhao barangay. Our new place for the night consists of sleeping on a tile floor again with no air conditioning… so cozy! The other team members are super friendly and make me feel so welcomed which is awesome. Good company is all I need… air conditioning or not! We arrived at lunch time, so we all gathered and ate outside like usual. In the afternoon, we observed the researchers entering in the data they collected from their select group of respondents within the community prior to our arrival.

In the evening, another ceremony took place to welcome us visitors! It was very similar to the one I experienced at the previous barangay but the feast that followed was composed of different foods. This time, we all ate around a long table covered in banana leaf, which we used as our shared plate. The food consisted of fish, rice, duck egg, etc. Oh yeah… we ate with our hands of course! I had the best pineapple ever too! Once again, the most welcoming people I’m so glad to have met.

Before going to bed, I went to fetch some water with a couple other team members from one of the pumps down the street. One thing I found interesting was how in order to pump water out, you need to feed the machine water itself. Anyways, we had to replenish our supply in order to have enough in the tabo for the remainder of the night and morning. As a reminder, the tabo is the water bucket in the bathrooms used to flush the toilet and take bucket showers.


Transfer day part two! The entire team was getting transferred to a new barangay for the next several days. This one is called the Isok barangay. Our place here composes of another tile floor with no air conditioning; however, we were given mattresses! I have a feeling my sore hips from sleeping on the hard tile will be thanking me haha! Upon arrival, we were oriented by the local authority as we introduced ourselves and the mission we come to accomplish. After this, the team and I took a stroll into town to find a local place for lunch and to familiarize ourselves with the community. We got a free tour of the local museum too! On the way back, we stopped at a pharmacy to gather some necessities that have run dry… aka deodorant. Something you can’t go a day without in this climate. This is especially true when sleeping in no air conditioning and wearing pants at all hours to maintain professionalism.

In the evening, guess what we were surprised with again… another ceremony to welcome us visitors! It was composed of the same thing and wonderful food after. I guess it is traditional for each barangay to welcome visitors, hence our three separate exposures to it! I’m not complaining at all… it is super fun and the people are absolutely wonderful!

Tomorrow is a travel day back to Manila for Abi, Kennady, and I. The rest of the teams will stay in Marinduque to continue gathering data/research! My first deployment and overall time in Marinduque has been incredibly eye-opening and fruitful, an experience I won’t forget!

Photos (chronological order for the most part)

Week 1

It’s already been over a week since I arrived in the Philippines, wow! Below is a brief description of everything that’s taken place thus far!


The first flight was about 13 hours from Chicago to Abu Dhabi. Initially, I had planned to sleep through a good amount of it but I underestimated the uncomfortableness that comes with airplane seats. Not to mention being crammed next to my seat neighbor who decided to claim our sharing arm rest early on and not giving it up for the entirety of the flight… you win some and you lose some. With this being said, no zzz’s were caught. We had a 16 hour layover in Abu Dhabi which wasn’t too eventful, mainly consisting of eating on the rooftop of our hotel enjoying the sunset. We then departed that night to Manila, which was a 9 hour flight. I’m happy to say that this flight was much more enjoyable as I was able to sleep for a few hours and my seat neighbor was much more generous when it came to the arm rest. Once we touched down and retrieved our luggage, we waited about 6 hours for the last two interns to arrive, as they were on different flights. From here, we took a van toward Los Baños, where we stayed on the campus of the University of the Philippines- Los Baños for the night. We had a brief culture/language orientation the following morning and then traveled to our designated internship sites, mine being back towards Manila.

Work at FNRI

I am working for the Food and Nutrition Research Institute within the Nutrition Assessment and Monitoring Division. My specific role consists of going on three deployments, lasting several days at a time, gathering nutritional survey data within the given communities. My first deployment is on this upcoming Monday to Marinduque, a separate island in which we will travel to via boat. This trip will last for 8 days, so stay tuned for my next blog post describing everything that occurs there! Knowing that our deployment is yet to happen, this past week has primarily consisted of orientations/information sessions regarding deployments and data collection.

My commute to work consists of walking about 20 minutes from the apartment I’m staying in. This may sound like a quick and easy trip, but keep in mind the very humid climate. I show up to work absolutely drenched in sweat! They say you get used to it haha! This is all worth it as I’m greeted immediately with breakfast (different Filipino baked goods & coffee). Along with this, the two other interns and I are offered snacks throughout the day that the employees are eager for us to try! As you can tell, everyone I work with is incredibly welcoming and friendly. This applies to everyone in the community too!

Free Time

The first weekend consisted of doing things somewhat close to where we are staying. Friday night we traveled to the business district of metro Manila (BGC), where we had dinner and drinks on a rooftop venue overlooking the beautiful city. We went to a few other venues after and it ended up being a very fun and eventful evening!

The following day (Saturday), we traveled to the oldest Chinatown in the world that resides in Manila. I scouted out a top rated, local restaurant where we had lunch. It was absolutely delicious, especially because Chinese food is my favorite. After this, we walked around the city and ended up visiting Fort Santiago, a historical landmark from the 1500’s that was nearby. It’s called the “walled city” as it’s a community within the walls of the original fort. Super cool/fun scenery. While walking around inside, some locals playing basketball asked if I wanted to play too- which I obviously accepted. We played for probably thirty minutes and I came out absolutely drenched- similar to how I show up to work every morning! That was so much fun and probably the highlight of my trip thus far!

The following day we got up early and traveled about an hour and 45 minutes Northeast toward the mountains. We hiked up Mt. Binicayan. This was not an ordinary, relaxed hike as I’ve done in the past, that’s for sure. Intense rock climbing in wet/muddy terrain on a huge incline. Let’s just say it was probably the most dangerous thing I’ve done to date. Through the tough climb, we made it to the top! It was so relieving for about 20 minutes… then we came to the realization we had to climb down. My feet hitting the normal road again has never felt so nice. We had some friends on the hike too… wild monkeys! After this, we got fresh smoothies in the small mountain-side community on the street and they offered showers for hikers- much needed! Once again, everyone is so very welcoming and happy about our presence. So many people come up asking for selfies too!


Abroad Adventures!

Welcome to the blog! My name is Lukas Wenz, a sophomore nursing student at Illinois Wesleyan University. This blog will be an account of all my endeavors in the Philipines through the IWU Freeman Asia Internship Program. There will be weekly posts throughout my 8-week stay abroad! Stay tuned!