“Swimming Through Stars” – AsiaLearn Student Recounts Tropical Ecology Excursion
“Sometimes I can’t believe the things I’ve seen and done in this country,” says Alix Ozaki, Illinois Wesleyan University student
Submitted by Kelli Modica, AsiaLearn
AsiaLearn Participant Alexandra “Alix” Ozaki, an Illinois Wesleyan University student studying abroad a Mahidol University in Thailand for spring 2010 term 2, recently participated in a five-day excursion to do research on the small, sparsely-populated island of Kog Chang in Thailand.
Where did you go for your weekend excursion and why did you go?
We went from Wednesday to Sunday to Koh Chang [island Chang] (the southern one, the deserted one, and smaller one) for the Tropical Ecology class field trip with Dr. Wayne Phillips, who is an environmental science teacher. I wasn’t actually in the class, but he invited me to go because environmental science is possibly one of my career options after I graduate college. We took various hikes around the island and went snorkeling about four times a day to research the coral reefs that were near the beach. We had flippers, too, which was nice since i don’t really swim…
What was the island like?
It was beautiful! So pristine and untouched because it’s not developed at all. We stayed on the beach at these bungalows and made friends with the owner and the people who worked there. We spent a lot of time talking with them and practicing our Thai (Thai people are always sooooo nice!), and Andy was going to teach the owner how to swim. We walked everywhere since there weren’t really cars or roads to take, and sometimes we would call the boat that went around the island (by furiously waving and jumping up and down at the beach). Not many people lived there, only the people who owned the bungalows and a few people who stayed there long-term. Not many people visited this place, unless by accident or they were backpackers simply traveling around.
Did you find it difficult staying on an Island without electricity?
At first it was hard, because at night we had to use candles to shower, read, write, and whatever else we did at night. Showering with candles was hard because I kept accidentally splashing water on them. But it became fun after a while, and we started bringing candles under our mosquito net into our bed to journal and read (probably a bit dangerous), and walking around the island with them. You soon realize that electricity isn’t the most necessary thing, and there’s a lot of things that we could do without.
We ate at the same place everyday, where our bungalow was. The owner made AMAZING food, and we ate noodles, curries, rice dishes, fruit smoothies, strange vegetables, banana fritters, and countless other Thai dishes. Thai food is always delicious, but it was one of the best we’ve ever had on the island we were at. We also tried guava and ginger wine that they home-make, which was pretty tasty.
We took a night swim our last night, and there were these microscopic plankton that you can’t feel, but as soon as you move through the water, they light up. It was like fireflies in the water! We put on snorkel goggles, and swam through the water…pretty much swimming through stars is how the experience can be described.
What did you do on the island?
Dr. Wayne Phillips’ research mainly involves coral reefs and the diversity of them and the organisms that affect the corals. We snorkeled and dove down into the waters to identify which corals were most prominent in the regions we were looking at. There are about 10 different types, of all different shapes and sizes. We recorded data on a waterproof clipboard, but when we were taking a break I accidentally dropped the clipboard! It went deep down into the abyss, too far down to reach..
How did you feel about having the opportunity to participate on this excursion?
So lucky! Well, I’m lucky to have experienced everything I have in Thailand. Sometimes I cant believe the things I’ve seen and done in this country, and I’m loving every moment of this experience.
Did you have free time on the island? What else did you do?
We did have free time. Eighty percent of the time we were always soaking wet from swimming, but we laid in hammocks, played games, and simply had a grand time with the rest of the students on the trip. We all became very close and had a lot of fun taking night swims, sitting around bonfires, eating our hearts out, and exploring the mangroves and forests that were on the island.
Why do you think it’s important to go to other countries to study and participate in hands-on learning like you did?
Because you really experience the world that way, otherwise you would never know anything but your own culture, and its fun to live in different places that you’re not used to. I never regretted my decision to study abroad at any moment, and you get the hang out and become friends with people from all over the world. There will never be another chance like this, and I’m so happy that I decided to come here, and will definitely be back in the near future.