As my final week in the Philippines comes to a close, I am beginning to reflect on my experience here. I think I have learned a lot not only about research in the rice lab, but also about the Filipino culture and more about myself. Studying/working abroad, I feel more confident in navigation and communication. Unexpected situations arise constantly, so traveling internationally is also a great lesson in adaptation. Whether I pursue work in the research lab or as a medical doctor, I know I want to make a long-term impact on health, just as the work I assisted in at IRRI aims to do with hidden hunger. The Filipino people have taught me two things. One: to live life with openness. I honestly can’t think of an instance where I felt unwelcome in the Philippines. For example, most of the cafeteria staff has made a point to know my name and remind me to get coffee in the morning if I break pattern and don’t one day. Forming close bonds is really valued, whether is be family or just someone you run into everyday. Second lesson: live life happy. Even though I saw poverty and people faced with extremely difficult situations, everyone still cracks jokes, remains hopeful, and doesn’t let the problem get the best of them.
I also have a few tips for future IRRI interns and someone looking to travel here. At IRRI, know that the shuttle is actually not as complicated as the schedule makes it seem, and the best way to learn its routes is just to jump on. If you mess up, it’s a safe bet you will end up back in front of the cafeteria pick up point, next to the dorms. IRRI is pretty isolated from both the University of the Philippines and the town of Los Banos, so I would recommend figuring out the shuttle early to maximize your time exploring nearby restaurants and attractions from both exit gates. It’s not a huge city, but there a still parts of Los Banos I never got a chance investigate. Also, DO NOT leave produce and food wrappers in your room or you WILL have a full-on ant infestation. I still had my fair share of ants and I thought I took all the precautions.
I could go for a while with food recommendations, but I’ll narrow it down to my recent discovery, Fat Yard, which hosts a number of tasty food venders, including one that serves boodle. Prepare to throw out all manners and fight for food over a banana leaf with your friends. Of course, anyone who travels to the Philippines should try the traditional cuisine while they are here… and don’t be afraid to try street food. Personal favorite is kwek-kwek, or fried quail eggs.
Just as Filipinos want to get to know you, they appreciate when you try to get to know them. Know their names, try the Tagalog language, make friends, and go explore something with a local!
Last piece of advice: visit Palawan. Seriously, do it. It may be the most beautiful place I’ve seen in my life. I’m so thankful I was able to squeeze this trip in during my last weekend here. I stayed in El Nido, the very northern tip of Palawan. The travel was no doubt lengthy: bus and Uber to Manila, flight to Puerto Princesa, followed by a six hour van to El Nido. I think my pictures alone attest that it’s worthwhile, however. Numerous tours are offered where you can island hop, kayak through lagoons, and snorkel. Happy to report I found Nemo… or maybe just some random clown fish… in anemone off Minoloc Island. There are also sand bars and large, white sand beaches you can enjoy almost completely to yourself if you’re willing to venture off the beaten path a ways.
In two days, I’m off to my next adventure. Palaam (farewell), Philippines. I hope that someday I again have an opportunity to visit because even after two months, there is still so much I want to do. And where else will I be able to get purple ube rolls?
In the meantime, hello Thailand! (I sincerely tried looking up a Thai translation for “hello,” but I couldn’t figure out how the characters would copy over into this blog and am even more lost on the pronunciation… Wish me luck over there!)