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Posted on April 02, 2018  |  Filed under:

Two Woodsworth Students took their courses abroad this Reading Week

The Faculty of Arts & Science has an Indigenous / International Course Module that invites professors and a group of their students to expand their studies through experiential learning. These modules are designed to work with international partnerships, giving students an opportunity to expand their learning during their reading week. Kana Shikura and Jon Curtis, are two fourth year Woodsworth students who went to Indonesia and Ecuador respectively. Kana is pursuing a double major in Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies and Contemporary Asian Studies. Jon is pursuing a specialist in Ecology and Evolution Biology with a minor in Indigenous Studies. Read about their journeys below.

Kana Shikura

Bandung, Indonesia

For my ICM, I went to Bandung in Indonesia. It is a city 3-4hrs away (by train) from the capital, Jakarta. This ICM was under CAS400 (Research Method), under the Contemporary Asian Studies Program. The academic focus of this ICM was Islam in Indonesia. We assessed the social and political expression of Islam and how it is performed within the context of the Indonesian culture. We also looked at the intersections of religions, gender, culture, politics (particularly nationalism).

For our particular trip, we visited many 'pesantren', Islamic boarding schools, and Islamic organizations in Bandung. These pesantren teach Muslim students the ethics of Islam and Islamic ‘living’ through reading the Qua'ran. These pesantren take different shapes and forms, and express Islam in different ways. The various Islamic organizations that we visited also express Islam in different cultural, social and political forms. For example, one organization focused on agriculture and interacted with Islam through the practice of agriculture and the care for the environment.

I thought it was really interesting and thought-provoking visiting these organizations because it challenged the way we frame and view Islam. Islam tends to be framed in hegemonic and western-centric methods, which often portray Islam as a 'dangerous' and 'extreme' religion. However, visiting these organizations makes you re-think of biases you may have about the religion.

One particular experience that I cherish is meeting a group of women at Bali Istri and the Sapa Institute. The Sapa Institute focuses on advocacy and protection of women's rights. They support women in the community who are victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sex trafficking, human trafficking and sexual violence. They provide women with resources, financial and legal support. Bali Istri is a female organization that was founded by the Sapa Institute and they provide a space for women to talk about their experiences of abuse and support each other. Visiting these organizations was so empowering and reminded me that changes that need to be made on the grassroots level. These women were all survivors of sexual violence, and through these commonalities, they have created a family for themselves that supports each other. Despite their husbands and men in the community that challenge these organizations, these women maintain their strength and perseverance.

Participating in an ICM was definitely one of the highlights of my undergraduate studies. I have always been fascinated by fieldwork and ethnographic research, and this trip has made me want to pursue further research beyond my undergraduate degree even more. I noticed many gaps between the academic realm and the lived/living lives and bodies through this experience. There is so much that scholarly papers cannot capture only through literature.

This trip was a reminder that there is more to learning beyond the setting of a classroom. Students are always in a university bubble, but being out in the research fields challenges you to think outside your box and unlearn and relearn what you think is true. I have recently been chosen as one of the recipients of Richard Charles Lee Insights Through Asia Challenge award, a research grant competition funded by the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs. My partner and I will be travelling to New Delhi and Agra in India to conduct research on the topic of “The Colonial Present: (In)securitization of New Delhi” this coming May and June. I believe that the trip to Indonesia will be a great foundation for preparing myself for the research that I will be conducting in Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador India.


Jon Curtis

Yasuni Scientific Station, Ecuador

My ICM group was based through my Herpetology course with Dr. Luke Mahler (EEB384) and we travelled to Ecuador. We were partnered with Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE), a catholic university in Ecuador that runs a magnificent amphibian and reptile museum. We worked with three of their leading professors in herpetology as well as four of their students. The course was designed to allow us to study herpetology through catching, identifying and photographing species for the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador museum and collection.

In Ecuador, we experienced their capital city (Quito) briefly before heading to biological research stations in the Amazon rainforest and the Andes Mountains. To reach Yasuni Scientific Station, we took a 10-12 hour overnight bus over mountains into the rainforest, a water taxi across a large river, and then a 2 hour van ride to the station.  The research stations we stayed at were exceptional.  While there we worked with three of the leading professors in herpetology from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, as well as four of their students. Many of these professors and students regularly travel to the biological station we stayed at for their own research. 

The first night at Yasuni Scientific Station sticks out the most to me. As a child, I watched every show I could on the natural world and I quickly learned that the Amazon is the pinnacle of biodiversity in many ways. On our first night we went for a hike on the trails that surrounded the research station. Late at night, in the middle of the rainforest we saw tarantulas, huge insects and frogs everywhere. I remember coming to the end of our four and a half hour hike after travelling 14+ hours that day and being asked whether I wanted to sleep or take a trip to a swamp area. Naturally, I chose the swamp. Sleep was far from my mind.

I think the ability to see things I have studied over the past four years in real life in the Amazon impacted me greatly. We spend a lot of time at U of T looking at things in jars from collections. As great as this is, it is no substitute for the real world. I learned so much about so many different species, and it did impact what I want to do after university. I think it really opened my eyes to professors and how much they care and know about their work. It definitely made me consider a career path that allows me to do more field work across the globe.

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