FIELD STUDIES IN GEOGRAPHY: SE ASIA
2016/2017, Special Term II
Arts & Social Sciences (Geography)
Modular Credits: 8
This module is designed to encourage students to apply different fieldwork methods in small-team projects in an overseas context. The module exposes students to an array of geographical methods, and as such, it is an ideal preparation for those wishing to undertake further primary research at higher levels in geography or other disciplines. Following a series of lectures/seminars on fieldwork methods, fieldwork ethics, and health and safety issues in the field (which may include some basic introductory language classes), approximately 40 students undertake a five-week field study in Thailand. Students undergo orientation workshops, meet peers in host universities, and learn about the major issues related to human, physical, medical, bio, and ecological geography. While abroad, students conduct 3-4 team-based field projects related to contemporary geographical issues. Assessment involves group and individual project report writing and presentations. The module attempts to provide (a) opportunity to apply skills and techniques learnt in the classroom in real field settings, and (b) rich cultural exchange.
Tentative itinerary for 2017 trip
19 Preparation (Health, Safety, Language) @ NUS
20 Fly to Thailand
21 Orientation at Khon Kaen University
22-28 Home stays in rural villages: group projects on fishing an farming livelihoods
29 Group presentations
30 Transfer to Chiang Mai
31 Free day in Chiang Mai
1-20 Split into 2 groups: (a) Physical Geographers in Mae Sa; (b) Human Geographers, Chiang Rai
The Mae Sa focus is on field techniques for environmental science (hydrology, climate, etc)
The Chiang Rai focus will be on socio-cultural phenomena of mountain peoples
21 Meet in Chiang Khong
22-28 Both groups study issues related to the Mekong River
Topics will include agriculture, dams, aquiculture, tourism, and development
28 Final presentations
29 Return to Singapore
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.
FS Action shots from 2016 (videos)
Article about Field Studies 2011
Classes Without Borders in Southern Thailand
Imagine bathing outdoors in a sarong with cattle for company. Or squid fishing among the Andaman Islands with sea gypsies. Or visiting a maximum-security island “fortress”, where armed men guard valuable caches of bird nests around the clock. Or camping under the stars on a beach that was crushed by killer waves only five years ago. Or trekking 65 km in three days, often in the pouring rain and dead of night. All that – and more – was exactly what 44 students from the National University of Singapore did on a recent expedition to southern Thailand from 17 May to 22 June.
Now in its tenth year, the annual NUS Geography Field Studies module provides undergraduates a unique opportunity to learn about people and places away from the classroom. This year’s program took them to six southern Thai provinces. One group of students examined human and cultural aspects of geography in the provinces of Songkhla, Phatthalung, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phang Nga, where human influences on the lake ecology and fishing, local ecotourism initiatives, impacts of shrimp farms, as well as livelihood recovery following the 2004 Boxer Day tsunami were topics of investigation. A second group had a field day (quite literally) in Ranong and Krabi studying mangrove ecology, coast-line evolution, aquiculture pollution, landslides, acid rain, climate change, and land-cover conversion.
“Learning by doing – immersing yourself in the field – is a great way to understand local people, their livelihoods and way of life,” said Dr Carl Grundy-Warr, who has been organising the NUS Geography Field Studies programme for the last ten years. “Google Earth, GPS and new remote sensing technologies have emerged to make the world seem a lot smaller today, but we still live in a world that is not clearly understood. The Field Studies programme allows students to experience ground realities, to apply and adapt to the field what they had learnt in the classroom, and to address the gaps that still exist from that classroom-based knowledge.”
A highlight for many students were home stays in local villages, where hot showers, air-conditioning, and internet access were virtually non-existent–but not creepy crawlers! Some culture shock was inevitable as most students come from the squeaky-clean environs of Singapore. The students however quickly opened up to the legendary Thai hospitality and settled well in their new homes away from home, abetted by time-honoured communication aids known as pointing and smiling. This cultural interchange also provided a real-world setting to use the Thai language skills they picked up during intensive lessons taken prior to departure, and during the first week with Thai student buddies from Thaksin University in Songkhla.
Dr Alan D. Ziegler, who co-led the program for the second straight year claims “the physical geography students learn more in five weeks than they do back home in a year. For some field studies pulls together all the convoluted concepts they learn during lecture. It makes a greater impression here because they are learning to solve actual problems in the very place where they occur. For example, there is no better way to understand the destruction of a tsunami than to walk in the wake of its destruction. For others, just being in the woods away from distractions like Starbucks and Facebook allows them to begin looking closely at the physical world—some for the very first time”.
Over the last ten years, Dr Grundy-Warr has taken hundreds of students to 20 provinces in Thailand, as well as Penang in Malaysia and the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. For many the trip is a highlight of their university days. “This experience has opened my eyes to how amazing the people of Thailand and their ways of lives are,” said undergraduate Man Yan. “It has also showed me how amazing our fellow geographers can be – both at work or play.” Both Drs. Ziegler and Grundy-Warr feel a renaissance takes place among the students by the end of the program. “This change is marked by a greater world perspective and increased confidence. It is the part that makes the long days worth while”, added Ziegler. Says Angus Sham a student during the 2009 program, and a volunteer helper this year, “during field studies you learn how to be selfless. Field studies changes your life”.
In 2011, they plan to head north to the highlands of Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, and Chiang Rai provinces, where the great cultural, physical, and biological diversity forms the setting of a perfect borderless classroom. Or they might go somewhere else. “This year taught us to have a contingency plan”, says Grundy-Warr, alluding that concern over the political turmoil in Bangkok forced the entire group to abandon a mountain program they had been planning for months. Once the decision was made to avoid potential dangers in the north, Drs. Ziegler and Grundy-Warr called on Thai friends to revamp the program to focus on coastal and lake geographies in the Islamic-dominated southern region. “Ironically, the revised program may have been the most pedagogically sound ones so far”, remarked both Ziegler and Grundy-Warr.
Although more than 30 years of combined research experience in Thailand surely contributed to the success of the 2010 campaign, the two Ajaans [Thai word for teacher] passed the credit elsewhere. “The students were great. Sure they were disappointed about not going to the mountains, but they never complained; and they grew used to adapting to changing plans on a daily basis. It was serendipitous”, said Ziegler, who also lauded the contribution of about 30 local and foreign friends for their contributions of teaching, translation, and guide service during the 6-week program.
Jeffrey Kong, ASIAN Geographic
Field Studies Photos
PGS at the farm 2016
PGS on Doi Dookae 2015