During the week of April 22-May 2, Oakland University students traveled to Ecuador for a week-long study abroad program in tropical field ecology. The trip allowed students to explore different Ecuadorian ecosystems while earning college credit.
Before the start of the trip, the student group was selected by Professor Scott Tiegs, the program’s faculty director. This process required students to attend information sessions and submit an application form.
“After the first briefing, I knew I wanted to do this journey,” said Nicholas Skinner, a sophomore at Oakland University. “I submitted my application and was accepted, which was very exciting considering only about a quarter of applicants get into the program.”
After the tour group was selected, participants filled out a list of planning tasks. They were tasked with getting a passport, getting vaccinated, and packing durable outerwear.
On April 22, the students said goodbye to their families and boarded their flight to Ecuador. Once they reached their goal, the program began.
The tropical field ecology (BIO4333) integrated into the program required the students to complete several activities throughout the duration of the trip. One focus of the class was the research aspect.
“We kept track of the different species we saw (over 150 species of birds) and got to experience the Amazon rainforest and travel all over the country of Ecuador,” said Annie Rank, a junior at Oakland University.
In order to observe a great variety of species, the students were guided through the Amazon by a native Ecuadorian named Sandra. Under Sandra’s guidance, the group was able to observe many different animals; Some of these were monkeys, hummingbirds and boa constrictors.
“After leaving the Amazon, we stayed at a lodge in the cloud forest, which is basically where the clouds meet the mountains at a certain altitude, which creates a foggy environment,” Skinner said. “This place had extremely lush jungle and hundreds of hummingbirds which was amazing to see.”
In addition to wildlife research, students also had the opportunity to learn more about Ecuador’s native culture. The group was led by Enoc, a native of Ecuador who grew up in the jungle.
Enoc taught the students various survival skills and techniques to locate specific animals. Participants were also taught how to forage for food in the jungle.
“One important thing I learned on this trip was how people live in other parts of the world,” Skinner said. “The people who lived there lived very much like us, using many of the same methods, traditions, building styles, products and even the same brands.”
Overall, the Ecuadorian study abroad program was very well received by the participants. Students were able to learn a wide range of knowledge about tropical field ecology while exploring the customs of Ecuadorian culture.
“I learned so much about the wildlife and plants of Ecuador and how great it is to study abroad,” said Rank.
Oakland University’s International Studies Office is offering interested students another tropical field ecology trip to Ecuador in December. Other related study abroad programs are offered in countries such as Costa Rica and Guatemala, as well as the province of Ontario.