January 2013 marks the beginning of an exciting journey for 12 adventurous students at the University of Delaware. In their Winter Study Abroad session, these students will embark on the University’s first expedition to Cambodia and Vietnam. The goal of this 27-day program is to give students the opportunity to explore the rich wildlife and unique history of Cambodia and Vietnam, while at the same time fulfilling two Wildlife Conservation courses: Conservation of Southeast Asian Wildlife and People and Wildlife of Southeast Asia. The students will venture on this journey with an Art study abroad program fulfilling–Indigenous Arts of Southeast Asia and Documentary Photography–led by Jon Cox, assistant professor of art.
The students will be blogging about their experience throughout winter session.
“All of our [conservation] programs have a human component, and look at how humans impact conservation. South East Asia has a long history, dating back much farther than most areas of the world,” says Jacob Bowman, associate professor of wildlife ecology, and one of the faculty members leading the study abroad session.
According to Bowman, these war-torn countries offer students an unusual view on culture and wildlife, as many of the region’s mountainous areas have been mostly untouched by humans (other than guerillas) throughout the war, thereby preserving the habitats of the indigenous animals.
“There are still tigers, elephants, leopards and a lot of large mammals left in some of these remote areas, partially because for a long time it was dangerous for people to go into these areas,” Bowman explains.
The program begins in Vietnam, where students visit ancient temples of Angkor Wat, journey through the Mekong River and the dated tunnels used in the Vietnam War. Next, in Cambodia, students will experience unique wildlife and learn first-hand about conservation issues. Students will study Cambodia’s history and people by visiting various locations, including sacred temples and the historical killing fields, where large numbers of people were killed after the Cambodian Civil War. It is from this visit to the killing fields that Bowman expects students to be the most affected.
“When you go there and see a tower of skulls from all the people that have been killed, it’s a powerful experience. Hopefully students walk away realizing how bad humans can be, and how we continue to not learn from our own historical mistakes.”
A strong conservation issue to be examined is how overpopulated countries over-hunt their wildlife, and how these countries could benefit from developing an eco-friendly balance. Says Bowman, “Because it [Asia] has such a large population, it tends to overexploit its resources. There is almost no wildlife here because of the economic dilemma. People care about the wildlife, but their situation prevents them from conserving. They are just trying to feed their families and survive day to day.”
While Bowman says the University supported his choice of studying in Cambodia and Vietnam, the group is still being careful in these areas. UD students will interact with students from The Royal University of Phnom Penh and will predominantly stay in hotels throughout the trip, as it is safer than camping.
Bowman, who along with Cox, has run numerous study abroad programs to Tanzania, Australia, and Antarctica, is very excited for this new trip, and for the students. “Being able to interact with the students in a way where you can get them thinking about things cognitively instead of just strict classroom assignments is very satisfying. If something happens, the group is small enough to talk about it.” He relates a story that on one of his trips to Africa, he came face to face with a lion at night. “Stuff like that is hard to put into words, but particular things happen on every trip, and that is what builds impressions.”
What Bowman really hopes each student walks away with is a new point of view. He hopes this journey will open their eyes about the challenges of conservation on an international arena, where they will witness a form of living very different from their own.
According to Carly Costello, a UD junior majoring in animal science and taking this in-demand program, “It’s all about the first-hand experience. I’m excited to experience another culture; everyday things that we think are ordinary are so different to them, and vice versa.”
Article by Samantha Walsh, UD Wildlife Conservation and Communication junior