Post Pre-Testing

This week was quite busy, overall. For the first two days, we attended teacher training sessions for the modules that we had pretested earlier. Both schools were in Laguna, and Kate and I also were expected to give a short presentation of our impressions of the pretesting. After the program (and our speeches), we went with a group of teachers that were not trained in teaching nutrition to play a game with them while the other teachers trained in something specific. The game was called the cabbage game (I think?) and consisted a bunch of crumpled up green papers rolled into a ball (the cabbage) with questions written on each. Everybody who is playing gathers in a circle and passes the cabbage while music plays. The person holding it when the music stops has to take off the outermost “leaf” and answer the question within. Kate and I had written the questions, related to Nutrition Month. If the page was blank,  the person had to perform a consequence, which is either reciting a poem, singing a song, of doing a dance. It was fun playing the game with all the teachers, and many of them wanted pictures with us at the end.

For the last three days of this week we were in Tuguegarao, a city in the north, for a Nutricomnet Media Forum. Through Nutricomnet, FNRI collaborates with other DOST, media, and private enterprises to disseminate nutritional knowledge and technologies to the various regions around the Philippines. This particular media forum was for Region 2, or Cagayan Valley, where we were. While we were there, we also visited Calau Cave, a beautiful place with a chapel built inside. It was quite a busy week!

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Back to School-Again!

This past week we conducted more pre-testing at Daang Hari and Dayap Central school, this time with third-graders instead of second graders. The lessons and procedure were the same as last week, with three lessons taught by each teacher, and a teacher interview following each session to get the teacher’s feedback and thoughts on the lesson. In general, I think that these kids understood the lesson better than their younger counterparts in the 2nd grade. They were participating more and just seemed more engaged in the activities. We also participated in an information session in the library at FNRI for librarians from various educational and governmental agencies. This event’s purpose was to highlight the database that FNRI provides to find and enter nutritional materials and how to access and use it. I am mostly excited for our trip up north to Tuguegarao next week. We’re going to visit a cave!

Back to School

This past week has probably been the most exciting week at FNRI. On Monday Kate and I went to help set up another exhibit at the World Trade Center of the Philippines. This expo was a good deal larger than the last one, and many of the different divisions of DOST were represented, each with a very cool exhibit and activities. There were VR goggles at one booth, and stormchasing equipment, and displays about earthquake prevention and volcanology. There were exhibits related to health, as well, and that is where we were to be posted. That first day was just set-up, so there were not many people and none of the exhibits were actually open. On Wednesday, we went to the Daang Hari school in Taguig City to conduct pre-testing of educational modules. The modules consist of a lesson plan and materials to teach lessons on nutrition and health. Kate and I were split up and put into smaller groups that each visited a different classroom.

Seeing how elementary education is handled here in the Philippines was fascinating. Our students were second graders, and they already started learning English last year! When the teacher would teach them the core concepts and vocabulary of the different foods mentioned, she would do so both in Tagalog and English. I took the opportunity to learn some more Tagalog while the instructor was teaching vocabulary, with the help of Faye, one of my coworkers from FNRI. The children were not shy about staring at foreigners, and insistently asking me “Kuya! What’s your name?” (Kuya means elder brother and is a respectful way to address someone you do not know if they are older than you. Similar to “Sir” in the USA. The word for an elder sister is Ate) and other questions in Tagalog, despite my inability to understand.  The next day, we went to Calauan in Laguna to a rural school. The differences between the urban and rural students was fairly stark; the urban students were considerably more noisy while the rural students were quieter and better behaved. Every class is different, however, so I cannot draw any conclusions from these observations.

On Saturday, we finally went to the World Trade Center to help run the exhibit and it was considerably busier than the Megamall, and there were quite a few more people there than Saturday.  It was a very busy day of making sure the brochures were distributed to as many groups as possible (until we ran out). Everyone wanted a copy of every brochure we had, so it was actually tougher than it sounds, particularly with the language barrier present. Overall, the week was over fairly quickly, and considering all of the activities we did, we were barely in the office!

This past weekend we went to Boracay, which was a good deal busier than Puerto Galera. I understand why, because the beaches are even prettier. Boracay definitely had more in the way of shops and beachside restaurants than Puerto Galera, and it was fun to shop and eat along the beach.

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The Crowne Plaza and Corregidor

This past week was more exciting, due to several days at the FNRI Annual Seminar Series at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Manila. Visitors from all over the Philippines and even beyond came to see a series of seminars on FNRI’s food and nutrition research from the past year. I had seen the content of most of the speeches before, as I have at least skimmed most of the papers they are presenting on at some point in my work here in FNRI. Seeing the presentations was a bit of a different perspective, however, so I was glad to have the chance to attend and see how the research and development is disseminated to others. The Seminar Series lasted for three days, with a variety of different seminars taking place in multiple ballrooms. The seminars had a lot of variety. In one, they debuted services of iFNRI, a web branch of FNRI services. In another, there was research presented on the genetic factors involved in the prevalence of bone fractures.

This past weekend we went to Corregidor Island, an important historical location, especially during WWII. Corregidor was the last stronghold held by the US forces in the Philippines after the Japanese invaded, and it was the last stronghold held by the Japanese after the US forces returned. It is the last place MacArthur was in the Philippines before escaping to Australia during the Japanese invasion, though he made his famous “I shall return” statement in Australia. Most of the bombed barracks and buildings have been preserved from WWII and it was an eerie but beautiful place.


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This past week was relatively quiet at the office. One day was BREAK, or Bringing in Resources for Employees Agenda on Kalusugan. This event was a chance for employees of FNRI to get together and show off what they are doing. This way, all employees can be aware of what all the other parts of FNRI are doing. After the seminars, we had a Pinggang Pinoy inspired meal. Pinggang Pinoy is much like MyPlate in the US, and translates to Pinoy Plate (Pinoy is another word for Filipino). The meal served consisted of fried milkfish (the national fish), cooked kamote tops (the leaves of sweet potato cooked a bit like spinach), rice, and a banana. This meal included all the principal food groups of the Pinggang Pinoy: Go food(rice) Grow food(fish) and Glow food (kamote and banana). I was also invited to a going-away party for two other FNRI employees, Jadel and Melvin. I was very happy to be invited and it was quite the experience. There was some singing from another coworker named Albert for opening and closing the ceremony (Albert is a very good singer) and pizza, pancit bihon, and ice cream. After eating, Jadel and Melvin’s fellow coworkers each took turns giving little speeches to those leaving, drawing the comments at random from a jar. It was a sweet party, and I am glad that Randi and I were invited. I am constantly surprised by how much my coworkers work to make me feel welcome and a part of the FNRI family. This past weekend we travelled to Puerto Galera, and the place we stayed at had a very quiet private cove. We snorkeled one day (and fed the fish!) and kayaked across the bay on the second day.

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Promotions, and Expos, and Exhibits, Oh My!

The first half of this week was much the same as the last; I made info bits, which are one-page summaries of findings and advice using data from FNRI’s National Nutrition Surveys and R&D Department, written for the layman Filipino. Wednesday and yesterday, however, Kate and I accompanied another member of the promotions team, Sir Budz, to the SM Megamall in Mandaluyog City, Metro Manila. We helped to set up and man an FNRI exhibit at an event called the Negosyo Fair. Negosyo means “business” in Tagalog, and is adapted from the word “negotiate”.

There were a lot of entrepreneurs and businessespeople, and it was put on by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) was there as well, which is the department that FNRI belongs to. The hardest part of manning the exhibit was trying to articulate all of the things that FNRI does in a short amount of time. Near the beginning of the show, a nice Australian businessman asked me if all FNRI developed foods are rice-based and I started panicking and flashing him all 15 of the brochures we had. While I’m sure I gave him way more information than he wanted or needed,  he was very kind about it. Besides that awkward interaction, it was interesting to see some of the work FNRI does to spread awareness of its products and services.

The mall itself was quite fun to explore. It was gigantic, with 5 stories and very spread out. There are two buildings, but we only explored one of them. We got lost trying to find a restaurant the second day, but we finally found a place, and it was a Mexican restaurant too! While it was comforting to have taquitos for the first time in a long time, we soon had to leave the Megamall. Now that I’ve had this experience, I’m curious to see how future expos will be, and I think I’m ready to see how some of the campus tours go now.

Los Banos and the First week

It has definitely been an interesting ride from the US to Manila to Los Banos to FNRI in Bicutan where I am now, but it has certainly been an exciting one. There was much sleeplessness on the 15-hour plane flight from Chicago to Taipei, and it was a relief when we finally landed. Our layover was 5 hours long, so we had plenty of time to explore the Taipei airport. It was quite interesting, with very, very long hallways. Many of the waiting areas by each gate was themed. The theme outside our gate was Hello Kitty, with I found is quite popular in Taiwan, despite being a Japanese cartoon. After the long layover, our flight was only two hours or so, and was therefore a much nicer ride. The heat in Manila hit me as soon as we walked outside, but it really wasn’t much worse that a very hot Illinois summer day.

Our ride from Ninoy Aquino International Airport was about 2 hours and quite an interesting (and fun) ride in my opinion; Traffic rules in the Philippines are certainly much looser than in the US. The campus of the University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB) is quite beautiful and quiet compared to the street outside. After a night of much needed rest at the SEARCA hotel, we started off the next day with an orientation in Filipino culture, history and language. They fed us sweet rolls with ube (a purple yam) and banana for merienda, and we had a sampling of Filipino classics such as chicken adobo, pancit, and a sour soup that I cannot remember the name of. Remembering names and words for things is something that is difficult here. So many are thrown at you at once that it is impossible to remember them all. After all of the orientation, we were taken via jeepney to a traditional Filipino restaurant with a small lake that had floating tables. We had many of the same selections as lunch earlier, and I also had fresh buko, which is the water from a young coconut. We rode back in the jeepney too. While they are by no means the most environmentally friendly of vehicle, I think riding in them is a lot of fun.

The next day we all to a trip to the Villa de Escudero, which is a large estate and museum turned into a tourist attraction by the Spanish family that owns the grounds. We toured the Escudero private collection and ate lunch beneath a waterfall with water flowing under our feet. We also viewed a collection of dances and music from various parts of the Philippines. This show really highlighted the many different cultures that exist in the Philippines, among all of the islands.

Monday was a day we had to ourselves and the Independence Day here (it also happened to be my birthday!). A small group of us decided to try the massage parlor owned by one of our guides, Kuya Mellord. The massage was cheap, which was nice, but I don’t think I need to have any more of those.

The next day, we left at 7:00 in the morning for FNRI. It was a little bit awkward when we arrived because we had to leave all of our luggage at the entrance of the building for the tour and orientation by Czarina, who introduced us to all of our future bosses and showed us around the entire compound. After, she was kind enough to accompany us to the mall 5 minutes from our condo to show us all the shops we could go to for anything we needed. The supermarket was a cool place to see, and I was glad to see the imports section. It was very comforting to know I can still have my usual cereal in the morning even here. After the mall, Czarina showed us to our condos and we all went to bed pretty early due to the pretty long day.

Our first actual day at the office started the next day at 8:00 and I got to meet my official boss, Ms. Malu. Kate and I are in the same division, but our boss is abroad, so we report to the heads of our specific divisions. My division is promotions, so I get to do some interesting work in advertising for and promoting the work and technologies of FNRI. I will also get the opportunity to travel to conventions and campus visits, as well as help man some booths with Kate. The days are a regular workday from 8-5, so there isn’t much time to do anything during the workweek. Yesterday, we met up with Nathan and Human Nature and some of his coworkers, who took us to the Walled City of Manila. It was a full day, where we visited the site of the execution of Jose Rizal. Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines, who was executed by the Spanish authorities for protesting the continued occupation and colonialism of Spain. We also visited the two oldest churches in the Philippines, constructed in the 16th century. We ate lunch in Chinatown, which according to our carriage driver, is the largest and the oldest Chinatown in the world. We finished up the day at the National Museum, which had a really cool exhibit of living national treasures; people who are the only ones left with the knowledge to create traditional or indigenous items such as rugs, pots, hats, or even tattoos. Today was more of a relaxation and catch-up day (hence this blog post), but we did have a chance to go to the open-air market by the railroad tracks in Bicutan to buy some fruit and vegetables from vendors. This past week and a half has flown by, but I’m really excited to see what comes next!


Manila Cathedral, first built in 1571

Pre-Departure Thoughts

I leave tomorrow for The Philippines to work at the Food and Nutrition Research Institute in Manila. I’m not even close to being done packing, and a long day (and night, and day again) of travel awaits tomorrow. Seeing as this is my first trip out of the country (not counting a day spent in Canada when I was 11), I think I would be forgiven a sense of mild panic. The panic is there, to be sure, but there’s a larger sense of anticipation as well. I don’t know what I’m going to learn the next two months or how it will change me, but I know that I will learn many things and come back changed. That sense of the unknown is both scary and exciting, but hearing the stories of my friends who were past interns, and looking at the blogs of those who went last year have definitely increased my excitement. Their experiences show a sense of accomplishment and of doing good in a new and challenging place, and of returning glad of the opportunity they were given. With this in mind, I’m ready for whatever comes next!