by Helen Jambunathan, pictures from In Search of Iloilo
From the 19th to the 31st of January this year, sixteen students from the School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS) were fortunate to travel to the Philippines on the ‘In Search of Iloilo City’ study trip.
The trip took us on a whirlwind journey through an assortment of places and scenes that were both historically and culturally rich. Among these were the rooftops of colonial haciendas, countless churches with gorgeous, intricate architecture, brightly-lit malls, and the particularly unforgettable island of Guimaras with its clear, three-toned aquamarine waters.
There was excellent camaraderie within the group which lent itself naturally to lots of spontaneous fun – impromptu yoga on the Guimaras beach and singing karaoke in a small shack by the side of a road, bike-riding, riding on the rooftop of a jeepney while belting out numbers from Les Miserables, and dressing up in old-fashioned Spanish-style clothing were just some of the things we did together
We were very fortunate to be hosted at the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) by Dr Rosalie Arcadia-Hall, who also selected 5 fantastic student guides to accompany us around the city. The easy friendship we all settled into fairly quickly was in no small part due to their engaging, open personalities and seemingly bottomless energy reserves. We all grew close to them, and parted reluctantly when it was time for us to leave for Manila – and have remained fast friends ever since.
We were proud to host a screening of Malaysian films while we stayed at UPV (in Iloilo), and were lucky enough to be taken on a tour of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila and watch a few local films while there as well. A food tour around Chinatown in Manila ensured that our stomachs were full as we pondered the enduring nature of the Chinese diaspora communities.
The legacies of the study trip extend well beyond solid friendships and roadside fun, however. A visit to the urban poor of Iloilo left many of our number in tears- a valuable human experience out in the field to illustrate the social science theories we learn about in Monash lecture theatres.
Our stay in Iloilo revolved around the socio-cultural aspects of the annual Dinagyang Festival, and we had the privilege of being able to track the practices and planning of the eventual champions of the Ati-Ati dance competition over the festival period. We also had several sessions where we were briefed on specific topics by experts in their fields. We learned about the situation of the urban poor; spoke to members of the indigenous community in Iloilo; visited cottage industries; and studied the history, society, and culture of the city during our stay there.
The invaluable exposure to another country and culture that the Iloilo study trip gave us is something that will linger for a very long time. We left with new, profound experiences, precious knowledge, enduring friendships, and plenty of food for thought. Read more about our experiences and memories at the trip blog.