OU students learn tropical field ecology in Ecuador

For the week of April 22 through May 2, Oakland University students traveled to Ecuador to participate in a week-long Tropical Field Ecology study abroad program. The trip allowed students to explore various Ecuadorian ecosystems while earning college credit in the process.

Before the journey began, the group of students were selected by professor Scott Tiegs, the faculty leader of the program. This process required students to attend informational sessions and submit an application form.

“After the first informational session, I knew I wanted to go on this trip,” Oakland University sophomore Nicholas Skinner said. “I submitted my application and was accepted, which was very exciting considering only about one-fourth of the applicants get into the program.”

Once the travel group was chosen, the participants completed a list of planning tasks. They were tasked with obtaining a passport, receiving vaccinations and packing durable outer garments.

On April 22, the students said goodbye to their families and boarded their flight to Ecuador. Once they reached their destination, the program commenced.

The Tropical Field Ecology (BIO4333) class that was built into the program, required students to complete several activities throughout the duration of the trip. One major focus of the class was the aspect of research.

“We kept track of different species we saw (150+ types of birds), and got to experience the Amazon Rainforest and travel throughout the whole country of Ecuador,” Oakland University junior Annie Rank said.

In order to observe a wide variety of species, the students were guided through the Amazon by a native Ecuadorian woman named Sandra. Under Sandra’s guidance, the group was able to view many different animals; some of which included monkeys, hummingbirds and boa constrictors.

“After we left the Amazon, we stayed at a lodge in the cloud forest, which is essentially where the clouds hit the mountains at a certain elevation that creates a misty environment,” Skinner said. “This place had an extremely lush jungle and hundreds of hummingbirds, which was amazing to see.”

In addition to wildlife research, students were also given the opportunity to learn more about the native culture of Ecuador. The group was led by Enoc, a native Ecuadorian man who had grown up in the jungle.

Enoc taught the students various survival skills and techniques for locating certain animals. Participants were also taught how to forage food in the jungle.

“One big thing I learned on this trip was about how people lived in other parts of the world,” Skinner said. “The people who lived there lived very similarly to the way we live, using many of the same methods, traditions, building styles, products, and even the same brands.”

Overall, the Ecuador study abroad program was very well-received by its participants. Students were able to learn a vast array of knowledge about tropical field ecology, while also exploring the customs of the Ecuadorian culture, 

“I learned so much about the wildlife and plants of Ecuador, and how amazing it is to study abroad,” Rank said.

Oakland University’s Study Abroad Office will offer another Tropical Field Ecology trip to Ecuador in December for interested students. Other related study abroad programs are offered in countries such as Costa Rica and Guatemala, and also the province of Ontario.