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King University News :: KU Students Discover Biology and Philosophy Coalesce during Malaysia Trip

BRISTOL, Tenn., July 18, 2014 – King University students recently travelled to Penang, Malaysia for a unique study abroad experience. The trip was preceded by a semester-long spring course which combined topics of both biology and philosophy of Asia. Following the end of the spring semester, eight students travelled with Dr. Han Ong, dean of King’s College of Arts and Sciences, who is from Penang, and Dr. Craig Streetman, assistant professor of Philosophy, where they spent two weeks immersing themselves into the Malaysian culture.

“Topics of study during the trip focused on the natural features of Malaysia along with the philosophical and religious viewpoints of the region,” said Streetman. “We met once a week during the spring semester to discuss the country, ecology of tropical islands, various cultures, and expectations upon arrival in Penang.”

While it is important to study a particular region, immersion into and exploration of a different culture is often one of the best ways to learn – by embracing the culture, natural habitat, and the ethos of the region.

“Students gained a wealth of book knowledge about Malaysia prior to the trip. This helped them understand the difference between what is said about a place and what is actually there. It all truly comes together when the students experience it for themselves,” said Streetman.

David Eagan, senior Biology student, said, “Drs. Ong and Streetman were excellent guides; [they] made the trip a memorable one. After experiencing a different culture, I have a better understanding of how a different part of the world works. It is a step towards ‘global citizenship.’”

This trip was Dr. Streetman’s first journey to Malaysia as well as the students. “We were excited to take everything in – to see, hear, taste, and smell—Malaysia is truly a delight for the senses, especially for the palate.  You walk onto the street and are overcome by these amazing aromas of the local cuisine--it doesn’t take long to discover that food is at the center of Malaysian culture.   We enjoyed many meals among the natives in open-air markets and local restaurants.  Malaysia is also a very culturally diverse place, where you can find a mosque, Hindu temple, and Christian church on the same block.  It was wonderful to see how harmoniously people of different religious beliefs can live together.”

As Streetman further reflects, “the expressed intent of a study abroad trip is to learn about another culture, but what often takes us by surprise is how much we learn about our own.  Visiting foreign lands tends to put our own beliefs and pre-suppositions into proper relief; it gives us backdrop against which to compare our way of life.  In this sense we learn just as much about ourselves as we do the culture in which we become immersed.  This happened for us in Malaysia, I think.”

The students travelled to Teluk Duyung, also known as Monkey Beach, to enjoy the beach as well as to experience some coastal biodiversity. They also spent time enjoying the natural habitat while hiking, snorkeling and feeding wild macaques.

“It was a special privilege for the students and me to be led by a local native of Penang, Dr. Ong,” added Streetman. “He took us through the lesser-known nooks and crannies of the region. We were also able to meet his parents and sister, giving us glimpse of family life in Penang, which most would not have the privilege of doing on a standard tour.”

During part of the trip, students travelled to a fish farm, where tour groups are not typically granted access. A relative of Dr. Ong provided the opportunity to explore the family’s fishery. “It is essentially a floating island where they sustainably cultivate many local fishes for high-end restaurants,” said Streetman. “Afterwards, we travelled by boat to a local fishing village called Pulau Aman. It was an eye-opening experience for the students.”

Stacy Martin recently graduated from King in May 2014 with her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a minor in Coaching. Of her time in Malaysia, she commented, “I really enjoyed learning and experiencing the culture of a country on the other side of the world. Observing the temples and mosque was very enlightening and allowed me to have a better understanding of people [who practice these] religions here in the United States.

“Having the opportunity to travel to Malaysia allowed me to realize that although the culture is different from my own, people around the world are really all the same,” added Martin. “We’re all living life with desires and intentions regardless of where we are on the map. This trip has encouraged me to want to explore the globe further.”

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