Letters from the Philippines – “Adaptive research mode and Christmas spirit during the pandemic” by Viengvilaiphone Botthoulath

Academic Research, All Posts, Culture, Global Citizenship

Greeting from the Philippines

Hello! I am Viengvilaiphone Botthoulath (Vieng) from Lao P.D.R. I hope some readers still remember me. Literally, I was part of a staff training mobility exchange under the Erasmus+KA107 program PH Karlsruhe and Savannakhet University collaboration in 2019. At that time, I worked with two German partners for bi-directional teaching and learning and job-shadowed Dr. Martin Remmele, my main partner at the Department of Biology, and Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin, the project leader, and my partner at the Department of English. We did interesting project work together in- and outside class.

I miss my life at the University of Education Karlsruhe a lot now that it has been three years since it was my first experience in European countries, which was an unforgettable memory for me. Although I already finished with our collaboration on this project, maintaining our network and friendship has never ended. Therefore, my greeting goes to Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin, Dr. Martin Remmele, and all my friends at PH Karlsruhe, and may allow me to share students’ life in a scientific field and re-kindle the Christmas spirit on the campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines. The Christmas Season ends with the Feast of the Three Kings on 6 January.


Laboratory learning in the midst of COVID-19

I am currently pursuing a doctoral program in Microbiology at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (“UPLB”), under a SEARCA scholarship (“Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture”). My main research work is about probiotic microorganisms that are isolated from Lao traditional fermented foods like Lao traditional bamboo shoot fermentation, fermented fish products, and etc.,  the obtained potential bacteria that indicate the probiotic properties which then can be applied as a starter culture or a preservative agent in food products. Additionally, my minor field of study is Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, which is related to something to the molecular level of living things such as amino acids, enzymes, DNA, RNA, and so on. It seems to be a complicated study, right?  Yes, it is. But, it really interests me to explore such invisible, tiny organisms in nature and learn the mechanism of growing from them to be applied to our real lives.

Similar to the Philippines, many countries around the world have continued to practice living in the face of pandemics COVID-19. Here, UPLB has conducted remote learning for learning-teaching for almost two years already, using various platforms such as Zoom, Google Class, Messenger, Canvas Application, and so on.

My courses are mostly components of the laboratory section, meaning that my studies require me to perform experiments in the laboratory. This causes me to extend my graduation time for a year more at this university due to laboratory restrictions in the midst of COVID-19. This is the main challenge for many students who study the scientific field, and as a consequence, students have had a difficult time adjusting to the sudden change in the educational system. However, some courses manage the laboratory section online.

You may have a question about how to study experiments online. Actually, professors provide experiment sheets for students and explain the procedures for the given tasks. Then, students perform the laboratory by creating the schematic diagram of the experiments and even modifying the use of some materials/utensils that we have at home as an artificial lab supply for experiments. For example, students can use a candle that available at home to replace a laboratory alcohol lamp.

That is the strategy that our courses have applied during this tough time, which at least helps students minimize their extension of graduation.


Re-kindle the Christmas spirit on campus in the Philippines

When I walk through the Freedom Park area at the UPLB campus, I am reminded of the Karlsruhe Palace Gardens, which cover a large area behind the Karlsruhe palace, and from where I usually take this route walking to Karlsruhe University of Education very close by. Similarly, these two locations are popular gathering spots for picnics, sports, extended strolls, and simply getting away from the stresses of daily life.

The UPLB campus has been quiet and empty for the past two years, as no one has been allowed on campus due to COVID-19. People are frustrated, have less hope, and have lost the Christmas spirit because all the activities are online. Now in 2021, the Christmas decorations are back at the campus with the ornamentation of a Christmas tree, fountain, and more public access inside the campus. People are enjoying taking photos of the campus.

As we know that the Religion in the Philippines takes pride in being Asia’s sole Christian country. More than 86 % of the population is Roman Catholic, 6% is affiliated with various nationalized Christian cults, and 2% is affiliated with one of more than 100 Protestant denominations. Therefore, it can be observed that numerous people go to the church and practice their Catholic culture’s Christmas spirit face-to-face by following the rules of the new normal, which is known as “Simbang Gabi“, is a devotional, nine-day series of Masses attended by Filipino Catholics in anticipation of Christmas.

The event is usually organized from December 16 to 24. Filipinos from all walks of life make an effort to wake up every dawn to attend the novena masses, which start as early as 4 a.m. to pray to God for a healthy life, successful career, stronger family ties, among others. This indicates that the predicament is being lifted in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines.

I am now falling in love with the Philippines already, especially the Filipinos. They are very kind, friendly, and helpful. I already consider UPLB, the Philippines, to be my second home. Besides, I also have a lot of friends from various countries, such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, East Timor, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, and many more. This inspires me to learn more about cultural diversity from various parts of the world.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Erasmus+ KA107 program, Karlsruhe University of Education, and Savannakhet University for the great opportunity that was given to me. I hope I will have a chance to visit Karlsruhe again someday.


Text & photos by V. Botthoulath

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