–By Divi Maheshwari–

Every year, the Year One IB Biology and IB Environmental Science students go on an ecological trip to Khao Yai National Park during their ecology unit. The purpose of the trip is to perform field work and collect real data. Students get to experience nature and at the same time do rigorous work as part of their curriculum. They get to experience what it’s like to be a biologist or ecologist working in the field.

The data they collect is compiled to understand the ecosystem they are studying. Students study forest, grassland, and stream ecosystems and compile research on various flora and fauna including elephant populations based on dung analysis, biodiversity of nocturnal flying insects, plant species identification based on leaves, lichen density calculation on tree trunks, comparison between forest and grassland plant communities, macroinvertebrate sampling to calculate stream water quality, and abiotic factors to calculate stream health. Over the three days, students spend 9–14 hours completing meticulous field work and compiling data. The experience strengthens students’ research understanding.

Initially, I wasn’t excited for the trip. The idea of standing in the sun for 12 hours a day doing lab work wasn’t a very appealing trip itinerary. And on top of that, having to wake up at 6 am, as well as getting only an hour of leisure time, was not something I was overjoyed about. I kept telling myself, “At least I have the bus ride with my friends, and at least I’m rooming with my friends, even though I won’t get to spend too much time with them,” but other than that I was dreading the trip.

Saturday was the first day of the trip. It started out with a very fun bus ride with my friends: Pleng, Pisa, Poupee, and Ophie. After arriving at the hotel, we had to get ready for field work that day. I wasn’t looking forward to that as I didn’t know my teammates very well. But we all worked so well together that even collecting elephant dung (yes, that was an activity) was fun. The best part of the day was when we explored deep into the forest. For many of us, that was the first time to do so. We all marveled over the trees and at the same time whined at the vines that would smack us every two seconds. I also vividly remember pushing through the tall blades of grass in the dry grassland. The grass was so tall that it even reached over some of our heads. Although we all got cuts and bruises from going head first into the grass, it was surprisingly fun and we quickly bonded as groups together. The day ended with Poupee and Pisa teaching Pleng, Tarun, and me how to play Mahjong. We collectively collapsed on our beds as it hit curfew and slept like babies the moment our heads hit our pillows.

Sunday was a productive day. We completed numerous activities out on the field and collected a lot of data. One thing I remember about this day was getting lost in the forest. We were at this turn, and instead of taking a right, we had taken a left and our entire group got lost. All of the sudden, we heard elephants in the distance. Our teachers said that it was the first time they had ever heard elephants on site. Panic ensued. We were lost and it felt as if the elephants were coming after us. Walking faster, we couldn’t help but burst into laughter at the situation. Dr. Alan looked slightly frantic, we could hear Ms. Mendy’s voice in the distance calling out to the students to walk faster, and Mr. Leif trying his best to get us back on track... it was a truly wild experience. Even while we were running away from the elephants, we couldn’t help but stop to take photos of fungi to compete in the “fungal challenge,” where the team with most types of fungi wins. It was an unforgettable moment.

Monday was the last day. We gave presentations on our fieldwork data. Coming back to school, Pleng and I couldn’t stop thinking about wanting to go back to the trip. It was the most memorable trip we’ve been on. The best part of the entire experience was the bonding. Not only between students, but between teachers and students. Even to this day, we reminisce about the trip and laugh over the countless memories, especially over our bruises from the grassland and the forest. While the purpose of the trip was to expand our research and ecological experience, I came back with stronger relationships with my friends and new relationships with my teammates. I would do anything to go back and relive that trip. It was, without a doubt, the best one I’ve been on.