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January trips mix leisure with studies

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Most students tend to view the January interterm offered by the University of La Verne as one of two things: one, an opportunity for a one month vacation to add on to the end of winter recess, or two, a compressed semester to get general eds and other annoying little courses out of the way. What most Leopards fail to realize, however, is a third and far more compelling justification for the January term’s existence. This reason is, of course, to allow students and faculty members to embark on field study trips.

Most of these trips focus on traveling out of the country to study and experience particular subjects firsthand, while still having some time for fun and sightseeing. Think of them as working vacations, college style.

Ask any veteran of such trips whether or not they enjoyed themselves, and chances are most of them will have nothing but good things to say about their experiences.

“It was neat to get away from the classroom and be out in the field,” said Jonathan Renard, a junior biology major of a study trip to Baja he went on.

That particular trip, led by Professor of Biology and Biochemistry Jay Jones, featured studies of many indigenous plant and animal species in their native habitats.

Another junior biology major, Virginia Ng, took part in another of Jones’ interterm adventures, in this case a trip to Belize in January of this year.

Like the Baja trip, Ng said the Belize trip’s main focus was studying native plant and animal life in the wild (including performing autopsies on dead whales that had washed up on shore), but there were plenty of fun, not so academic moments, as well. One such moment included a Mayan woman and her granddaughter teaching the group how to make chocolate from raw cocoa plants.

This January’s offshore biology course continues the Latin American theme by visiting Costa Rica, and Jones said there are plenty of spaces still available. Whether students are interested in his course or someone else’s, they are encouraged to contact the coordinator as soon as possible to secure their spot and be adequately prepared.

In addition to the biology department’s Costa Rica adventure, Professor of English Kenneth Scambray is taking a group of students to Italy for one week in Florence and one week in Rome.

Aside from taking up time that would otherwise be an extension of winter recess, the biggest drawback to going on a field study trip is cost. While shorter trips to relatively nearby places like Baja usually cost between $500 and $700 per student, programs with more exotic, faraway destinations can cost a couple thousand dollars, something that many students and their families have trouble coming up with.

Ng said she would like to go to Costa Rica, bringing her total to two trips to Latin America in as many years, but she has had a hard time convincing her parents to put up the $2,700 plus airfare.

But she, like so many others, insists that taking advantage of such opportunities are time and money well spent.

“It’s unlike anything you’ve ever done and it’s so worth it,” Ng said.

Tom Anderson can be reached at

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