When Adeny Schmidt, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, first approached Biology Department chair John Perumal about teaching the global cultures in context class for La Sierra’s honors program, he was not at all sure it was an assignment he wanted to accept. It was far different than teaching his regular classes in general ecology, environmental science, and medicinal plants. But, taking the students to Malaysia would be showing them his homeland, and the La Sierra Honors Council had requested it. So he agreed, and the group lifted off from Los Angeles International Airport bound for Asia on July 27.
Take seven La Sierra honors program sophomores, plus one recent graduate, on a three-week tour to Malaysia and Singapore. Show them life in three cultures on a continent most of them had never visited. Stretch them slightly beyond their comfort zone through once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Bring them home as world citizens.
First Stop: Singapore
The tour started in Singapore, one of the world’s cleanest cities, and one of the tallest. Jordan Harris, a management major, blogged that “In order to accommodate the five million-plus residents, Singapore has been building up. Now they are looking into building down. The lowest floor they have is 10 stories below ground.”
The students also learned that locals joke about Singapore as a “fine” city. One student blogged that “you can be fined for chewing gum, littering, eating food in the wrong places. . . Every time I accidentally dropped a piece of trash, I picked it up as quickly as I could.”
Ashlee Sumilat, a 2014 Honors graduate who went along on the tour before starting dental school at Loma Linda, didn’t realize that eating or drinking on the Singapore subway was punishable by a $500 fine. Luckily, a man seated across from her warned her as she was about to munch a handful of peanuts. As Jordan observed, “That would have been the most expensive bag of peanuts in history.”
On to Malaysia
From Singapore, the group crossed into Malaysia, spending a Sabbath at Dr. Perumal’s home church in Kuching. They provided music, gave their testimony, made friends, and enjoyed warm hospitality. Jonathan Rojas, who is majoring in biochemistry, observed that the church service was similar to those in the U.S. But afterwards? “Best. Potluck. Ever.” he wrote. “There was literally an endless amount of food.”
Indeed, the food throughout the trip was memorable. Students tried new dishes and unfamiliar fruits like durian, rambutan, and langat, sometimes straight from the trees. And they learned customs such as how to properly fold a banana leaf after finishing the food it was used to convey.
An Eye-Opening Four Days
While the days were filled with experiences such as visiting Hindu and Buddhist temples, mosques, and churches, and seeing orangutans and the carnivorous pitcher plant in a nature reserve, it was the fourday stay at an Iban longhouse in Sarawak that was most unique. There they joined 57 families, nearly all of whom were Seventhday Adventist, and spent their days living with and like the Iban people.
“There was no running water,” says Dr. Perumal, “so they had to bathe in the river. They got involved in what the villagers were doing.” For the guys, that meant taking long narrow boats down the river to help plant pepper trees and fertilize a grove of palm oil trees. The girls helped with cooking and housework.
Music major Tori Belliard blogged about walking with a woman to her plot of the rainforest. “When we arrived, we thought we were going to work very hard and were prepared to get started,” she wrote. “Instead, she invited us to sit down and enjoy a yellow type of rambutan fresh off the tree.
“The whole experience this morning made me realize how relaxed and stressfree the people are here,” Tori concluded. “I’m so used to a hectic schedule and stress that I don’t know how to sit and enjoy quality time with people the way the Iban do. They have their priorities straight.” By the end of the trip, the students were ready to see their families and sleep in their own beds again. Two hours before landing on the long trip home, Zoe Godfrey, a marketing major, wrote in her blog, “Watch out, California, here I come!”
The students, though, came home with a broader view of the world—exactly the intent of the Honors program global experience. “In the past three weeks, we have been exposed to the culture, history, religions, environment, food, and transportation of Malaysia and Singapore,” wrote Jordan in his concluding blog entry. “From the Brookes’ rule over Sarawak to the 5 K’s of Sikhism, I have learned too much during this trip. Information overload.”