Study abroad will take students into the Amazon

Release Date: 3/16/2012

Called "The Lungs of the World," the Amazon rainforest in South America covers 1.7 billion acres spread across nine different countries. The Amazon represents over half of the planet's remaining rainforests, and it comprises the largest and most species-rich tract of tropical rainforest on the planet.

This fall, a handful of intrepid students will travel to this exotic setting to explore the region and investigate its many complexities. The Study Abroad course will encompass not only the geography and environment of the Amazon, but also economic and political facets of the area, as well as its history and language.

"Students will visit several important Amazon towns in three different countries," says Professor of Spanish and Latin American Culture Dr. William Clary, who has had extensive field experience in Latin America for decades. "We will explore the Amazon River town of Leticia in Colombia as our base of operations to make day trips to smaller Amazon towns and villages in the surrounding area. We will have the opportunity to visit Tabatinga and Benjamin Constant in Brazil, and the Peruvian town of Rosario, which lies across the river from Leticia. Within Colombia, we will stay in the smaller Amazon town of Puerto Nariño and visit indigenous villages located nearby."

In Puerto Nariño, populated largely by indigenous people and where motorized travel is forbidden, students will visit the Natutama Centre where they will learn about many of the endangered species which populate the Amazon River including the pink dolphins and the manatees.

Students will experience first hand the tropical rainforest environment in Amaycayacu National Park, which is accessible by boat. Amacayacu is well known for its interpretive trails, where with the help of a local indigenous guide, students can hike deep into the Amazon jungle. This park offers an astounding array of flora and fauna from the world's smallest primate, the lion marmoset, to the world's largest lotus, the Victoria Regia. This park is also home to several indigenous Indian communities which preserve their traditional way of life. In Amacayacu, students will stay in primitive eco-cabins and sleep in traditional hammocks.

Students will be thoroughly prepared in the classroom during the semester, leading up to the trip itself, which takes place at semester's end during the holiday break. Classroom discussions will include topics ranging from indigenous cultures of the Amazon and their agriculture, biodiversity, the problem of deforestation, to climate change, and public policy and land use in this vast region.

Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Science Education Dr. Kim Van Scoy, whose extensive field experiences include the Galapagos Islands, the Falkland Islands, Svalbard, and the Antarctic - and who took a life-changing mission trip to the Amazonian rainforest as a teen - stresses the importance of the area: "The Amazon Rainforest harbors the richest diversity of plant and animal species on earth." she said, "It is considered the single most important ecological resource on the planet."

Globally, says Van Scoy, one in ten identified species live in the Amazon Rainforest, constituting the largest collection of existing plants and animals in the world. "Scientists have identified some 2,000 birds and mammal species, at least 40,000 plant species, and nearly 1,000 amphibians and reptiles in the region," she says.

While historically the inhospitable nature and relative isolation of this region have protected these organisms, changes in land-use, specifically with respect to deforestation and agriculture have dramatically increased rates of extinction.

"Knowledge of spoken Spanish isn't a prerequisite for the trip," Dr. Clary says. "The focus will be on basic communication skills, and students will be expected to use the Spanish they acquire in the classroom in the field. Those with more knowledge will help those with less."

This course will complement and enhance the University's existing majors and minors in Spanish, Biology, and Environmental Studies.

Asked why a course like this one is important, Dr. Clary replied, "Not only is it an introduction to non-commercial foreign travel and Hispanic culture and language, it is also an intro to the marvels, complexities and paradoxes of the Amazon, the largest and last great frontier region on the planet."

Dr. Van Scoy replied with a quote from the Senegalese poet Baba Dioum:

In the end, we conserve only what we love.
We will love only what we understand.
We will understand only what we are taught.

For more information on the upcoming Study Abroad course, email Dr. Clary at wclary@ozarks.edu or Dr. Van Scoy at kvanscoy@ozarks.edu.