James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

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ISAT's Dr. Johnathan Walker Leads Studies Abroad Trip to the Philippines

Posted: February 28, 2007
By: Amanda Rivera

PHOTO: PhilippinesThe distinction between a “tourist” and a “traveler” is not a foreign concept to Geography professor Dr. Johnathan Walker. As the director of JMU’s “Philippines Mabuhay!” study abroad program, Dr. Walker’s experience with travel lies in the Far East where he has been able to call such distant places as Taiwan “home.” Visiting the Philippines as many as ten times, Dr. Walker hopes to share the experience with students. However, on the trip’s “What Not to Bring” list, he notes that people with an “uptight attitude or paralyzing fear” of trying something new need not apply. “A lot of people haven’t really had a lot of exposure to people who are different from them. I think, in that respect, there are a lot of people skills to be learned,” he states.

PHOTO: PhilippinesDr. Walker’s fascination with Asia, the Philippines in particular, began at his undergraduate alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, where he was taught by a Philippines scholar. These interests were further incited by his Master’s thesis on Filipino international labor migrants in the world economy. Having visited this pacific island multiple times, Dr. Walker says, “Filipinos, as a group of people, are very friendly, very happy go-lucky.” His Asian excursions, however, have not been limited to the Philippines. For two and a half years, Dr. Walker lived in Taiwan teaching English to Taiwanese children. While there, Dr. Walker become aware of the growing practice of importing Taiwanese factory workers from the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. Pursuant to extensive research and surveying, Dr. Walker decided to use the issue for his doctoral dissertation topic.

PHOTO: PhilippinesWith the formation of a study abroad program to the Philippines, Dr. Walker is now able to involve students in conducting similar research. Taking a group of ten students for the first time last May, Dr. Walker proposed various topics for areas of study. While there, students collected qualitative data for topics indigenous to the Philippines such as commercial sex tourism and sustainability on a small island. “We spent time in Manila [the capital city] trying to get an idea of what it’s like to have over ten million people living in a crowded, poor city in a developing country,” Dr. Walker explains. Work was, however, mixed with opportunities for sight-seeing. Amidst days filled with hiking and scuba-diving, students were most impressed by the rice fields, a cultural effect of the island. “My study abroad is totally experiential,” Dr. Walker comments, “We don’t spend any time in the classroom.”

For Dr. Walker, travel has meant exceeding conventional tourism. He says, “I’ve ridden on the back of motorcycles out into places where tourists never go and that is something that I’ll always remember more so than my trip to the Eiffel Tower.” His passion is shared by the study abroad students as well. “It’s pretty awesome to see people come up to me and say, ‘This has changed my life,’ and that means a lot to me because it’s changed my life…When you can have that kind of impact through study abroad where people say, ‘I’m not going to be the same person,’ it’s a total reward. For me, that’s what this is about.”

With trips to Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Japan and Korea already under his belt, Dr. Walker hopes to visit China next. When asked if this trip would be planned for the next year, he optimistically replies, “There’s always the potential.”