The ISO Series: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Words by Franklin Tan
Photos by Franklin Tan

In this article, I have interviewed individuals that have all been on previous trips in the ISO series, asking a various number of questions that had pertained to their experiences and things they have noticed or learned.

I have interviewed three current students in the School of Arts and Social Sciences; Norman and Hannah who had both been on last year’s ISO series study trip which was ISO Laos (2016), and Janice who had been on two of the previous ISO series trips – ISO Yangon (2015) and ISO Laos. And I also heard from Chrishandra, who is the chaperone of this year’s ISO series study trip and she has been on three ISO series trips; one as a student during ISO Iloilo (2013), one as an alumnus in ISO Yangon and one as a chaperone for this year’s ISO Sabah (2017). The last person I have interviewed is Jasbir, the risk manager of Monash University Malaysia who has accompanied the travellers on three of the ISO series trips which were ISO Yangon, ISO Laos, and ISO Sabah.

Below is the list of questions that were asked to each individual, though it should be noted that the answers from each individual are not word by word recordances, but them noted, based on my perspective.

 

IMG_4583Janice Ng; three ISO trips

What, in your opinion, would be the difference between the ISO series trip(s) you’ve been on, aside from the countries?

Norman:

Norman made a mention that ISO Sabah is Meng Yoe’s (our beloved leader) first trip as the pathfinder. He also commented that this year we gravitated towards the same NGO as opposed to last year in Laos where we went to multiple. The group this year is also smaller.

Janice:

Janice had noted that the dynamics of the people in all the study trips are different with each ISO bringing different people into the mix. While going to Laos and Yangon was perceived to be going to a whole new place, coming here to Sabah is more personal because it’s closer to home.

Hannah:

According to Hannah, the interactions of the people in those countries were interesting as it was a different process. The way we got closer and shared experiences that made us good friends was also different as compared to ISO Laos, which could probably be due to the short 6 days we spent in Sabah.

Chrishandra:

As she has been on three, this trip was the shortest and closest to home. In some way, this is the most laid-back in terms of pace and she really liked that. The pace in Sabah is somewhat slower so we can understand the rhythms of the place more. She however appreciated that sometimes the rushing is necessary in order to do as much as needed.

Jasbir:

Jasbir felt that the ISO trips are not designed to be similar but it gives them a chance to learn about different cultures, challenge students, put them under pressure, look at things from a different perspective and get them to bond whilst giving them a broader understanding.

 

What, in your opinion would be the similarity in the ISO series?

Norman:

As Norman saw it from a more logistical standpoint, he has noticed that both of the trips he’s been on have similar editorial structure and logistical structure. As a dancer himself, he has noted that this year’s cultural performance, which was a dance video, was not as grand as last year, which was a flash mob.

Janice:

Janice said that having to stay up late to get articles done and barely getting enough sleep are the similarities of the ISO trips she went for.

Hannah:

Hannah saw the presence of the same sense of adventure and exploring as well as learning new things through the sessions we attended and the sights we saw.

Chrishandra:

A little bit more on the insightful side, Chrishandra had noticed that in all the ISO trips that she has been on, the questions that were asked in an interview were generally quite similar. She noted a good number of similarities between what she experienced in Sabah and in the Philippines. Some noteworthy similarities would be the prevalence of Christianity in both countries, the landscape, and the language rhythm. She said that Sabah sometimes felt like an extension of fieldwork in the Philippines.

*Jasbir was not asked this question as he had already answered it previously.

 

IMG_4580.JPGNorman Harsono; two ISO trips

Why do you think that so few male students sign up for the ISO trips?

Norman:

Norman felt that the possible reason could be that there are generally fewer males in SASS and that reflects in the number of participants in the ISO trips. He had also made a note that the ratio of international to local students in the School of Arts is also reflected in the number of international students in the ISO trips.

Janice:

Janice wondered that perhaps guys are not ‘adventurous’ enough to go on study trips. She has also wondered if perhaps it is because the ratio of girls is higher than guys in the School of Arts.

Hannah:

Hannah suggested that male students probably don’t check their emails as thoroughly as the female students. As a strong advocate for women’s rights, she had also questioned that maybe the ISO trips are a safer way for females to travel compared to male travellers.

Chrishandra:

Chrishandra genuinely does not know why, wonder but had also wondered if it’s the ratio between the female and male students in the School of Arts.

Jasbir:

Jasbir mentioned that maybe some guys don’t see the value in doing things like this or some may feel that they would rather go on a tour than this. Jasbir has suggested asking those that did not participate on this trip as to the reason why they did not to find out more and what could be done or changed to fix that.

 

What would be your best memory of the ISO trips?

Norman:

Norman’s fondest memory was eating the pork sausages in the night market at Vientiane (Laos) and the camaraderie; how we bonded with each other.

Janice:

Janice’s favourite memory was performing the flash mob in Vientiane (Laos) as we had amassed a fan club of Korean boys in Laos who very much admired our dancing.

Hannah:

Hannah’s favourite memory was not anything specific but the times when a group of travellers was just chilling, talking about random-est things and just hanging out. Cycling in Luang Prabang (Laos) also had a special mention.

Chrishandra:

Chrishandra mentioned big nature movements, the sunset, watching the stars, unplugging and being away from people – generally enjoyed the countryside and nature moments as best experiences.

Jasbir:

The experience that was the most memorable was watching the sunset, and then looking at the stars because it’s something we have not done before.

 

What would be your worst memory of the ISO trips?

Norman:

Norman’s worst memory was watching the ISO Laos documentary (it was incomplete when it was played, due to various number of issues).

Janice:

Janice’s worst memory was when she fell really sick in Yangon after the first day there, to the point where she barely had the will or energy to write her articles.

Hannah:

Hannah’s worst memory was when a bug flew up under her shirt in Laos in a restaurant and a man was recording her trying to take it out (he was the owner of the restaurant and he was filming us for promotional purposes).

Chrishandra:

For Chrishandra, her worst memory was working super-hyper-extra hard during her first study trip as the Chief Editor and by the end of the trip, she got so sick that she stayed in bed with her inhaler.

Jasbir:

Fortunately, Jasbir has never had one and he is very thankful for that. He has made a note that the selections for the travellers in each trip were always meticulously planned out and careful preparations were always made.

 

IMG_4581.JPGHannah Reshma Jambunathan; 2 ISO trips

Since this is your last ISO trip as a student of the School of Arts, what will you miss the most about it?

Norman:

The one thing that Norman will miss the most would be subsidised trips around the countries of Southeast Asia, courtesy of Monash University Malaysia.

Janice:

Janice, like Norman will also miss being able to travel at a subsidised rate. She said she will also miss ISO trips because you get to learn things you don’t normally get to learn if you go on a regular holiday.

Hannah:

Hannah has secretively said, “Who said this was my last ISO trip?” *giggles* She has made no mention of what she will miss the most.

*As Chrishandra and Jasbir both work at Monash, there is a small possibility that this ISO trip will be their last. Therefore, this question was not asked to them.

 

Would you consider coming back for future ISO trips as an alumnus?

Norman:

As Norman is an international student (from Indonesia), he doesn’t think that he will be returning as an alumnus on future ISO trips.

Janice:

If she can find the time and money to do so, she will consider coming back.

Hannah:

As mentioned above, Hannah has secretly implied that this will not be her last ISO trip.

* Again, Chrishandra and Jasbir both work at Monash and are chaperones/risk manager for this trip, this question was not asked to them.

 

IMG_4608Franklin Tan; 2 ISO trips

What would be your words of wisdom to the future ISO travellers?

Norman:

Plan as much detail as you can ahead of the trip.

Janice:

If you have that nudge to go for the trip, just go for it. Also sleep is super, super important.

Hannah:

Sign up and be nice.

Chrishandra:

Go to a place without any expectation, leave your expectations and privilege behind and be humble.

Jasbir:

Keep your eyes open, be curious and ask a lot more questions. Don’t be afraid.

———————–

Epilogue: While we all have different views and perspectives on many different matters, the fact is that we would not have met or have been as close as we are today, were it not for the ISO series. Many friendships, connections and sometimes even romances have been forged through this. We can only hope that others will follow in our footsteps and enjoy and learn just as much as we did.

You will have to be in it to believe it.


Would half want to hibernate at home with Netflix and tea but would also half want to travel the world looking for something/someone/somewhere new.

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