University of Guam students depart for Bali Field School


Nine students from the University of Guam depart today for an immersive 12-day learning experience in Bali. The students are senior social work, sociology, philosophy, and education majors, and the program — the Bali Field School — is a component of their semester-long Community Development course in the Sociology Program.

Over the course of the trip, the students will live in a village with Balinese families, engage in their daily work and cultural practices, and explore core concepts of community development firsthand from practitioners, cultural artisans, and community organizers as well as from Balinese and Australian scholars who will be joining them.

“The question that continues to guide us is, ‘How do indigenous peoples and societies preserve their cultures and hold onto the cultural values that have sustained them for so long and yet move on in the modern world?’” said Professor of Sociology Kirk Johnson, who co-teaches the course along with Alison Hadley. “It allows the students to think more deeply about those things here in Guam and helps them explore their own values and current challenges facing our island community.”

Upon returning, the students will self-publish a book that captures their research and draws on their reflections and insights documented in their personal journals. Past cohorts have written publications, presented at international conferences, produced films and documentaries, and held workshops in local community centers and public schools on Guam and Saipan.

Reflecting on the most important lesson she took away from the experience, Bali Field School alumna Charissa Manibusan said, “Community development should always be a grassroots process. It’s most effective when the people in that community have a say and that process is based on their core beliefs and their values.”

This year the field school is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It was launched in 1999 by now Professor Emerita of Anthropology Rebecca A. Stephenson and now Emeritus Director of the Micronesian Area Research Center Hiro Kurashina.

“It’s been very heartfelt over the years, watching them grow, develop, learn, and become leaders in so many ways in their community here in Guam,” Stephenson said.

Over the past two decades, more than 150 students have participated in the Bali Field School, including Vice Speaker Telena Cruz Nelson, Sen. Kelly Taitano, and others who now serve in many areas of social, political, and economic life — from law and policy making to education and social welfare and from community organizing and philanthropy to the fields of health and social justice.