Not your usual intersession class

May 11, 2018

The closing of the semester marks a change of pace for college students. On the one hand, there are those who look forward to coming home after living on campus during the school year. On the other hand,there are students who merely want to free themselves of exams, textbooks, researches and projects and just want to chill out and relax until the new semester kicks in. While most students leave the campus in May, there are Ateneans who look forward to doing studies during the intersession.

From June to July, the campus is abuzz with intersession courses. This period allows students to enroll in classes that they may not have been able to get during the regular August-May academic year. One such course is the Ateneo Social and Cultural Laboratory (ASCL).

Formerly known as the Ateneo Cultural Laboratory, ASCL began in 2009 as a means to push students out of the classroom and go into the field to do experiential learning.

A 3-week course, ASCL is open to students and the public interested in understanding the heritage of a particular Philippine district, town or city. Students who enroll in the program will earn 6 units of credit.  They will also be given a certificate of course completion in cultural heritage documentation. The Department of Sociology and Anthropology’s Cultural Heritage Studies Program manages it.

Dr. Fernando Zialcita, ASCL director and a professor with the department, was instrumental in putting up the laboratory.

“Back then, we already had a Cultural Heritage Studies Program but the department thought that it would be great to have a field study so that students could go into the field and learn social sciences theory and practice experientially,” he said.

Students learn the process of Ilocano weaving.

The first laboratory took place in Tayabas, Quezon.   Doing field research with 30 students was not easy —there was fieldwork logistics to consider, including the students’ safety—but ASCL found a partner in Fundacion Santiago.

A non-profit organization, Fundacion Santiago was engaged in micro-entrepreneurship using a community-based heritage tourism framework. The group learned of Ateneo’s Cultural Heritage Program and tapped the university to do their documentation.

“Fundacion Santiago specializes in development. They believe that local tourism can spur development. They’ve seen how it can contribute to decreasing poverty,” Zialcita said.  The group zeroed in on Tayabas. Known as the City of Festivals for its lively celebrations, Tayabas is steeped in heritage. It has historical churches,Spanish stone bridges, and local cuisine.

“We started in Tayabas, documenting specific aspects of its heritage: architecture, food, music, even the celebration of San Isidro Labrador,” Zialcita recalled.

From Quezon, the laboratory moved to Intramuros (2010), San Juan del Monte (2011), Bohol (2012), Kalibo-Boracay (2013), Nasugbu- Balayan (2014), Puerto Princesa (2015), Silay-Bacolod (2016) and Vigan (2017).

For 3 weeks, students practice what they learned in the lectures:  studying and documenting landscapes, structures, crafts, cuisine and oral traditions.  At the end of the course, they present and report to local government officials, heritage advocates and other stakeholders.

“It really is an application of what they learned in the classroom,” Zialcita said.  More than cultural appreciation, ASCL affords students the opportunity to foster mindfulness, compassion, and cooperation with others. It pushes Ateneans out of their comfort zones.

“When they are in the field, they shape up; they learn how to engage with local communities, “added Ms.Nota Magno, a faculty member of the department. However, she dismissed the notion that the laboratory is a typical immersion trip.

The laboratory allows students to interact with local communities.

“The framework here is difference: You gather data, analyze and see how it creates a full picture.” In short, the students are not in it just for fun.  It takes a lot of work, the interconnectedness of knowledge and experience.

Seeing the value of cultural heritage, some students take it upon themselves to take the lead in conservation.   In 2017, when ASCL went to Ilocos Sur, Christine Tiu took a liking to the region’s gold filigree jewelry. Together with friends, she created a social media page

( highlighting the products of Nelson Alonzo, the last of the Ilocano master artisans in gold filigree jewelry making.

This just proves that cultural heritage is not just about documenting traditions, but preserving them as well. Cultural heritage, after all, is a way of life.

“Cultural heritage has gone a long way from where it was 20 years ago.  It can be an engine for development. It can create jobs,” Zialcita said.

This year, ASCL will go to Vigan and the coastal towns of Northern Ilocos Sur. For inquiries, visit