Participating in back to back summer programs with SFS allowed me to strengthen my cultural and academic experience. In June of 2011, I departed for Auckland, New Zealand for the SFS Rainforest Management Studies program, a two-country program that also includes a portion at The SFS Center for Rainforest Studies in Australia. As this session came to an end and a few of my friends returned to the U.S., I stayed, along with eight other students for a second session at the Center.

Over the course of nine weeks, those of us who stayed for both sessions got to see more cassowaries than we had ever imagined, go hiking in lava tubes, sleep over at a marae (a sacred residence for a Maori family), go swamp stomping, complete two academic research projects, play Frisbee at Mission Beach, and catch a lot of cane toads. Our time in these countries flew by as we became close friends and got to know the Yungaburra area well. On the last few days of our time in Australia, when we tried to recall all of the amazing memories that we had created together, we realized that there was too many to ever describe to our families and friends back home.

By the time I left Yungaburra, Australia, I felt like I had a much better sense of the way of life in the country in which I had been immersed. My increased knowledge of the native plants and animals strengthened my academic experience. My comfort with the different species enabled me to understand more clearly their role in the rainforest ecosystem. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed pursuing a research project on the role of iconic species in ecotourism during the second session that I had become interested in during my first session. Participating in both sessions not only enabled me to spend time in New Zealand and Australia, but also spend the week traveling around North Queensland. Those nine weeks in Australia topped all of my expectations and I’m glad to have had such an amazing experience.