Name: Jillian Guenther
School: Vassar College
SFS Program: Tropical Rainforest Studies, Australia
Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
I decided that I wanted to study in Australia for various reasons, including the diversity of both landscapes and organisms, as well as the culture and language. I started looking at different programs offered in Australia but I knew I didn’t want to study at a university. Field work is one of my favorite parts of classes at Vassar so The School for Field Studies seemed promising. The more I read about the program, the more sure I was about attending! I was particularly attracted to the focus on research and policy interacting, and using a case study to learn widely-applicable skills.
What were your first impressions of Australia?
My first impression of Australia came from the airplane. As I stared out the window, I could see through the clouds: the ocean, the coast, houses, roads, ponds, forests – it was beautiful! When we landed in Cairns, I could smell the rainforest from the second I stepped off the plane. The air was warm and moist, the sky was thick and blue, and the mountains were incredibly green. Even the grass by the runway was greener than I’d ever seen.
In the airport and everywhere we’ve gone since arriving, people have been exceptionally friendly and willing to share their perspectives. In the Atherton Tablelands, people work hard and are proud of their work despite their struggles. Overall, it’s a wonderful place!
What were your first impressions of The SFS Center for Rainforest Studies?
The field station is wonderful! We turned down the access road and I got more excited with every bump in the road! The Center is welcoming and well-equipped with everything from ID books to games. The staff is so energized and the community culture is strong. The cabins are quite cozy and the walk to class is gorgeous, though a bit of a work-out. I have already seen so many animals!
What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester both academically and culturally?
The biggest challenge has actually been maintaining a solid connection with home while remaining present in this experience. Thankfully, everyone here is very supportive and classes are engaging. Academically, it has proven challenging to adjust to the format of the classes in the program. At Vassar I have a lot more time to complete my readings and assignments while being involved in other organizations. The amount of structured time at SFS takes getting used to. I also am adjusting to a different working space and having to organize myself differently without the typical dorm and school supplies. I did not bring my laptop to the field station so this also requires shifts in my academic habits.
What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?
I’m excited about being in a new place and I look forward to learning as much about it as I can. I’m very excited about the home stay. Academically, I’m looking forward to the Directed Research. I’m also looking forward to bringing this knowledge home.
Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Grateful, tired, and psyched!