Grateful, Nostalgic, Fulfilled

Posted: December 11, 2012

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
The best part about this entire experience is how unique it all was. There are many people who will never get to experience life in the rainforest like we have and it is very possible that I will never be able to live in the middle of the rainforest again in my lifetime, making the entire experience even more special and unique. This setting allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the material we studied because we were able to so easily take our learning outside of the classroom. Living in the rainforest let us not only learn about the environment but it also helped us learn about each other; we have become such a tight-knit group because we have been able to share this experience together. It has given me a new appreciation for the environment that is surrounding me and that is a perspective that I will take home with me, using it to look at my home environment in a new way and seeing special qualities that I never noticed before. I have found it so rewarding to be in this place that has changed my perspective in such a positive manner.

You’ve been in the country for a full semester — tell us your impressions of it now.
My impressions of this country after spending three months here have not drastically changed since getting here but instead have intensified. We are located in such a wonderful area, surrounded by towns that have been so friendly and welcoming to us as a group and as individuals. Even our travels to other areas of Queensland, such as the Daintree, Chillagoe and Cairns, only confirmed these feelings. The Australians that I have interacted with have been so willing to help and to teach me as an individual and all of us as a group. And of course, in addition to the welcoming culture, what I have seen of the country is so breathtakingly beautiful. The landscape changes so drastically in such a short time and it is truly unlike anything I have seen before. We have been fortunate enough to see so much and between the crystal clear blue water and white sand at Cape Tribulation in the Daintree to the colorful wonders of the Great Barrier Reef to the incredible variety of plants and animals that we spot around the SFS site, the beauty of this country never ceases to amaze me.

What is life at the field station really like?
Life at the field station was surprisingly easy to adjust to. I think a lot of us came here looking for a change for a semester and we certainly got it, but embraced it with open arms. I can still remember pulling up to the field station on the first day and getting a tour and wondering what I had gotten myself into but after that first night, I realized that this was going to be such a wonderful and special experience because of the setting and it has exceeded my expectations. Yes, if we wake up in the middle of the night, the bathroom is more than a few steps out the door; no, it’s not too surprising to find a spider that’s almost the size of a hand crawling around our cabins; yes, when I walk to the Center from my cabin, I’m almost guaranteed to see at least one furry creature hopping through the forest, unafraid to stop and have a staring contest with me for a few moments; yes, we do have some animals that try to join us at every meal and yes we can name most of the bird calls that we are on a daily basis.

These are only a few of the crazy things that life at a field station in the middle of the rainforest has entailed and I’m so glad that I have gotten to experience them. The best parts of living at this remote field station for three months has been the ability to escape the distractions of daily life outside a remote field station. Living here has separated us from much of the commercialization that makes up and distracts from a lot of life at home and school. Avoiding much of those distractions while here allowed us to fully appreciate not only the larger rainforest setting but also all of the little things that truly make such a special place. Being in such a remote area has also given us the opportunity to get really close and comfortable with each other; it allowed us to become a family. With that being said, the hardest part about living at this remote field station is going to be leaving it. It will be difficult to adjust to home and school life when we have all been living together in such a secluded area for so long. What has been so wonderful about this group is that we share a genuine interest for the environment and the nature surrounding us; it will be hard to not have this group around to share in my passion and excitement about all of the wonders that make up the natural world around us.

One of my favorite memories about living here occurred upon returning from our multi-day field trip to the Daintree. We got home, unpacked the cars and trailers and as we settled back in, there was an overwhelming feeling of happiness and comfort at the fact that we returned home. That was the first time for me that the Center really felt like home and that feeling has only become stronger since being here. Though I may not return to the Center, I will always think of it as my home away from home.

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
The biggest academic challenge has been the Directed Research projects that we have been working on for the last month of our time here. This is the first time that I’ve worked on a project this large or of this caliber and one of the best and hardest parts about it is that we’re seeing it through from start to finish. We started with two weeks of data collection, which was very physical and exhausting work, and then moved on to data analysis and write-up, which has certainly been less physical but still just as exhausting. We have all been working extremely hard on our individual papers and presentations and there have definitely been times where I have felt like all of my hard work was not making a dent in the overall amount. The hardest part about these projects has been the time span. We have spent so long working on them but we have yet to feel a sense of reward because even when we finish one part, there are still several other parts that need to be completed. However, once we are completely finished, I know that I am going to be so proud of my work and feel such a sense of accomplishment for all of the non-stop hard work that I put in for a month’s time and it will all be worth it.

One of the more challenging cultural aspects here has also been one of the more fun: understanding the Aussie accent and slang. There are plenty of differences in the way that all of the American students speak because we are from difference places in the U.S. but I have not been faced with much American slang that I have not heard before. Aussie slang is a different story though! From lectures led by Australians to interactions with locals, I have learned a lot of new and different Australian phrases! It has been a challenge because when having a conversation with an Australian, I don’t want to be constantly interrupting their train of thought to get clarification on certain phrases they are using. But lucky for us, we have plenty of native Australians at the station who have been willing to help us learn some phrases! Here are some that I have learned since being here: breakfast is abbreviated to brekkie, how’re you going is the equivalent to how are you (casual way to talk to someone versus formally asking them how they are doing), good on you is the equivalent to good for you and much of a muchness means it’s all the same. One of my favorite moments of data collection for Directed Research projects was when my group was asking if two of the transects were similar and our Australian professor, Catherine, said “it’s much of a muchness,” and we all stared at her with blank faces but she didn’t realize that we had no idea what the phrase meant! But of course, she was happy to explain it and that led to a very entertaining conversation about other Australian phrases and that’s when we were fortunate enough to learn a lot of them!

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
Though it is really hard to choose, I will say that Thanksgiving is the best memory that I have from this semester. It was the first opportunity when we all got to truly come together as a group since our Directed Research projects began. It was wonderful to share an American tradition not only with each other but also with members of the community who have been influential in our experience here and those that were gracious enough to allow us to stay in their homes earlier in the semester. We spent the week leading up to our celebration preparing together, cooking and baking in the kitchen and it was such a nice way for us to spend time together. When thinking back on spending Thanksgiving in another country, it’s not going to just be the specific day that I think about but the entire week in which we all worked together to prepare for a really special day. The best part about the actual day, other than all of the incredible food, was the overall feelings of joy and thankfulness that were being shared. Before eating dinner, we gathered with our guests and shared the meaning of Thanksgiving in America, talking about how it is a time to reflect on the things that we have to be grateful for in our lives and then went around and shared what we are each thankful for.
I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Thanksgiving away from home.

Give three adjectives that best describes how you are feeling right now.
Grateful, nostalgic, fulfilled.