Our time here at SFS is very structured; we follow busy schedules in order to get everything accomplished, including course work, community service, and other maintenance tasks. Last week, we were able to slow down a little and explore some different parts of Australia by going on mid-semester break. I was lucky enough to go to two places during my break: the Great Barrier Reef and Magnetic Island.

Myself and two other students began mid-semester break by going on an overnight snorkeling/diving trip on the outer reef. Because we were so far from the shore, the world beneath the water seemed almost unreal. The coral was so large and well-developed that you could look at the same place and keep finding new things. We saw a few sea turtles that were eating jellyfish, blue starfish, a humphead wrasse, and many kinds of sharks. (And that is just a very small sampling of everything we saw.) Since we were staying on the boat overnight, we were able to experience the reef at night, which was definitely something I will never forget.

After returning from the boat, we went to Magnetic Island to meet up with sixteen other students that were spending their break there. Magnetic Island is half an hour off the coast of Townsville, and has a lot to offer its visitors. Being at Magnetic Island truly felt like a vacation; I was able to go jet skiing, others went kayaking and sailing, and much of our days were spent relaxing on the beaches or hiking trails. Magnetic Island has the largest concentration of wild koalas in Australia, and some students got to see some!

While I was not lucky enough to spot a wild koala, I had an amazing animal experience on my own. On the last morning, I went out early to drive around on a rented scooter, and as I drove down an isolated road near the beach, five rock wallabies were sitting there looking at me! As an animal-lover, this was unbelievably exciting and the highlight of my time at Magnetic Island.

After five relaxing days of break, we returned to the Center a few days ago to finish up our courses with final exams. Next week, we will have another change of pace as we begin our Directed Research projects. During these projects, we will all be on different schedules as we split up to collect data in the field. Becoming fully immersed in a research project will be a great way to finish out our last few weeks of the semester. Most importantly, by the time the program ends, I will have a research project to call my own, lifelong friendships in my heart, and so many Australian adventures to always remember.