First Impressions of SFS Australia

Posted: September 12, 2013

Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
When I began looking into study abroad, one thing that I knew I wanted from the very start was to get a hands-on experience in my area of study that I wasn’t quite getting at home. For this reason, SFS greatly stood out from the rest of my possible options. The Australia program was of particular interest to me because I have dreamed of traveling here from an early age. I have always been fascinated by the large number of species found here that have no equals anywhere else in the world and in the unique topography of the Australian continent. Going into my senior year with little idea of what I want to do with my degree, I hoped that the challenges I would face here would help me explore my own strengths and weaknesses and guide some of my decisions in the months ahead.

What are your first impressions of the country?
It is absolutely beautiful here! No matter where we traveled within the Tablelands, there is always something to see, whether it be rolling countryside, dense green rainforest, or clean and tidy towns. Seeing the stark transition of dry forest to wet rainforest and the huge granite boulders along the Gillies Highway on the way to the field station were certainly a highlight of our first day here. The people are friendly and easy to talk to, and we were able to learn so much about the history and culture simply by talking to the people living there. The people here seem to be very connected with the land: some in their connection with farming and mining, and others in their passion to preserve and manage the remaining forests of the Wet Tropics.

What are your first impressions of the field station?
As we first made the turn from the highway onto the access road to the field station, everyone in the van gasped. It was such a surprise to initially go under the dark canopy of the rainforest, and surprise quickly turned to excitement as we drove closer to what is now our home. Life at the Center has been really relaxed so far. We all get along, chores get done quickly, and we enjoy Iris’s delicious cooking every night. It is wonderful to get up early and listen to all of the birds singing. One in particular, the Chowchilla, is a group favorite with sounds that are very much like that of the laser guns from Star Wars.

Classes have really lived up to my expectations. In our socioeconomics course, we were assigned the task of going out into one of four local towns to get a feel for their culture and history and then discussed the meaning in class. Being able to talk about the geography and then go out and experience it was also really unique. There have been a few hiccups such as cold showers and unusually wet weather for the dry season. Due to the weather and power outages, we also developed a real understanding of the need to be flexible in this program right from the start.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester both academically and culturally?
My biggest challenge this semester will certainly be balancing social time with all the amazing people here and keeping up with reading and homework. I’ve never been able to get assignments done quickly and starting early is essential for me to feel on top of things. The need to go to bed at reasonable times each night has greatly reduced work time and I have spent a considerable amount of time questioning my decision to stay put and work rather than take part in activities such as night hikes and game time. While challenging ourselves academically is a big part of this program, it’s equally important to have fun and get the most out of our time here.

Culturally, I don’t anticipate too many problems. I hear ordering coffee in a cafe is a bit of an adventure. Simply being in the back seat of a vehicle is a bit alarming as cars are speeding towards us on the right side of the road; don’t think I will ever be up to driving here.

What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?
This is by far the most difficult question to answer. In one word: everything! I’m ready for the challenges that field work, group activities, and Directed Research will present and to grow as a person while I’m here. I’m excited to have the opportunity to get to know all of my peers and mentors and to make connections that will last a lifetime. I’m really excited for the field trips into the Daintree Rainforest and to Chillagoe and for all the day trips into neighboring towns. We are already getting a taste of the biodiversity that surrounds us with many animal sightings, and hopefully many more to come. Also, Tim Tams are amazing!

Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Adventuresome, Enthusiastic, Blessed.