Hello from Australia! It is amazing how fast this program has gone by. We are now in full-swing Directed Research (DR) season here at the Centre. All of the data is collected and we are now spending our days analyzing and writing our papers. Many students were placed in DRs focusing on secondary forests or yellow-bellied glider behaviors and habitats. Five of the students, however, decided to shift focus onto the human-environment aspect of this program and study residents’ values related to the rainforest and local environment of the Wet Tropics. Each of us is focusing on something different: gender, environmental education, ecotourism, indigenous knowledge, and urbanization.

During our DR collection, Team “Careedom and Justus for All” (Justus being our socioeconomics professor and Carina as our intern) traveled to various different towns, interviewing residents as we went. We road tripped to Port Douglas, Daintree, Mossman, and Mission Beach. Each place was beautiful and happened to be close to lovely beaches and bodies of water. Residents were usually really friendly, and had very interesting things to say about their environment and the impacts of tourism and other industries.

My research project, specifically, is looking at the relationship between genders, peoples’ place attachment, and how environmental education can impact their feelings of belonging in their community. So far, so good! On our last day of data collection, our team went to Djunbunji Land and Sea Programme of the Mandingalbay Yidinji people again. We were able to talk to Aboriginal elders about their feelings toward the local environment and how their people are preserving their culture through ecotourism and youth education. There was a lot of sharing of wisdom from both the elders and SFS students, and by the end of the day everyone had enjoyed great conversations and very tasty food.

After the long week of data collection, we had our last weekend in Cairns. As usual, all 25 of us stayed in a hostel together on Saturday night. The next day, about half of us went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. IT WAS SO COOL! While many of us got seasick (myself included), all of us were able to snorkel and see some pretty incredible things. There were sea turtles, thousands of fish, giant clams, sharks, and many many more fantastic creatures. The crew on the boat were all super friendly and the free cheese and fruit wasn’t too shabby either.

Now, in our second to last week here at the Centre, the temporality of this incredible adventure is starting to feel real. Some students are in the midst of planning their travels after the program, others are planning future reunions with everyone back in the States. This experience is definitely something that can’t be summed up in just a few paragraphs, but hopefully it can give you all a glimpse of how this experience has been for us all.