Final Impressions of SFS Australia

Posted: December 9, 2015

→ Read Ellis’s First Impressions of Australia

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
This is a difficult question. As I sit here thinking of what I like most from this experience, moments and events, even lectures we’ve had keep popping up in my mind, each one better than the last. But at the core of all the hikes, field exercises, road trips and camping, there’s the common theme of community. We eat, sleep, play, and study together, and from that much time we’ve gotten really close. This sort of lifestyle is something we may have experienced for a week or two as kids at summer camp, but its fairly foreign to us, especially after being pretty independent and self-sufficient since going of to college.

Yet we all chose this program, fairly aware of what it entailed, and our mutual enthusiasm for this trip, despite its differences from the usual study abroad program that students go on, has made us into a really tight-knit community. I’ve loved being with everyone and this hodge-podge little family we’ve formed has made my trip complete. I go to a huge university with over 30,000 students; I almost forgot what being in a class of less than 200 people felt like. Being able to get to know the people I’m in class with, to know my professors, and even eat lunch and often dinner with them, has been amazing. I’ve loved the feeling of teamwork we get when working on a project or when someone finished their Directed Research project and everyone would cheer. The community SFS and this program have created is definitely my favorite thing about this program.

You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
Well, if my visa didn’t expire next month and I could somehow fly all my family and friends from home here, I’d never leave. I’m already looking at grad school options in Australia and figuring out when I can come back. I adore Australia! I love the friendly people I’ve met; I’ve never been somewhere as a tourist where I’ve felt so welcome. The biodiversity is amazing, and the natural areas are stunning. When I look at a map I realize that despite all I’ve seen, I’ve seen so little of this massive country and there’s so many places I still need to go, so I’ll be back as soon as I can!

What is life at the field station really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts of living at a remote field station?
Life in the field station is awesome! I’m not going to lie, there were moments during my Directed Research project where I was feeling a little cabin fever coming on, especially since the data collection for my project consisted of walking through the site walk, so I didn’t leave this place for quite a while, but overall life in the field station has been great! I’ve loved getting to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of life in a city and life filled with technology. It’s been so refreshing to never worry about carrying my phone with me. I’ve found the simplicity of life at the Center in this remote environment is much more peaceful and my actions more focused. Being at the Center, fairly isolated, enables us to be completely present, which is something I find difficult to do at school when I’m juggling what seems like millions of responsibilities, assignments, and just the various aspects of life itself.

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
The biggest challenge for me this semester would have to be the lack of communication with my family both due to our location as well as the massive time difference. I know I said above that I’ve loved disconnecting from technology and I really have, but there’s been so many times that I feel just a bit too detached from my family and knowing what’s going on at home. Learning to accept the things that are happening back home that may be out of my control and working to embrace my life here rather than trying to be in two places at once and in turn being half-way involved in both has been one of the biggest hurdles I have had to overcome this semester.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
The best memory I have from the semester is probably the morning after we camped in Chillagoe. I woke up early despite hitting my snooze several times and went for a run with a few other people through the desert. It was so early that the heat of the day hadn’t set in yet and the sun had barely risen. he environment of Chillagoe had to be the polar opposite of the environment at the field station, where it is hilly and cool with a thick canopy and lush green trees everywhere. Chillagoe was flat and dry with red rock and sandstone everywhere and only a few sparse trees here and there.

In the early morning before it started to heat up, there was something beautiful and raw about the landscape of Chillagoe. We ran along this road that was so empty it felt like we were the only people in the world. As I ran there were wallabies hopping alongside me and I nearly tripped as I looked around at all of them just keeping pace. The run went to a rock formation called “balancing rock,” where it looked like some giant had carefully placed this massive boulder atop a tiny one that somehow was able to keep it from rolling away. We watched the sun come up over the red rocks as we sat there catching our breath and it has to be one of the closest times I’ve ever come to believing in magic, there was something just so electric in the air that morning. There are many moments on this trip I’ve loved but that one was really something special.

Give three adjectives that best describes how you are feeling right now.
Nostalgic, Christmas-y, and Excited

→ Tropical Rainforest Studies Semester Program in Australia