At the beginning of the fall semester, we asked student Emma Liddle about her first impressions of Australia. Now, as the semester comes to a close, she shared her thoughts with us again.
What did you like most about the SFS experience?
I really enjoyed the community here. Having such a small group meant that I got to know every student and staff member on a personal level. This deep connection kept me grateful for every day and excited to learn.
I also enjoyed how immersive the academics were. I don’t think I’ve ever gone on that many field trips or had that many outdoor lectures since elementary school, if ever. I feel like I know so much about Australia now! Along with that, I really enjoyed doing community service — Australia has given me so much, and I’m glad I’ve been able to give back through local organizations like TREAT.
You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
I have fallen in love with Australia and the Atherton Tablelands. Waking up and walking outside into the rainforest is a special routine that I’ve taken for granted. Being surrounded by the giant trees and the cool wildlife every day has been equally special. I feel like most people’s impressions of Australia only consist of the outback and savanna, and if I’d never come to Australia, that would be mine too! From this experience, I can safely say that I prefer the rainforest to the outback.
The little towns near our cennter have also been great to explore. I have loved Yungaburra especially and have been there quite often. Visiting the markets, volunteering at the Tablelands Folk Festival, and going to the Gem Gallery have been highlights of that beautiful little town.
What is life at the Center really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts?
Life at the center is less hectic than I imagined, but still engaging. Usually, our day begins with breakfast at 7:30am and ends with dinner at 5:30pm. The span of time in between is stuffed full of lectures, off-site trips, games, laughter, and a little time to relax.
One of the most challenging bits about center life is finding down time during the day. On a heavy lecture day, you only normally get around 15 minutes of break between each class or activity. There isn’t too much homework, but you can burn out quickly on days like those.
On a different note, one of the best parts of the day at the center is RAP, which means Reflections, Announcements, Presentation/Physicality. RAP is led by a different student each day. Reflection/Announcements happen at lunch and are a perfect time to breathe and think about non-academic things. Then the P of RAP is usually a game or funny lesson, and I’ve gotten some of the most laughter and happiness from those presentations. Some of my favorite games include “Stone, Stone,” “Shake & Pop,” and “Aw Yeah That’s Seven.”
What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
Culturally, my biggest problem was initiating interviews and feeling uncomfortable speaking with local Australian people. We gave people in Yungaburra and another tourist-y town, Kuranda, surveys on roadside littering, and it was difficult to walk up to a stranger and ask them to fill out the survey. My peers and I can attest that there were some interesting people surveyed, who professed quite different views that made us feel strange. There were more than a few moments this semester of uncomfortable feelings due to general Aussie humor being less… er… sensitive? Once those awkward feelings were aside, though, I got to have some amazing conversations.
Academically, my biggest challenge has honestly been myself and my wariness about help from others. The schedule was designed to be heavy at certain instances, and I could manage my work and finish well ahead of the deadline. My grades depended more on whether or not I’d had other students or staff look over my drafts and help me fix them. This was one of the biggest struggles of the Directed Research project as well. I feel like my writing skills improved so much, but that came out of a lot of revising, trimming, and some uncomfortable moments of saying “this writing is terrible” to myself.
What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
I have many favorite memories from this semester; highlights include swimming in Lake Barrine, seeing a cassowary for the first time, playing cards with other students (including a very fun game of Solitaire), and watching movie after movie. The one memory that comes to mind happened very recently: we went to the Cathedral Fig Tree, a giant strangler fig that we hiked to during the first week, to reflect on our time at SFS Australia. After 15 minutes of silent thought, we all went around and shared what we had reflected on as clouds came over and thunder started to rumble. As the rain suddenly came down in a torrent, so did our emotions, and all of us were hugging, crying, and being present in the crazy moment. After re-loading the van and beginning to drive home, we all saw a full rainbow break across the sky. It was a surreal memory and one that I’ll hold onto forever.
Give three adjectives that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Reluctant, Joyous, Grateful. Another three slightly contradictory adjectives. I am reluctant to leave Australia and the beautiful rainforest, as I know I won’t be outside nearly as much in Minnesota winter. I am joyous to return to my family, cats, and a little familiarity. Most importantly, I am so grateful for the experience I’ve had here. It has taught me a great deal about myself, increased my confidence, gave me field and social skills, and showed me that the world is a lot bigger than I imagined. I wouldn’t trade this abroad program for the world. Thank you, SFS Australia.