Diving was one of my main reasons for picking Australia for my International Exchange. Once I was certified I was able to dive multiple sections of the Great Barrier Reef Trip throughout my semester. One highlight was diving the S.S. Yongala, a dive I will never forget! Located in a section of the East Australian Current (EAC), it is one of the top ten dives in the world! Breathtaking hardly describes the vibrant and exciting colors of the coral, fish, and invertebrates. There was also an abundance of the deadly olive sea snake and sea turtles.
What better way to start a new experience then by diving right in? That is exactly what I did when I decided to do a study aboard in Queensland, Australia. As a Marine Biology major, being close to the Great Barrier Reef practically screamed perfect semester adventure. Australearn, the program I went through, was great with their students, taking us reef diving/snorkeling during orientation week, but also helped me know what and what not to expect while in Australia.
My first week was full of experiences, visiting one of the many rainforests, Kuranda National rainforest, feeding Kangaroos/Wallabies, holding a Koala and snake, and learning about the many animals of AUS and the aboriginal people and cultures that are practiced in that area. Learning to throw a left-handed boomerang and make music by blowing through a didgeridoo from an aborigine was a favorite during my first week there.
At James Cook University I learned to play rugby and participated in the Fisher Shield Tournament, played Ultimate Frisbee, and enjoyed events like Toga night and listening to local bands. Regular Sausage Sizzles and eating some of the classic Aussie foods like TimTams and vegemite were not to be missed. Camping out in the "bush" during a volunteer project through CVA (Conservation Volunteer Australia) at the Bluewater Hills was an adventure in camping Aussie style, and continued during my recess break travels.
One thing that I wanted to do while in Australia was drive on the left side of the road. I got to cross that off my list while driving through the outback during Lecture Recess (week long spring break). Recess gave me the opportunity to see a lot of the outback and rural areas of the country. Some things I saw along the way were wild kangaroos, camels, and a Brumby (wild horse). The Devil's Marbles, a site with massive boulders and rock formations was beautiful with its rich colors of reds and browns. From the top of the boulders and rocks we watched the sunset, the first of many gorgeous ones that we would see during the trip!
Visiting Alice Springs, the only major city in the outback, hiking through and around King's Canyon rim, driving to Uluru (Ayers Rock), hiking its base and finishing the day watching the sun set behind this enormous rock formation were memories never to be forgotten.
Seeing the Aboriginal cultural center and doing a short hike called Kuniya Walk which goes to a sacred water hole at the base of Uluru gave me a new insight and greater appreciation for aboriginal culture and their beautiful storytelling. Another massive rock formation that used to look like Uluru is now 36 mounds of gigantic rock. A personal favorite, it is called Kata Tjuta, other wise known as The Olgas. The Valley of the Winds hike around and through the different mounds of Kata Tjuta made me feel very small in comparison, but left me in awe. That trip I will never forget like many of my experiences in Australia.
Meeting many Aussies, learning the lingo, traveling up and down the east coast and into the outback are memories I cherish. Studying abroad was a decision worth making and I feel like I was paid back ten fold with relationships, knowledge, and experiences. It truly has shaped me in a way I love. I hope every student takes advantage of such opportunities and potential adventures!