This past summer I was fortunate enough to travel a whopping 25,000 total round trip miles following my lifelong dream to visit Australia and its neighbor, New Zealand. I was one of 21 students from colleges across 13 U.S states, Singapore, and the local Cairns, Australia to be part of the School for Field Studies (SFS) rainforest management summer study abroad program. It all started on the morning of May 22nd, 2017 when I was driving to JFK airport about to embark on a journey I never imagined I would undertake. The six-hour flight to Los Angeles seemed like nothing compared crossing the Pacific. 14 hours and seven movies later I touched down in Brisbane, Australia, pronounced “BRIS-BIN” as I quickly learned. Next a short two-hour leap to Cairns (“Cans”), Australia- a city where one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef, and the oldest rainforest in the world, the Daintree, meet.
I started out my month and half long trek on my own. I spent one week exploring the local tourist areas and taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef. For someone who has spent countless hours of their free-time memorizing and studying reef fish and watching planet earth documentaries, being surrounded by the very scenes I’ve only seen on a screen was incredible. I was directly connected to the ecosystem that had inspired and continues to inspire the masses.
After my brief “vacation” in Cairns and Port Douglas – it was back to the airport to meet the rest of the SFS clan I would soon become family with. I had thought my first interactions would be awkward or uncomfortable, but not with these people. Almost immediately we were cracking jokes on our winding travels up into the mountains and into the rainforests of Yungaburra, Australia. Our station was tucked away from civilization in an area with a variety of snake, marsupial, bird, and terrestrial-leech (yes- terrestrial leech) species. This very plot of land became our home for weeks to come. We learned about effective rainforest management techniques, about local environmental policy, and the local agriculture economy.
For 10 days between our stay in Australia we ventured 2,250 miles southwest to the north island of New Zealand. We traveled through picturesque rolling hills and ocean views all while studying the local flora, fauna, and how local environmental issues were being addressed. During one of the most influential parts of the trip we got to live with a Maori family. Maori being the name of the indigenous people of New Zealand. We were exposed to a totally new language, culture, and way of life. We learned about the roles the Maori play in protecting native species and ecosystems as well as how they keep their traditions alive in a modernizing world. New Zealand was the most beautiful place I have ever seen and was that much better, for me, because it was a birders paradise. I got to pet the only Kiwi the general public is allowed to have contact with in the world as well as observe and photograph critically endangered birds on a sanctuary island called Tiritiri Matangi.
This program had a huge impact on my life. Not only have I gained a new family but I have had invaluable experiences that have narrowed down my future career choices and expanded my understanding of indigenous cultures. I could write a full novel on the variety of experiences I had on my venture down under. Overall I think it’s important for all of us to take advantage of ALL the opportunities that allow experiences of different countries and cultures.