Category Archives: Oceania

Goodbye Wilderness, Hello University of Canterbury

My five-week field camp is over. Our final week was spent mapping lava flows on Banks Peninsula. The work was similar to the volcanology we did on North Island, with one major difference: Whereas Taupo Volcanic Zone is one of the most active systems of its type in the world, the volcanoes of Banks Peninsula are extinct. Enough time has passed for the flows to become overgrown with vegetation, which makes them much harder to see. The upshot is an inviting, pastoral landscape, nothing at all like the foreboding, otherworldly terrain you saw in my last post.



Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula.


The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.


The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.


The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.


Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.


Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.


Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.


The seal colony on this shore platform is home to dozens of seals, many of them newborn pups!


The beach at Le Bons Bay. These local boys have erected walls of boogie boards and are now throwing sand at each other. As we passed, we overheard one of them call out, “It’s the U.S. vs. Mexico!”


Some of the students from my group wade into Le Bons Bay, which is extremely shallow. Even 100 meters from the shore, I could still touch the bottom.


This Maori war canoe, called a “waka,” paddled upstream as part of Okains Bay’s Waitangi Day celebrations. Waitangi Day is February 6 and celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The treaty gave England sovereignity over New Zealand while granting some rights to the indigenous Maori. Unfortunately, the English and Maori language versions of that treaty differ slightly, so there is debate over how to interpret them. Maori make up 15% of New Zealand’s population, but account for 50% of the prison population. On average, their income is only two thirds that of European New Zealanders. Still, they are better off than Native Americans. Many of New Zealand’s largest companies are Maori-owned, and 20% of New Zealand’s parliament is of Maori descent.


Children’s foot races at Okains Bay’s Wataingi Day celebrations.


Unlike nearby Australia, the wild animals in New Zealand are relatively harmless. Instead, it’s the plants that will get you. Gorse (pictured here) is the mildest. It’s sharp, but flimsy, so the best tactic is to walk quickly through it without pausing. Matagouri, on the other hand, is sharp and stiff, so it requires more caution. Worst of all is ongaonga, which grows only in shady areas and is covered by poisonous hairs. One look and you know its dripping with menace. Our professor described it as “stinging nettle on steroids.” The burning sensation lasts for up to three days!


Full days in the field require plenty of food. Fortunately, we were well fed. This sandwich has sausage, chicken, ham, cheese, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, mustard, and hummus. My typical lunch would have two sandwiches like this, two pieces of fruit, and two granola bars.


Our group plops down for an extended lunch break next to Coffin Rock (on which I was standing to take this high-angle photo), Banks Peninsula.


The wind played an active role in many of the landscapes we visited. On one particularly bad day in Castle Hill Basin, gusts reached almost 100 mph! The wind was not as bad on Banks Peninsula (pictured here), but you can see it’s still strong enough to rake this bush into a sort of natural topiary.


Our final stop was an old school that had been recently converted to a campground.


The best part about camping at a school was getting to use the playground. Besides this soccer field, there was also a tennis court.


As fascinating and educational as field camp was, it was starting to wear on me by the end. The constant stimulation and weekly location changes were a little much for an introvert like me. I prefer to have my own space and a predictable schedule. Now I get my wish.

For the next four months, I get to settle down in the largest city on South Island, Christchurch (population 375,000). The city has been a hotbed for geology ever since 2011, when it was shaken by a deadly and highly destructive earthquake from which it is still recovering.

Three miles west of downtown is the University of Canterbury (UC), where I’m now one of 12,000 full-time students. It’s many times larger than Pomona College, but it’s not entirely unfamiliar. Before Pomona and before the Marine Corps, I spent a year at another UC: Berkeley.

I spent only one year at Berkeley because it was a poor fit for me at that time in my life. I struggled academically and socially, and ultimately withdrew. During this first week of class here in Christchurch I’ve had a few flashbacks to that overwhelming experience eight years ago. Thankfully, my work ethic and study skills are better now, and the students here are not workaholics, something I disliked about Berkeley.

I live on campus in a five-bedroom flat. Surprisingly, I’m younger than all four of my flatmates. Matt is a 32-year-old Kiwi undergrad who used to work in the wine industry but is now changing careers to become an accountant. Marius is a 27-year-old postdoc mechanical engineering student from Germany. Rounding out the flat are two PhD candidates: Calvin, a chemical engineer from Malaysia, and Jasper, a botanist from the Philippines. Although we’re still getting to know each other, we’ve already had some good conversations in our flat’s common room. It’s nice living with older students.



After five weeks of sleeping in bunkrooms and tents, this spacious bedroom is a major upgrade. It’s mine for the next four months.


There are five of us who share this five-bedroom flat. The common room has a fully stocked kitchen, a table with chairs, and a couple of sofas. It opens onto a balcony that faces another four-story building just ours. The front door to our flat is at the end of the hallway.


There are about 1,000 international students at the University of Canterbury. This map shows where they call home.


International Student Orientation was held inside the University’s largest lecture hall, the same room I use for Physics 101 and Statistics 101.


Two days after orientation I went to the Central Library for enrollment. The domestic students get to enroll online, but we international students had to do it in person. I waited in a series of lines for more than two hours. Fortunately, I got into all four classes that I wanted to take.


Special events are common during orientation and extend into the first week of classes also. This game reminded me of the pugil stick bouts that are important rites of passage for Marine Corps recruits at boot camp. The purpose of those pugil stick bouts is to teach aggression, but this game is just for fun. The building in the background is identical to the one in which I live.


The area of campus west of the academic buildings has expansive lawns and gardens. Chalk advertisements are everywhere this week because the student clubs are recruiting new members. Here you can see one for the largest club on campus, EnSoc, which is short for Engineering Society.


The Puaka-James Hight building houses the University’s Central Library and is one of the tallest buildings in Christchurch. Its blocky concrete architecture is typical of the rest of the campus, which was constructed in the 1960s.

I’ve been told that classes here are much easier than what I’m used to at Pomona College. That’s held true for the first week of class. This semester I’m taking two geology classes and what I fear will be two boring electives: Physics 101 and Statistics 101. They might not hold my interest like the Spanish and dance classes that were my go-to electives at Pomona, but they are prerequisites for graduate school.

Outside of classes, I expect that my biggest time commitment will be biking. This semester I’ve made it my goal to become an avid cyclist.

I need wheels. I feel trapped without them. I want to get out and explore the city, but anything more than two miles from campus is too far to walk, and I hate waiting on buses. My study abroad program doesn’t allow me to own a motor vehicle, so a human-powered one is the next best thing. With the right bike, I can expand my radius from two miles to twenty. Nothing will be off limits!



I have all the gear I need for the perfect commuter bicycle: Helmet, lock, gloves, high-visibility vest, and cycling shoes with compatible pedals. All I need now is the bike. Every time I ride a new road, I’ll cross it off on the map that’s pinned to the wall.


Once I have a bike, visiting attractions like this farmers’ market will be much easier. It took me 28 minutes to walk here from campus. With a bike I could do it in less than ten.


The farmers’ market in the previous photo is held every week at Riccarton Bush, a park that is home to the last old-growth forest in Christchurch.


Over the last week, I’ve spent hours each day researching my options. I’m looking for a good, used road bike. Ideally, it will be fast enough to beat the bus, but cheap enough that I won’t be devastated if it’s stolen. This morning I test rode a 2006 Kona Zing that might fit the bill. I found it on Trade Me, a hugely popular New Zealand website that’s like Ebay and Craigslist combined.

Once I have a speedy bike for zipping around the city, I look forward to learning every neighborhood, visiting every park, riding all the way east to the ocean and south to the mountains of Banks Peninsula. By the end of the semester, I want to know my way around this city better than the locals. I’m stating that goal here so that my readers can hold me to it.

Until next time, that’s all the latest from Down Under!

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Scaling Volcanoes Only Looks Easy

Last time I wrote that “adjusting to field camp has been pretty easy. The Marines prepared me well for this physically demanding and highly structured environment.” Easy might have been the wrong word. Being physically fit and super organized, I might make it look easy, but beneath my calm exterior, my mind is clouded by doubt. The reason I’m so well prepared is because I worry about everything.

I served on active duty for four years. One of the hardest things about readjusting to civilian life has been travelling with others in unfamiliar environments, which is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last four weeks of field camp. I get stressed because I feel the need to plan everything. The Marine Corps taught me that the more control I can have over my surroundings, the safer I will be. When I’m on my own, this is not a problem. I can take all the time I need to properly prepare for whatever the day may bring. When I’m travelling in a 30-person school group with instructors who decide where we go and when we stop, I worry endlessly.

What if my boots don’t dry overnight? What if I forget to refill and pack the water bottle I was using at breakfast? Once we’re out in the field, what if I don’t have time to stop and reapply sunscreen? What if I need to adjust my pack? Will there be a lunch break? When, and for how long?

Whenever I’m away from home, I feel the need to be at 100% readiness so that if an emergency presents itself I will be in the best possible position to respond. Call me paranoid, but that’s the way I think. I’ve been trained to be highly aware of my vulnerabilities. Stopping and addressing them calms me down and gives me a surge of confidence, but it’s hard to find the time to do that at field camp. I have to rush to keep up because my group is always on the move.



Often road cuts reveal fascinating outcrops. This is a cut in half hummock (bump-shaped mound) several kilometers from Mt. Ruapehu. Its jumble of boulders mixed with fine sands and every grain size in between are what we would expect of an avalanche debris deposit that could have formed after a crater collapse.


Breaking out the whiteboard turns this small cinder cone volcano into an outdoor classroom.


There’s a lot going on in this little ski cabin. Students eat breakfast in the foreground, wash dishes in the background, and prepare lunches off to the side. Getting around requires a lot of patience, because there are always people in the way.


We spent nine days in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, five days on the West Coast, and now here we are on North Island. We’ve spent all week in the Taupo Volcanic Zone studying volcanoes. Highlights have included hiking the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, speaking with volcanologists at the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, and getting to put our hands on volcanic deposits left over from processes like lava flows, pyroclastic density currents, and lahars. All the while we’ve been staying at a cozy, but cramped ski lodge on the flank of the Zone’s tallest volcano, Mt. Ruapehu, which last erupted in 1995.



The 19.4 km Tongariro Alpine Crossing is more easily completed from the north end of the trail. From that direction, it requires only 700 meters of elevation gain vs. 1100 meters if attempted from the south. Still, it’s steep in places. Here the trail zig-zags its way past an old lava flow (foreground).


Once you make it up that first steep bit you cross an ancient lake bed. Mt. Ngauruhoe (AKA Mt. Doom from the Lord of the Rings films) looms ominously overhead.


Now past the high point on the trail, we look down at our first big descent. Beneath us are a trio of geothermally heated pools that smell of sulfur. Notice the yellow helicopter that just landed on the ground between the pools. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing hosts thousands of hikers every year, many of whom are either unlucky or inexperienced. During the summer (which is now in the southern hemisphere) an average of one hiker is rescued every day.


This is the last good view we got on our way down the crossing. Lake Rotoaira is in the middle ground and the much larger Lake Taupo is in the background. Lake Taupo fills the caldera of a super-eruption that happened 26,000 years ago. It was a cataclysmic event with global consequences. Five hundred thirty cubic kilometers of magma were erupted. (Imagine something with the footprint of Manhattan, but six miles thick!)


This close-up gives a better sense of appreciation for just how large Lake Taupo is. The bumps you see in the foreground and middle ground are small rhyolitic domes that have formed since the supereruption 26,000 years ago.


Tomorrow we fly back to Christchurch for the final module of this field camp: a mapping exercise on Banks Peninsula. For all my anxiety, I must admit, it doesn’t get much better than hands-on learning in world-class geological settings. Experiencing these rocks and sediments with all five senses (yes, sometimes even taste*) is sure to cement them in my memory better than any textbook figure. Still, I’ll be happy when it’s done. It will be good to set my schedule and move at my own pace.

*Even with a hand lens, it is impossible to see the difference between silt and clay in the field. Try grinding them between your teeth, however, and the difference is night and day. Clay is so fine you won’t feel a thing, but silt is coarse enough that it will feel similar to sand.



The sunsets here are spectacular. Several students admire Mt. Taranaki 150 km to the west.



Before and after images of Waikato River as Arataitai Dam releases millions of gallons of water to generate hydroelectric energy.



A geothermal power plant near Lake Taupo that dates back to 1958 and is still in operation. New Zealand gets about 80% of its energy from renewable sources.


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Where I Am and How I Got Here

Hello! My name is Trevor. I am a Marine veteran and a third-year geology student at Pomona College. This semester I’m studying abroad in New Zealand. I’m halfway done with the first part of my program, which is a five-week field camp all over the North and South Islands. 



That’s me atop a hill that was located near the center of our mapping area and offered astounding views in all directions. I’m holding the map board and field notebook I used to record my findings.


I must admit, I’m a little surprised to be here. When I started at Pomona two years ago, I had no plans to study abroad. I was lucky to travel a lot growing up, and I’d recently returned from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan. I thought I’d be content to hang around campus all four years, but my curiosity got the better of me. Some friendly encouragement from my girlfriend (who also studied abroad while at Pomona) was the final push I needed to take a step out of my comfort zone. Here I am.



A farm truck and a sheep dog driving through the countryside. It doesn’t get much more New Zealand than that. Sheep outnumber people 20:1 in New Zealand. 


Kura Tāwhiti Conservation Area: Known to non-Maori speakers as Castle Hill, these limestone cliffs featured prominently in the Chronicles of Narnia movies. That’s my group gathered in the background.

I had three main concerns about leaving home, all of which still hold true to varying degrees. 1) After field camp finishes, I will have to do my own cooking for the rest of the semester. I hate cooking. 2) Cars are my greatest passion in life, but my program does not allow me to own a motor vehicle while in New Zealand. 3) I sunburn easier than anyone I know. New Zealand’s depleted ozone layer means I will have to be even more careful than usual.

I haven’t yet had to cook for myself, and I’ve only been away from my car for a few weeks, so the only concern I’ll address now is the sun. Yes, it’s bad, but it is manageable. As long as I reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes I know I won’t burn. I’ve only burned once so far, and that was on an overcast day in the field when I tried to make due with only three sunscreen applications instead of the usual five.

Otherwise, adjusting to field camp has been pretty easy. The Marines prepared me well for this physically demanding and highly structured environment.



Rivers cut through rock leaving behind excellent exposures for us to study. The only downside is soggy socks.


Crossing White Horse Creek during a rainstorm.


The sea foam at 14-Mile beach was knee-deep and jiggled in the wind like Jell-O.


Torrential rain damaged much more than just this trail. The flooding and debris flows it caused closed major roads, delaying our trip to the West Coast. Professor Sam described it as the storm of the decade. According to weather reports, more than a foot of rain fell in a 24-hour period, and the wind was gusting at almost 100 mph!


My group descends a hillside at Castle Hill Basin after a long day in the field. The area we mapped measured two square miles and extended all the way to the foothills of the tallest mountains in the background.


I’m here with 22 geology students from American liberal arts colleges. We won’t mix with the local New Zealanders until classes begin at the University of Canterbury next month. For now, it’s just us and a rotating cast of professors and teaching assistants. I like that everyone has a friendly attitude.



A few of us pause for a photo op during a steep ascent of a limestone ridge. Tectonics have uplifted the limestone beds so much that in some places they are vertical, or even overturned. The beds continue onto the terrace behind us. You can see the vertical bedding exposed in the small hill to the left of the larger one. Also note the landslide scraps on the right of the photograph. This is a very active landscape!


Professor Sam (left) and student Monte (right) try to distinguish between the bedding and cleavage planes of this sandstone at 14-Mile Beach. Bedding planes show how the sediment was originally deposited. Cleavage planes are where it later fractured. Ordinarily, they’re easy to tell apart, but these beds have been steeply uplifted. By measuring the orientations of bedding and cleavage at several locations across the beach, we were able to piece together the size and shape of a fold that was thousands of feet wide.


Students play on a suspension bridge. Look how it flexes!


Each day we spend six to eight hours outside in the field making observations and taking measurements. Sometimes this means miles of hiking over hills and across rivers. Each night we spend a couple more hours in the classroom combining and interpreting our data. It’s a lot of work, though we do occasionally get days off to relax indoors or go off exploring on our own.

The university’s field stations serve as our base of operations. They have everything we could want: bunkrooms, classrooms, kitchens, bathrooms with hot showers, and half-decent internet. So far, we’ve spent nine days at Cass Field Station in the Southern Alps and five days at Westport Field Station on the West Coast. In a couple days, we’ll fly to the North Island to study volcanoes. Below are some more photos of the sites we’ve visited so far. 



Scotts Beach, Kahurangi National Park. I climbed to the top of the tallest rock on the left. 


Moria Gate limestone cave, Oparara Basin, Kahurangi National Park



The famous “Pancake Rocks” of Paparoa National Park.

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On the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, we hiked toward Cape Foulwind (the rocks in the distance) where we surprised a seal sleeping in the plants. It was so well hidden we didn’t notice it until we were almost on top of it!


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Sleepless Nights, Departure, Mandarin, and Closing Thoughts

My first day back in the United States— Saturday, the 14th of November— was tiring. I had spent a sleepless Wednesday night and Thursday morning editing a video to show at a school presentation early Thursday evening. I did not get to sleep until midnight on Thursday, and with the graces of my body’s alert systems going off, I woke up with a start at 3:00 AM to begin packing for my 11:00 AM flight that Friday morning out of Australia. It was perhaps five hours until departure, so I was glad to have woken up at 3:00 AM and not later. After a twenty-one hour flight back home, I settled into bed early at 10:30 PM, which is my norm in college. Despite my extreme sleep deprivation, I awoke at 9:00 AM on Saturday morning, which was pretty early for someone who averaged five hours of sleep each night for the past few days. Ten and a half hours of sleep in total on my first night home. Not too bad for a first night’s sleep.

After my full night’s sleep, I could finally think about the changes that had happened in my first few hours back in the U.S., and I found the memories coming back bit by bit. I could remember back to Friday night, as I got off the plane and feeling firmly attached to familiar ground. Around me were Dunkin Donuts, an abundance of Americans, and even a T fare machine, which is the bus and train public transportation here in Boston. Having my T card on hand, I used the machine to check the fare on my card — $4.20— perfect for two bus rides. I had used a different fare machine for the last three months to travel on Australia’s transportation system, Translink. That thought brought me feelings about the T fare machine that were oddly similar, but not quite the same. I had a sense of unease that I did not quite fit in in a place I had once been comfortable. But that feeling went away when I knew that for certain, I was back where I had started.

I stepped outside the airport terminal into a windy and late fall evening. After spending some time looking out for signs of a bus that would take me towards inner Boston, I realized that I was still wearing my shorts in mid-40˚F weather. I was clearly underestimating the weather in Boston at this time of the year. I put on a pair of rain pants to warm my legs up while I waited for the bus. I looked down at my smartphone and it read 4:50 PM. The sun had already set in Boston, and again, that was unfamiliar. The sun sets in Brisbane around 6:00 PM this time of the year during their long days of spring. It was truly a bipolar change going from Brisbane’s warm long days and short nights to Boston’s wintery short days and long nights.

I took the Silver Line express back home to Copley Square, enjoying the company of a self-depreciating bus driver while listening in one ear to Kiss 108, a music radio station in Boston. The bus drove in the right lane, which was not actually as jarring as when I first arrived in Australia and experienced a bus driving in the left lane. I walked the rest of the way home, suitcase, duffel bag, backpack and all. Walking back home, I was surprised that I could cross the roads without getting hit. Though I did look the wrong way for upcoming traffic a couple of times before I started crossing the street. I had to concentrate on not drifting to the left side of the pedestrian path, which had become natural in the three months in Australia.

And so that was my first night back from Australia, including the nights leading up to my arrival in the U.S.. I am definitely happy to have a break from a regimented schedule of classes, projects, and exams at University of Queensland. Now, after a week of being back in the U.S.,  I am starting to feel fully adjusted to living back at home. Looking forward, I have decided to return to learning Mandarin, a language I have studied in my childhood. I have picked up a winter job at the Frog Pond as a skate guard, something that will keep me active until I return back to college. I have also grown to have stronger culinary interests from taking food classes in Brisbane, made possible by a Student Initiatives Fund grant from my college. In the present, I am enjoying home-cooked traditional Cantonese-style dishes, which has helped me return to a more simple carb and vegetable diet.

Memories of presenting a day’s worth of research on Stradbroke Island, getting caught in that deluge of rain that ruined my laptop, daily hikes through Lamington and Girraween, and the feeling of finishing a four day research project on the Great Barrier Reef are memories of a lifetime. With these experiences I have had abroad in Australia, I already feel that I have a stronger background in my biology major. I will miss the 31 students and 9 staff from my study abroad program. I will miss the great food that my host family always made for dinner around the TV set, and scrumptious “snags” on white bread.

This has been my semester abroad in Brisbane, Australia. Cheers to change and growing up in today’s modern world.

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The Blur of City Life: Rebuilding My Past, Present, and Future

I landed in Australia on the 21st of August. Today is the 11th of November, nearly three months after my Virgin Australia international flight touched down in Brisbane International Airport. Everyday has been a new experience. On one day, I am riding my bike precariously close to cars driving on high speed lanes, and another day I am studying in a cubicle at one of three libraries I regularly go to on the University of Queensland (UQ) campus, taking part in an act that tens of thousands of students here at UQ participate in.

Life in Brisbane comes by in a blur. Waiting for the bus at one of the central transit centers is a hair-raising experience. The process is like this:

1) Look up on the timetable and remember when your bus is coming.

2) Look up at the electronic arrivals board and see if your bus is on time or late (which is often enough).

3) Concentrate on recognizing that your bus with the correct number is coming into the station.

4) Flag the bus down to stop at the station immediately. If you have not done so, then you missed your bus already because it has already driven off.

I have missed my bus twice. Once during rush hour when I was not paying attention and it sped off towards the next station. And another when my bus went past me and I caught up to it as it waited in the bus queue, but the door closed on me just as I ran up to it. The bus driver was not keen on opening that door.

At my homestay, I struggle to come home early because much of my time is spent at a UQ library doing homework on a library computer as a result of a my personal laptop suffering from water damage. I have to cope with being without technology since I have broken my iPhone and Macbook laptop, and I miss the ease of carrying these around to stay connected to others through the Internet. Additionally, my back-up Razor flip-phone has recently lost its ability to project my voice to callers on the other side. Loss of a majority of technology? That was modern culture shock.

Living with a host family has been a departure from my two years living in college dorm housing at my home university in the U.S.. My host family really helped with my process of adjusting to Australia by providing a physical home with people I consider my extended family now. I have not had any bad bouts of homesickness, but I did experience a bit of depression from forfeiting control that I possess in my own country when arriving in Australia. Here, I am a guest, and sometimes the only way to learn my way around is by making mistakes, which requires more patience than I’m used to. When I look back at my study abroad experience in Australia, I will see it as a time when I made the most mistakes I have ever made and have taken the most risks ever!

On the 9th of November, the day after we returned from a class excursion to Heron Island, our lecture in class was not on any of the subjects that we have studied this semester, but it was about culture shock and reverse culture shock! Amazing and coincidental that it was exactly what I was going to write about for this blog post!

From the time I decided I was going to do this unknown and alien thing called study abroad, I was already preparing myself in many ways: Figuring out international cell phone plans, travel plans, “what are you going to bring there” plans, and most importantly, my plane ticket plan. It was a LOT of preparation going in. I had numerous documents for my study abroad program to sign and complete by strict deadlines, all while I was still taking classes at college. But now that all of that prep work is finished, I can focus on the question: How am I going to remember this? And how am I going to go back to the United States after spending a quarter of a year in a foreign country– 1.2% of my current life?

The lecturer warned us that people and things will have moved on without us, whether we like it or not. People back home have started moving in a direction where they have either completely forgotten about you or replaced you with new friends. After all, study abroad makes it hard to stay in touch with everyone you know back home.

Another thing the lecturer shared is that our peers might shrug us off if we start getting too yappy about what a great time we had studying abroad. This is because everyone I talk to about my experience will not be as emotionally invested in my experience as I am, and they might even be a bit annoyed listening to me babble on about what a great time I had. This lesson from the lecture really perked my ears. I imagined myself back on my home campus, speaking with a friend at a football game, sharing about what a great time I had at the Great Barrier Reef on Heron Island. The person will likely not be interested in this story, because they have most likely never been to Australia or to the Great Barrier Reef themselves, or spent as much time and energy studying the ecosystem and culture as I have this semester. Australia is a distant place for most of my American peers. There is no string of experiences that allows them to connect to my story and say “Yeah, I can relate to that.”

I imagine the adjustment of returning home will be similar to adjusting to my first year of college, but on a grander scale of adjusting from the Australian culture that I have grown so used to. I am even imagining how much the playground across the street from my home in New York has changed since I’ve been gone. Last fall semester of my sophomore year, the park was completely torn down and in shambles, but by the following summer the playground equipment was just being put up. And by the time I return, the park will be complete with no more orange construction fences, and perhaps snow will cover the playground where the kids will play in the spring. To understand and talk about what it is to study abroad and return home is one of the most interesting challenges that I have encountered in my life. Despite the personal challenges that I faced, I can confidently say that this experience as a whole has changed me for the better.

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Slo-Mo Mantis Shrimps, Past in Review, and Future Professions

Honestly, I am still deliberating about what I want to do professionally. I have a wide skill set, which is the direct result of my education in liberal arts schools since I entered kindergarten. As a college student, I feel that I am among millions all around the world that have no idea how they place in society or are differentiated. I am really no different from other students who have grown up in the American education system, even with my unique opportunity to be educated at an Australian University, which is akin to higher education in the United States. I picture myself as a non-potentiated cell, with no specialized instructions that tell me to do some specific societal task. Though when I do think about it, Australia is nearing the apex of my life’s turning point. And along the way I have found that studying abroad has had effects on my level of independence.

Independence is the drive to, for example, get out of the house and try something new when no one else is looking behind your back making sure that you are okay. It is the level of comfort that has changed. For me, I see the benefits of independence as the freedom to mold myself into whatever shape I want.

One of the ways that study abroad has given me independence is University of Queensland’s amazing curriculum. I am taking four classes; two are Biology related, one is Social Studies, and the last is Environmental. For my two Biology classes, I am taking Marine and Terrestrial Ecology. I have explored Australia’s marine fauna and animals in my first week abroad on Stradbroke Island at the Moreton Bay Research Station and observed Australia’s flora and plants in both Lamington and Girraween National Parks. Although both locations have aspects of flora and fauna ecology, they are specialized and are dominated by the landscape of the national parks and Stradbroke.

On Stradbroke Island, my group researched a question about the stomatopods, or mantis shrimps, which live in burrows under the dunes of the sandflats. We measured variables such as the distances of bait from their shelter, the state of the hole (open or closed), and time that the shrimp took to take the bait. The successes and failures were also noted, and our findings were presented to the class in a PowerPoint presentation.

In both the classroom and field, we learned how to gather data, work together in small teams, and present our findings in a timely fashion. This happened efficiently thanks to the stellar coordination of my group members; one of us had the clipboard to scribe, one observed a burrow, and another took pictures and video. Back at the station, we grabbed a table and dumped our data into Excel, and together made reasonable inferences as to what had happened. We observed that the mantis shrimp could smell the scent of the bait while submerged at higher tide, but not while the tide was low. I created a small video to add to our presentation, showing the mantis shrimp attacking the bait in slow-motion. This was a really fun part of working together with technology and I felt that seeing fauna in action really added a professional layer to our work.

I could be a field biologist working for National Geographic one day, who knows! But I believe that working together with my classmates has made me into someone that is more independent and self-sustaining. In a couple of days, I will be on a bus to Heron Island Research Station along the Great Barrier Reef, which will be a fruitful end to my Marine Ecology class. We will be researching at the station, creating our own experiments yet again, but at a real world diverse marine ecosystem, where anything can be found. Just like my future.

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Environmentally Conscious Australia

This semester, my wonderful study abroad group, Hobart and William Smith/Union College (HWS/U), has traveled to Lamington National Park and Girraween National Park, and will go to Heron Island in early November. Conservation is an issue that pervades these national parks and Brisbane’s inner city. It transforms Australia into an ordered, clean, and government-regulated city. By regulating natural forests, Lamington and Girraween’s pristine ecosystems have remained appreciably untouched. Although humans have invaded the once untouched forests by creating a walking track or trail through the forest, the park rangers definitely do not consider those modifications to be a significant harm to the whole of the forest. The motivating drive that contributes to the success of these national parks is its economic (driven by tourism; people like us!) and social (people want to save the wild animals and plants) feasibility.

Lamington's rainforest. Photo credit to Maryn P.

Lamington’s rainforest. Photo credit to Maryn P.

Girraween's dry forest.

Girraween’s dry forest.

Lamington is a rainforest dominated by a closed canopy and the sounds of hundreds of birds. They participate daily in the dawn chorus- whip birds, pied currawongs, crimson rosella, and catbirds that call out beginning in the early hours of the morning and throughout the day. While at Girraween, we watched the streams run through massive granite formations stacked on top of each other, and felt through our skins the climate of aridity, marked by an abundance of Eucalyptus trees. Girraween reminds me of learning about Australia’s El Nino in Terrestrial Ecology class. El Nino is a period of bone-dry and rainless weather caused by a high pressure system that pervades over central Australia. To experience this in person really involves conserving water since none falls from the sky, leaving the land parched. Thus, conservation in Australia really is key, starting with the basic needs of humans: water and energy.

A large granite boulder precariously balanced on the summit of the pyramid.

A large granite boulder precariously balanced on the summit of the pyramid.

At University of Queensland (UQ), water conservation efforts are found in the restroom facilities which all include electronic “cyclone” hand dryers, as well as around campus where there are many water fountains with signs that encourage students to use their own reusable water bottles. This is especially true as I have seen many students toting around their own hard plastic water bottles.

On the topic of energy, around campus and also citywide, electrical outlets (or what Aussies call power points) have on and off switches. This is an amazing invention, since you do not have to keep ripping out the power cord to prevent ghost power draws or to keep your waffle-maker from overheating (which I did once before I knew of the flip switch).

For transportation, there are two main ways of getting around the city quickly. These methods also happen to be environmentally friendly: buses and bikes. Brisbane city buses are highly efficient, which encourages less people to use their personal vehicles. Students can use the bus transportation system to go anywhere within the 20 zones of Brisbane, reaching all the way to the Sunshine and Gold Coast. The buses also have their own designated bus lanes. I initially thought building roads for only one type of vehicle would be a significant disadvantage, taking up a lot of space that could be used to build parks or buildings. In retrospect, the bike lanes are used by many every day and are a much better way of getting around the inner city than a car. Bike lanes are also a prominent part of Brisbane’s transportation system. Around the Brisbane River, there are bike lanes that cross bridges and go under overpasses. Moreover, in more suburban areas of the city there are marked bike lanes that run alongside regular car lanes, thus producing the breed of bikers, including me! An added benefit is that it helps keep me in shape as my alternative to running.

An Australian pedestrian and bike lane.

An Australian pedestrian and bike lane.

Composting, recycling, and dividing waste are also key components of Australia’s conservation methods. The dining facilities at UQ are adamant about decreasing the amount of waste that they produce by using color-coded trash “rubbish” bins to sort the waste into compost, trimmings, and recyclables. The streets everywhere are extremely clean because of this, unless the waste receptacles are in remote areas that are less accessible, such as Mount Coot Tha’s summit café, which was not clean at all, but it is the top of Brisbane’s highest peak.

These environmental efforts have modernized the look of Brisbane, and I believe the government and UQ have done a good job of offsetting the impact of the massive human population of the city (50,000 people alone are at UQ). These efforts provide proper bike and bus transportation lanes, water conservation, and clean streets that dictate a modern look for others in the world to follow.

Conservation in Australia has much to do with the government making small changes. I see propaganda that reminds Australians to make the correct moral decision by using our resources efficiently, for the benefit of everyone. Seeing this approach, I think our attitudes are part of the reason change is slow in America. Also in Australia, their climate is hot and dry, and it is a strong motivator to take measures to conserve water. I feel that America is decades behind, but I believe that in time, we will learn to have more efficiency and less extravagance with our resources.

I will definitely take a habit of conservation back home with me from Australia, especially since I am taking a sustainability class here. We have talked about these issues in class and compared them to our own habits by maintaining biweekly food logs. We have also expressed our knowledge about certain conservation topics, such as fish sustainability, in in-class presentations.

Specifically, I will take back shorter showers, using less plastic, biking as a mode of transportation, and continuing the use of separate bins in the U.S.. I will also try not to buy as many packaged foods, but rather in bulk size.

And a final note is if we take care of the environment, it will positively change how we view ourselves as the future eaters.

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