Parker’s Wild Time in the Australian Wilderness

The first two weeks have all been the unexpected. Siggy, one of our Professors, told us that the only thing that is predictable here is its unpredictability. The program is a lot more studious than I originally thought but that only makes me like it more. The staff seems really passionate and I can tell that I will learn a lot.

The most memorable experience so far was Green Island. The ocean is the thing about environmental science that I am most passionate about. It was nothing like I expected, it was a lot more touristy that I had imagined but the Great Barrier Reef left me in awe. Swimming next to green sea turtles will always be something I will remember. Thanks to Reef Teach I was able to notice smaller details that I would normally have glanced over, and I frequently caught myself duck diving and investigating smaller areas that most people may have over looked. The tiny trigger fish were amazing to watch as they filtered through the sand, as were the flatworms that sat on the boulder coral.

The MY (local aboriginal groups) country was equally entertaining, but not as fulfilling due to my attraction with the Ocean. We learned about many of the practices that they established with the local flora and fauna. There were many plants that smelled like fruits or herbs that were not local to Australia, but thanks to their unique smell, they were able to be used in cooking as substitutes. The 3D map structure was astonishing due to the fact that it was so detailed and accurate. The locals were able to make many local plants that were normally fatal if consumed, edible by processing them in certain ways. I was very curious about the seeds that are so high in caffeine that they can be deadly. The ancient hunting and throwing weapons were really interesting to see firsthand, especially once we found out how the bullet arrow is sometimes even used in an artistic display of athleticism and timing.

Within the third and fourth weeks, we had a homestay sandwiched between FEX (Field Exercise) writing and data collection, the homestays were a great way to learn about how locals thought and behaved. Our homestay host was very nice and took us to many scenic views around the Atherton Tablelands. One place that I really enjoyed was the Café that he has partial ownership in. The people there were very hippy like, and very welcoming. I talked to a few locals of Ravenshoe and learned about their individual paths to arriving where they did. Many of the people there figured that due to climate change, the mountains were the best place to be for various reasons.

We were also given the task of surveying local residents of Atherton, Malanda and Tolga, about littering along the Gillies Highway. I was in the group that went to Malanda. Littering was the topic of the survey because the areas are all within the Barron River catchment that feeds water into Cairns, a tourist city next to the Great Barrier Reef. Malanda was a fairly small town, with friendly people and strong sense of community. The type of surveying we did was convenience cross sampling, meaning we asked the first people that we encountered in various locations if they could spare some time to help us fill out a survey. The demographics of the area had an average age above fifty. Malanda was originally a logging area when the Europeans arrived, but has since been used for the dairy industry due to the ban on logging in the World Heritage Area (WHA) and the open fields that remained.

–    Parker Torres with the School for Field Studies in Far North Queensland

*Pictures Taken by Caitlin Reilly of the School for Field Studies & Provided to SMU Abroad by the School for Field Studies

A Candid Look at Life as a Student in Amsterdam

Hi everyone – Sabrina Peng here, reporting from Amsterdam, the Netherlands! I’ve just finished the first month of my study abroad semester here (time flies!), and I thought I would catch y’all up on a few of my favorite moments so far:

1) constantly getting lost in my university’s labyrinth of a building and accidentally getting locked in
2) frantically asking random people for help reading Dutch labels on food items in the grocery store
3) coming to within an inch of my life after almost being run over multiple times by bikes and trams

In all seriousness though, it’s been four weeks of happiness and craziness, and I’ve finally settled into Dutch life a lot better than I thought I would – from learning new food vocabulary to being extra careful to look both ways in the streets before crossing. I didn’t think I would be nervous about studying abroad, but my experiences have proven that however confident you are to begin with, you must always be prepared to expect the unexpected – especially in the case of that old lady almost taking me out with her bike.

One thing I wasn’t sure of at the beginning of this experience was making friends, especially new Dutch ones. Although there were 130+ students in my provider program who were all American (some even from TCU, close to home), there was still that awkward moment the moment I rolled my suitcase up to the group of chattering, excited people waiting in the Schiphol airport. It was one of those first-day-of-school vibes all over again, where no one knows what to do to ease into conversation. Over the misery of being forced to stand outside in cutting winds and near-freezing weather, however, I made my first friends 5000 miles away from home.

Although different class schedules and living arrangements have shifted who I most often hang out with, I’m so fortunate to have a great circle of friends here, and even more so to have four amazing (and clean!) roommates. Having to cook in a shared kitchen can be a daunting task, but we’ve managed to survive our first month without burning the place down, so I count that as a success. Together, we’ve visited pubs to celebrate birthdays, danced the night away at clubs, and planned trips to visit other countries (including a weekend away to Brussels soon!).

I’ve also connected with my Dutch classmates better than I expected. Although everyone here does speak English, English is still considered the second language to Dutch, which is used for the majority of conversations. This has led to some difficulty communicating, but it’s pushed me to ask about and practice common phrases – even if my American tongue can’t produce those pesky, throaty sounds that the letter “g” is supposed to make. One girl in particular in my computer networks class is someone I know I’ll keep up with in the future, even when I return to the States. She’s 18, wicked smart, and willing to answer all my (sometimes dumb) questions about Dutch life. I can’t wait to continue making new Dutch friends who I’ll be able to come and visit in the future!

In this blog post, I’d also like to address what “study abroad” actually entails. Studying abroad for me hasn’t been just rainbows and butterflies, where I’m spending all my weeknights out on the town and all my weekends sipping wine in different countries. Studying abroad means actually *studying* abroad – I’ve spent most of my weekday evenings studying lecture notes, writing code, and completing ridiculous amounts of homework. I even have classes where the professor has explicitly measured out the time that we should be spending on the course every week! Because of this, I’ve found that the best way to make use of my limited time here has been to finish my work on weeknights, carefully planning out which weekends I have free and where I want to go the most. In addition, since my university doesn’t have dedicated spring breaks, I’ve had to intentionally carve out longer periods of time in my schedule so I can visit places that are farther away.

So far, I’ve done solo day trips to Rotterdam (where I got to take pictures of these really cool cube houses and see two of the world’s best men’s tennis players play each other) and The Hague (where the king’s palaces sit right next to tiny street cafes and Chinatown offers unlimited dimsum/hotpot for only twenty euros). These two trips were great because I was able to map out everything on my own and travel at my own pace. I’m also planning a trip to the Iberian peninsula (Barcelona and Lisbon…see you soon!), as well as Dublin, Munich, and Italy/Greece with my friends! I’ll have to wait for my longer breaks for those to happen, but I can just imagine myself standing on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, celebrating Springfest with a pretzel in hand, and taking in the picturesque coastline along the Mediterranean. All of this is at my fingertips, and I can’t believe I only have three months left to experience all of it.

It’s been a great four weeks, but the next twelve are promising to be even better. Sitting at this café writing this blog post and enjoying the views of the canals outside, I’m just feeling so thankful to have this opportunity of a lifetime. Now, I’m going to dive right back into what study abroad has to offer, and I’ll see y’all on the other side!

Thanks for reading and follow along for more adventures on Instagram at @sabribritravels and @smuabroad