I spent a semester studying in Australia back in 2003. I caution using the word “studying” because the semester was more about enjoying the opportunity to travel, have fun and adventure far from home while taking a few classes. When I first inquired about the option to take a semester abroad I set up a meeting with the study abroad office to check out some universities in Europe that I could go to. When I arrived for the appointment there was another student there at the same time for the same purpose except she was interested in Australia. The adviser laid out a map of Australia to show her the options. She pointed to Perth, Melbourne and Sydney talking about what type of students go to each school and how they spend their time. She then pointed to Townsville on the Northeastern coast of Australia. She explained that students go to James Cook University, they get to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef an hour off the coast and the rainforest an hour inland. The adviser reported that most of her students that attend James Cook call back to make arrangements for staying an extra semester. After she was done explaining the schools in Australia I told her there would be no need to look at the schools in Europe, I wanted to go to Townsville.
The next semester I was living life to the fullest and signing up for every adventure imaginable. I kept a journal for parts of the trip, writing about random nights, tricks to learning the Aussie lingo, stories about bus rides, hearing songs and logs of rugby games attended. One of my favorite entries is about sailing in the Whitsundays, a trip that I went on with a group of friends over Easter weekend:
Sailing in the Whitsundays, The Anaconda III
Tom, Amy, Crystal, Sarah and I took a 3 day sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands over our Easter break. In those 3 days we had quite a few adventures.
One day we stopped at a small island so people could snorkel and lay out. Crystal, Sarah and I decide to walk around the island. We get 3/4 of the way around and come to giant boulders that we can’t walk over. Our options are either to swim around and risk being stung by jelly fish, try to get through the middle of the island which is dense bushes and trees, or try to scale over the rocks. We attempt the rock climbing. Even though Sarah and I are in flip-flops we managed climbing over these boulders. Then we got to a point that we couldn’t cross. It was too far to jump and we couldn’t get through the woods. Meanwhile one of the deck hands from out sailboat is watching us from a dingy. (The dingy is the small boat that brings people from the big boat to shore.)
After he realizes that we have nowhere to go and we are freaking out, he manuevers the dingy right up to the rock wall. One by one he helps us climb down 15 feet. The 3 of us were laughing hysterically the whole time about what idiots we were that we had to be rescued.
I asked the deck hand if he had ever had to rescue anyone before and all he said was “Not quite like this.”
One night on the boat a whole bunch of people were being entertained by the activity in the back of the boat. The boat’s cook brought her 13-year-old son on board sometimes if he was off of school. He was on the back of the boat throwing bread in the water to attract fish… And then the fish would attract squid. The kid would throw a lure in the water when he saw a squid and try to catch it.
When a squid gets scared or attacked its defense mechanism is to spew this black ink stuff. When the kid felt the squid on his lure he jerked it out of the water and the squid shot it’s ink in the direction it was being jerked. Imagine the reaction of a dozen young college aged guys and girls when squid ink and guts is flung up at them and over their heads. That ink made it back 20 feet on the deck of the boat. Nasty – that is all that could be said. All of us screamed like it was a horror movie.
The funny part is that all the same people gathered five minutes later and watched the kid catch another one and the ink shot up again another 20 feet. I was lucky but some of the people, including Sarah and Crystal for squid ink on their clothes.
Our last day in the Whitsundays Sarah and I wanted to go diving. We figured that we could handle going out on our own without a dive master. So we get all of our equipment and plan that she will lead and I will follow. We go down and are swimming along at about 6 meters. The visibility was really bad, you couldn’t see past about 8 feet around you, so you don’t really know what is in the water with you until it is right in front of you.
After swimming for about 3 minutes Sarah turns around and points to me and then points in a direction signaling for me to take the lead. But I hate being the leader, I hate having to turn to check if my buddy is still near me, I can’t navigate well underwater and I hate not knowing what’s ahead. When I follow I feel much more comfortable. So, I pointed to Sarah and pointed in the direction so that she would lead.
She pointed at me again and I pointed at her. We pointed back and forth for a minute before agreeing to surface to talk.
After I explained that I cannot lead, Sarah decided that even though she wasn’t very comfortable she would try leading again. We went back down and I got really scared. I love diving, it’s like an underwater dreamland but when you can’t see very well it’s like a nightmare. So I made Sarah end our dive early. We got back to the surface and laughed about what big wimps we were.
The same deck hand that rescued us from the rocks came to our rescue again and took us back to the boat. We weren’t charged for our 7 minute dive.
I am constantly reminded of memories from Australia, people I met and experiences I had during that trip. For the record, I did return home after one semester – only because I had one semester left before graduation. My biggest recommendation to high school graduates planning to attend college is to make plans to spend a semester overseas – it is worth the effort and expense. Studying abroad is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world than you could ever learn in a classroom – which is really part of the point of going to college right?