Happy throw back Thursday! In honor of looking back I am going back to that time I studied abroad in Australia my junior year (woaa throw back)! Also, sorry it’s a bit of a lengthy post! The other day I somehow remembered that I had started a travel blog while I was studying abroad and literally hadn’t looked at it/remembered it existed until two days ago. I had created it on blogger, and it still exists! Cortni-downunder.blogspot.com , how clever.
I studied abroad spring of 2011, and was in Townsville, Australia for about 6 months. It was the first time I had taken an international flight, and the first time traveling by myself for that long. It was the most incredible experience. I met amazing people who I still keep in touch with today, and made amazing memories. My first recommendation to anyone going away to college is to take the chance to study abroad if you can, it was one of the best experiences of my life.
I thought it would be fun to include my original reaction and blog write-up of my first experience scuba diving. This was March of 2011, I had been in Australia for about 3 months and decided to get my open water certification over a weekend on an island a ferry ride away. It was an intense weekend, and I was exhausted but exhilarated afterward, and my love of breathing underwater began!
Sunday, 6 March 2011
After some minor bumps in the road, (doctors not showing up for my appointment, buses breaking down and a lab that ran until 9pm) I finally set out to Maggie Island to meet up with the rest of the folks who were enrolled in the Open water scuba certification course. The ferry landed on Maggie around 11pm and I went straight to bed in the ten bed hostel that smelled like old people and hamsters, or an old person who owned hamsters…but thats fine.
We woke up at the crack of dawn, well 7:30, which I consider the crack of dawn, and walked down to the dive shop. We sat through 3 or 4 hours of boring videos and lectures. After lunch we came back to do pool work. This was the first time I was going to be able to breathe underwater! The pool work was much easier than I was expecting. I almost freaked out when people told me I was going to have to take off my mask and then empty the water from it. Good thing they didn’t tell me I’d have to take out my regulator and throw it behind me while sitting on the bottom of the pool, I would have jumped right back on the ferry. Surprisingly the skills did require quite a bit of concentration but weren’t that difficult overall. Around 5:30 we headed back to the hostel grabbed some extremely overpriced food and then literally passed out in bed around 8:30 ( I don’t think I have gone to bed that early since 4th grade).
The next morning we did a few pool skills then headed right to the ocean for our first open water dive! I was extremely excited, but very nervous. I still couldn’t grasp the concept of being able to breathe under the ocean, to sit on the ocean floor and be totally fine, freaked me right out. But as soon as we made our decent to the bottom of the ocean I was in awe. It was the most amazing and miraculous thing I have ever experienced. Watching the surface of the water and sunlight above me as I sank down to the sand is indescribable. Being able to breathe underwater is the most fascinating sensation. Our fist dive was just for fun and to get us to explore the bay. There were really neat corals and schools of fish, I saw a sting ray and jelly fish as well. The coral was really amazing to look at so close up. I wish I could have brought my camera but the visibility wasnt the best because of good ‘ol cyclone Yasi.
The next day we had two open water dives planned, one was supposed to be to the ship wreck. The weather turned out to be really crappy and we decided not to go to the wreck. The waves were taller than me and I thought I was going to be sea sick when we were at the surface, it was a rough swim out to deep water.
It’s so funny to read something that I wrote 3 years ago and see how much I have forgotten about the experience. I can’t believe I was that freaked out! (and that I thought 7:30 was the crack of dawn, haha) I remember feeling exhausted both physically and mentally after that weekend, but also just being so incredibly excited. All of the little details get lost with time.
I have also gotten a TON of questions from people about studying abroad and I thought I would cover some of them. Some of these came from a study abroad student forum, others were from Cornell students and some are just from talking to people.
1. What was the greatest thing you learned about the country, the culture or yourself while abroad?
I definitely learned how to be much more independent, I didn’t know any one else that was going to James Cook University, or even the entire country, so I had to meet all new people. It was overwhelming at first, but I think I am a much more outgoing person because of it. Also, Australians are so friendly, I loved that. I learned so much while abroad, I don’t think I could fit it all!
2. Would you recommend studying abroad to other students? Why or why not?
I definitely recommend this program to other students, it was an amazing experience and so different from the experience at Cornell. I think the two complement one another.
…to add to that now that I have graduated. Studying abroad is a great way to have a break from your regular college program. You have a completely new setting, brand new classmates and professors, and it really gives you a new way of approaching courses and your entire degree program, in a good way. It makes you a more diverse and well-round person, in my opinion. I mean it’s pretty cool to be plopped in a country you know little about with literally no one and nothing familiar, I find this exciting, some people would find it terrifying. No which type of person you are.
3. How did you afford studying abroad? What money-saving tips do you suggest?
Cornell had an amazing abroad program that allowed you to pay your regular tuition rate for a bunch of different international schools all over the world. James Cook actually wasn’t on their original list, but I ended up talking to a bunch of different helpful people and we worked out a similar situation. The pre-departure instructors at Cornell abroad were so helpful figuring out a budget and suggesting scholarships and other money-saving tips.
Australia is very expensive, I think it is extremely useful to know this before you even leave the U.S. It is a good idea to look up what banks have affiliations in the country you’re going to so that you can avoid large fees for taking out money from your account of exchange rate fees. It is also a good idea to have a credit card that doesn’t charge international fees. Also, just get your priorities straight, I knew I wanted to get scuba certified, but that’s pretty expensive. I saved money by not buying lunches and alcohol all the time (wine/goon is cheapest!) and we ended up getting a group rate because of the number of us taking the same scuba course at the same place. Talk to other students, ask how they’re saving money!
All Most college kids are poor.
4. What are the program’s academic strengths or weaknesses?
Their marine biology program was amazing, the classes were diverse and coverage a wide array of topics throughout the semester. The classes were hands on and engaging. I learned so much and we took multiple field trips to reinforce what we learned in the classroom.
5. Comment on any differences in the way classes are taught, study habits, library use, examination, grading, etc.
Grading was very different, class participation and homework were not considered. Most of my classes had finals that were worth 60-70% of my grade. The rest of the course grade was based on a few lab reports or a midterm….honestly compared to Cornell it was much, well, easier. The classes were incredibly interesting and I loved the hands on learning, but the workload was considerably less. Let’s just say we could miss a few classes here and there if we
had to wanted to go to the beach. Shh don’t tell!
Whitehaven Beach/Most beautiful beach in the World. Whitsunday Islands, Australia
6. What is your advice to students thinking of studying abroad?
If you know you like the challenge of traveling, new places, and adventures, just make it happen. There are a million reasons to talk yourself out of it, but I promise it is so incredibly worth it (did I already say that?!). Also, don’t pack too much, research the climate of where you’re going and bring a suitcase or two, you will thank yourself so much when you don’t have to lug 8 different bags around 6 different airports and then have to find a way to make it to campus, yikes.
Did you study abroad? What is your advice? Do you have any other questions about studying abroad?