My semester at Warrawee was one of the best of my life. Past Review

By (Political Science/Environmental Studies, Williams College) for

The School for Field Studies / SFS: Australia & New Zealand - Rainforest Studies

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
What I learned at Warrawee deepened my interest in working on environmental policy, as we studied the political context and how poor policies had contributed to ecological destruction -- as well as how changes to those policies could make a big difference on the ground. I learned very practical ways of how to give back to my community, which I continue to this day.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The classes during my semester at the Centre for Rainforest Studies were rigorous and challenging. I especially appreciated how intensively we learned about our surroundings, such as learning to identify ~30 different bird species by sight and call, and a similar number of tree and plant species. In class we learned the ecological history of the area, the environmental impacts it had experienced, and how this connected to the political and economic climate of Queensland and Australia more generally. I very much enjoyed getting all this context, and it helped make sense of our fieldwork and what we were seeing on the ground. The professors were all very helpful and approachable, and offered students additional opportunities for getting more involved in areas of particular interest (e.g., collecting and identifying tree seeds and growing seedlings in the on-site nursery). The directed research projects that we undertook gave us the opportunity to engage in real, meaningful research, testing hypotheses about the regrowth of rainforest after logging, the distribution of plant and animal species, fragmentation and edge effects, and so on. These projects were engaging, educational, and gave us a chance to take a leadership role in our studies. Bottom line: I learned a lot, and the information has stuck with me. I felt that the academics were comparable in quality to my undergraduate experience at Williams College.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

One of the best parts of this program for me was its integration with the local community. We had many opportunities to volunteer with local nonprofits working on rainforest restoration, monitoring flying foxes, and assisting with environmental education in the local schools. During my time in the program, the local administrators (and most of the professors) were from Australia and knew the area well, so they acted as our ambassadors, teaching us the local lingo and customs. They also led really fun weekend trips, camping (and spelunking) in Chillagoe, visiting the Great Barrier reef, and just exploring local waterfalls and other cool areas. As a result, I felt like we students were really accepted into the community and that we were able to contribute positively to it.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

We lived on-site in cabins in the middle of the rainforest. Each cabin held 8 students on 4 bunk beds, with enough room to store our gear and a communal table in the middle of the room, as well as some comfy chairs scattered about. I loved waking up to dawn in the rainforest, thick with birdsongs, and making my way down the path through the forest to the main building (which houses the classrooms, kitchen, and common hang-out areas). I often saw wildlife, especially walking back to the cabin at night, such as pademelons and bandicoots. The bathrooms are in a separate building a little way from the cabins. It's definitely not a situtation for people who mind a little "roughing it," but I had a great time and found the living arrangements very comfortable. I also liked that all the students were together most of the time -- it was an extremely communal experience, all of us sharing in the chores, studying together, piling into vans for field trips, hanging out in the common area watching movies, etc. (though it was a little hard on the couple people who needed more personal space or time alone away from the group).

* Food:

The food was great. The chef was very accomodating, lots of vegetarian and other healthy and delicious options, and students pitched in and helped with a lot of the meals. We had a really special, amazing Thanksgiving meal, and cake at every birthday.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

As mentioned above, this program did an excellent job of integrating students with the community, even though we were living as a group off in the rainforest some distance from town (about a 20-30 minute drive). We were introduced to local foresters, ranchers, scientists, and other community members. We also met with local Aboriginal leaders, who shared stories with us about the negative impacts a nearby dam had had on their culture, and who demonstrated and explained several ceremonial dances. I felt like we had amazing access to the community, and on the night at the end of the semester when we all presented our research findings to the community, I was astounded at how many of the ~150 audience members we had gotten to know personally over the semester.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

Australia is home to many of the world's deadliest animals, and we were made aware of the dangers from Day One. We were instructed not to wear open shoes (like Tevas) and to always be aware of our surroundings. There were no serious incidents during my time there -- one girl got a stomach virus and one guy got an eye infection, but that was it -- and those were addressed in the on-site infirmary or by a trip into town to the doctor. There were also some very minor injuries like encounters with leeches or stinging trees, but overall the program leaders stressed awareness and prevention of injuries, and they did so very successfully.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Other
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I highly recommend the School for Field Studies Australia program for anyone who is interested in real-life, hands-on experience designing and undertaking ecological research, and who values getting to know a beautiful corner of the globe in great depth and detail. I came away understanding the Far North Queensland area almost as well as I understood my home, which is remarkable in three short months. I loved how public-service oriented the students and professors were, and all the amazing opportunities we had to volunteer on rainforest restoration efforts. The whole semester is a very communal experience -- you will live in close quarters with your fellow classmates and your professors, and you will depend on one another from day to day. It was an experience that truly helped me understand the meaning and importance of community-building, and it has shaped my perspective in the years since. I learned a great deal, and I loved every minute of it. I only wished I could have been at Warrawee for 3 1/2 years and just done regular college for 1 semester!