Snapshots of a lifetime in a month

The assignment for this blog was to reflect on my study abroad experience in Australia, but how can you reflect on what felt like a lifetime in one short post? That’s always the dilemma for me. This post could be anything. I could focus on the fun times, be serious and wring significance from every detail, hone in on one aspect, cover everything. I could write a hundred blog posts about the same thing, showing it differently each time.

But sometimes the best reflection is not an interpretation, but simply a recap of the parts of the trip that you remember the most. The following snapshots are moments of my month in Australia that stood out in my memory.

May 22: It’s the day before I leave for Australia. I call my mom, hysterical. “What if I don’t make any friends?” “What if I don’t pack the right kind of clothes?” “Why am I more nervous than excited?”

May 23: Flash forward to the plane. My worries from the previous day are gone. It’s only leaving that is hard. I watch the clouds underneath the wing of the plane and think of how small I am.

May 29: It’s our first day in Brisbane. We go for a run on South Bank and hear the odd, wailing cry of an Australian raven. “That bird sounds like a baby crying,” I said. Bougainvillea drip from an archway, a shock of pink and green.

Lady Elliot Island

June 3: Our plane touches down on the grassy runway at Lady Elliot Island. I don’t feel small, the way I did over the Pacific ocean. There are less than 200 people on this island, and I feel larger than life.

June 3: Our guide Tyrone is standing barefoot, at the front of the classroom, showing us pictures of bleached coral. I think about the coral-algae symbiosis, and how the reef ecosystems are so fragile and interdependent.

June 4: I am snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. It feels the way I have heard people describe out-of-body experiences. I am not myself, I am simply a reflection of what I see below me, a passive observer. That night, rain pounds at the thin canvas walls of our tent. I can’t hear my own thoughts. I don’t feel like I am hiding from the rain, but like I am part of it.

Hervey Bay

June 7: I run alone along the beach. My shoes are hidden behind some scrubby trees along the shore, and eight miles of sand grind down the skin of my feet as I run along. On parts of the beach, the sand is disturbed, shaped into tiny spheres and pushed into patterns along the shore. Soldier crabs run among the rolled sand. They are only visible out of the corners of my eyes because as soon as I bend for a closer look, they burrow themselves into the sand.

Carnarvon Gorge

June 9: We are walking through a forest of towering eucalypts with silvery bark. Our guide Simon tells us about the Australian aboriginal people’s view of nature. “The way that they saw themselves as part of the system is significantly different than the western view where we see ourselves as separate from the system,” he said. “To me that’s the core of conservation ideology: if you cant see yourself as part of the system you are probably always going to be at odds with it.” I record the quote, write it down, process it.

June 10: I sit on my bed at Carnarvon, exhausted from a challenging hike. I haven’t looked in a mirror in days. I haven’t felt this good about my body in as long as I can remember. It is not just something that has to look nice. It is a powerful machine that can carry me for miles up gorges and through the forest. I try to capture the feeling, remember it.

June 11: The sun is setting on our last day in Carnarvon Gorge. I write four pages in my journal. A normal day gets one page. I wish I could write enough to capture the wholeness of this place. I wish I could describe each leaf on every tree in the forest, so that it will always be there.

June 13: Back in Brisbane, we are eating dinner when I overhear three foreign men talking. “People are not as connected to nature as they once were.” It makes me think of the aboriginal Australians.

Lamington National Park

June 16: The 17 of us follow our guide Barry through the dense rainforest, ducking thick woody vines and constantly checking our socks for leeches. Barry tells us about the fig wasp, on which the entire forest ecosystem depends. I am reminded of the coral reefs, and how we often underestimate the importance of small things in a large system.

June 17: We are sitting in a circle in the warm lodge at Lamington, bundled up from the cold damp outside. The fire crackles in the fireplace. We think up our favorite group games, and spend hours laughing and talking as the insects screech and trill outside.

June 18: A professor at an Australian university is talking to us about ecotourism. “There is no such thing as sustainable tourism,” he says. It is impossible to be a passive observer. Your observation of something changes it, even the act of getting there. “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints,” might as well be “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but carbon emissions from your travels, incidental damage from your hikes, invasive species that have clung to your shoes.”

June 18: After the talk, I wander through the building, looking at the aboriginal art that lines the walls. Each piece is a dreaming story. One stands out to me: it is called “Seven Sisters Dreaming,” and shows seven bright little dots like cells on a blue backdrop. It looks like science blended with spirituality, an interesting way of “fitting into the system.”

Brisbane

June 21: The last day of our trip dawns bright and clear. I am tired from frantically putting together content for our presentations, but excited to show what we have been working on. I think how amazing it is that we took our experiences and turned them into something useful and interesting. After presentations, we have dinner one last time as a group, and just like that, the trip is over.

These are some of the moments I think of when I look back on my trip. I think that no matter how many facts you learn, the most important thing you can gain is perspective. And from this class, I have gained perspective on myself, my career path, and our changing environment.

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