Friday, February 15, 2013

Catie A. - Australia - Spring 2013

Hello All! My name is Catie and I am studying in Australia, with SIT’s Reef, Rainforest and Cultural Ecology Program. SIT programs are in a little different format than other programs like IES, because I am not studying at a foreign institution, because I am doing field studies and more experiential learning with 18 other American students from across the US. Our first week has involved getting to know our “base city”, Cairns in the state of Queensland. Cairns, pronounced like “cans”, is situated on the coast right by the Great Barrier Reef, which happens to be the World’s Largest Marine Park (or soon will be). It is a sort of tourist hub but also has its quirks, such as a beautiful Botanic Garden located on the slopes of the Great Escarpment, with beautiful and dense rainforest covering the undulating hills. Cairns is in a part of Australia called the Wet Tropics region, whereby rainforest has been contracted through millions of years to small refugial areas on hilly slopes just east of the coastal plain. This is much different from the environment of the rest of Australia, which is dry, sandy and the typical “outback” desert. The Wet Tropics are also a World Heritage Region, meaning that they are recognized by the United Nations as a site with cultural and environmental significance for the people of the world, and therefore has priority in being protected and preserved. Things I have seen so far include some the representative animal species that Americans think of when they hear Australia: kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, emus and crocodiles. Other interesting creatures I have seen are the endangered and massive cassowaries, large birds that have been known to attack the unsuspecting traveler in the rainforest, as well as swam with colorful parrotfish on the reef and a white tipped reef shark. Currently it is stinger season in Queensland, meaning that large numbers of box jellyfish are near shore. This makes swimming in the ocean off the beaches a dangerous affair, for a sting by a box jelly can be deadly in some instances. Therefore for all of our excursions into the water, we are required to wear Lycra stinger suits for protection.
Aside from the fauna of the continent, the flora is beautiful as well. Palms and acacias dominate the rainforest, and in dried scrub areas the eucalyptus tree forms forests that will seasonally burn. One of the most striking plants I have seen are strangler fig tree, which act sort of like a vine except that they start at the top of the canopy and allow gravity to pull their vine like limbs down, and in doing so coil around their host tree and slowly but destructively “strangle” the tree. The Curtain fig tree is an impressive example of this. Basket ferns and epiphytes, or plants that grow off the bodies of trees and have aerial roots, are also commonly seen life forms in the rainforest.
Australian culture is influenced by America in many ways, especially in terms of pop culture and media. Probably 80% of the music on the airwaves was American artists, and many television shows on Aussie TV were spinoffs of American or British shows. I found it interesting that Australians were almost more versed on what was happening with U.S. politics and current events, such as the Sandy Hook shootings or the Super Bowl, than some of the Americans in my group. That being said, any feelings of culture shock that I have experienced were not profound what so ever. The only thing I really need to take care of while here is crossing the road, for Australian drive on the left side, and therefore when crossing the street you must look to the right first, rather than to the left. And as a side note, Steve Irwin’s death is still very much talked about in daily life, although this may be due to the fact that he is a highly recognized Australian by Americans.
Australians are comparable to Americans, except much more laid back and open with strangers. Australians also don’t take themselves seriously and have a knack for sarcasm. Poking fun at other people is seen as a way to get to know one another and have fun. Aussies also have a way with words, whereby they like to have shortened nicknames for everything. A cooler is called an Eskie, a shortened version of the brand name of coolers called Eskimo brand, sort of how us Americans call all tissues Kleenex because of the well known brand name. Breakfast is “brekkie”, swimsuits are “costumes” or “swimmers”, a flashlight is a “torch”, and air conditioning is simply “air con”. They also say “cheers” as thank you and “no worries” when you thank them for something. They are wonderfully laid back, although with that being said, there are some things that they take seriously. The blood alcohol limit for driving is .05, which lower than Illinois’, which is at about .08. Two beers will keep you from driving for sure. Tobacco companies must display gruesome pictures of gangrene infected feet or lungs with emphysema on cigarette packs, rather than a benign warning of the dangers of smoking. Also is it compulsory that anytime you ride a bike you must wear a helmet, or else you will be fined. Skin cancer is also a major health issue here, as many of the citizens are descendents of pale skinned Brits or other Europeans whose skin is not accustomed to UV indexes in the upper teens. My program director has yearly appointments to the local Skin center to check for any abnormalities, and literally bathes in sunscreen whenever we are out for an excursion.
Overall, the first 10 days have been wonderful so far, and I cannot wait to see what else is in store for me for the next 3 months. :]
G’day All!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Catie,
my name is Jenna and i'm responding to you from CPP 250! Australia has always been a place I've wanted to visit and after reading your first 10 day experience I want to go even more. I thought it was so interesting how involved Australians are with American culture. I always heard Australians where laid back and I feel like I would be to if I lived in such a warm beautiful place. How long did it take you to adjust to being away from home? and have you set any weekly goals for yourself? like is their a certain spot you want to try and visit each week?

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Catie Ausland said...

Hi Jenna,

Thanks for the comment! You should definitely try to come out to Australia someday, it is beautiful out here! In terms of adjusting to my home away from home, it was never a clearly defined time or anything but more of a gradual sinking into my surroundings that took maybe a couple of weeks. The way the program is structured has me on the move and not in one place for more than a few days, so reaching weekly goals are tough to do but I have accomplished a few of the ones I set initially, such as talking with an Aboriginal elder and seeing a koala. I will be moving to Sydney in a couple of weeks for my independent study project, so hopefully I will see the Blue Mountains and the various beaches and the opera house while I am out there!


10:14 PM  

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