Back in the USA

So I have been avoiding writing this blog entry for a number of reasons. The first reason being that I had to take a few days to adjust to the time change. Going to Australia and being 15 hours ahead was actually easier to adjust to than coming back which is now 14 hours ahead because of daylight savings—the state I lived in doesn’t do daylight savings. Going there was probably easier to adjust because I had activities or events I needed to attend at specific times and be awake for. Also, even if I wanted to take a nap, I forced myself to stay awake and meet people. However, being home, I don’t have much on my plate (until I go back to NU) so I don’t feel as pushed to convert back to this time zone for a ‘normal’ sleep schedule.
The other main reason I have been avoiding writing this is that it’s hard to believe that my study abroad went by so quickly. Basically that is THE main reason. It’s sad to not be planning another trip and also not seeing the same people. Having that one person that you’ll see at the library, that one person you usually see on your way to breakfast—little conversations like that.
It is difficult to compare this feeling to anything else and to describe it. It’s a different feeling than coming home from a semester of NU, different than coming home after sleep away camp. Even though I am back in my home country, I adjusted to Australian life, and that became my ‘normal.’ For now, I don’t really have a ‘normal,’ and it’s the little things that are the strangest.
I have wanted to go to Australia for my whole life, so this trip in its entirety was a dream come true. It’s hard to have something like that end. Looking back on it feels unreal, and I would absolutely love to go back sometime later in life. I met a lot of amazing people and did heaps of incredible things. I learned a lot about myself while traveling and have gained valuable life experiences.
All of this goes back to me choosing Northeastern. Not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined accomplishing so much at just 21 years old. My co-op at the New England Aquarium fostered my love for penguins and marine life, which very much shaped my time in Australia. I’m no Eliza Thornberry, but animals absolutely amaze me and I can’t wait to learn more about them in further classes and hopefully another animal related co-op. Northeastern has given me the opportunity to achieve an incredible amount and has helped me pave the road that I want to take in life.
Thanks to anyone reading this entry and anyone who has read any of my previous ones as well, I’ve enjoyed writing these entries! It is still difficult to capture all of my experiences in words. I am incredibly grateful for this life-changing experience and would love to thank the NU Office of International Study Programs for all of their help in this process—I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you guys.
For any student reading this… STUDY ABROAD!!! You won’t regret it. You will meet people and do things that will create memories that will stay with you for a lifetime. Also shout out to one of my best Australian mates, Lachie (short for Lachlan, a popular Australian name), who bugged me all semester to feature him in my blog. Thanks for being a great friend and for all of your help teaching me Australian things, I will definitely share them with my friends here in America!!!
This weekend I am heading back to Boston for Summer 1 classes at NU. I’m excited to be back in Boston but I’m sure I will somehow manage to squeeze something about Australia into everyday conversations.
Cheers!!
Shannon

Wild Week in the Côte d’Azur

IMG_0115 IMG_0169 IMG_0078 IMG_0040[1]Hello again everyone!

It’s been one week since I was launched across the Atlantic into my new home, and I don’t even know where to begin. My flight was through Air Canada, and my route went from Boston to Quebec to Nice. My Boston-Quebec flight was delayed SO much that I nearly missed my connection to Nice. I almost chewed my hands off while I just watched the “DELAY” stay up on the screen. But I made it just in time.

On Sunday (Day 0), before I left for Nice , I did some quantum algebra to figure out the time-difference. If I wanted to make the smoothest entry into the +6 hour time zone (relative to EST) I would have to sleep on the plane as much as possible. Unfortunately, on the flight I was handed a piece-of-paper as a pillow to compliment my worst-chair-ever-3000, so I slept maybe an hour.

On Monday (Day 1), when I landed, my bags were delayed (AIR CANADA! COME ON!) but luckily I met up with my CEA driver who was tasked with bringing me straight to my apartment. I was joined by two other fellow CEA members, and we took a scenic route from Nice to Antibes. The weather was beautiful, and my tired eyes were able to see beaches, palm trees(planted, not indigenous), hotels, and resorts. What wasn’t so beautiful was the French driving. The French streets are VERY tight, drivers are VERY aggressive, and street laws are VERY loose. Thankfully, I made it to my apartment alive.

When I arrived, I was greeted by my CEA on-site guide and specialist, Kristin. In a blur, I was brought up three flights of stairs of a 500-year old building and dropped off in my apartment. My apartment (which I share with my roommate, Alexei; he showed up later in the day) was plenty large enough for two people, is located in the old-Antibes, overlooks a fresh-food market and plenty of bars/restaurants, is a 3 minutes walk from the beach, and is located next to the Picasso Museum. Not to brag, but it’s pretty fricken sweet.

The first day was exciting, tiring, and terrifying. After struggling to find some food and learn my street, my roommate moved in and we set up camp. Alexei and I get along well, and we’re pretty similar (if you’re reading this, hey!), so I really lucked out overall with my housing. The rest of the day passed, and we woke up ready for our walking tour of Antibes in the morning.

On Tuesday ( Day 2) we met up with the entire CEA group (around 20 students) to take a tour of Antibes. I learned everyone’s names, hometowns, etc., and then we were off! We began the day with a bus-tour that drove us around the scenic parts of the city and told us some interesting facts. After that, we began our walking tour. During the walking tour, Kristin told us a ton of information and history about Antibes, along with showing us where important buildings and facilities were.  After both tours, I felt a lot more comfortable with the city. The next day was my French university’s orientation, so I got back home and rested for it. I must have been jet lagged, though, since I woke up at 2:30 am feeling completely awake. It was pretty weird, but I managed to fall asleep again at around 5.

On Wednesday (Day 3) all of the CEA members  made our way to SKEMA university for orientation. It’s a quick 20 minute bus ride up north to Sophia Antipolis, a technology park or “technopole.” Our campus is quaint, with pine needles smothering the ground and French students chatting everywhere. The university is not all French though, there are an abundance of international students whom I met during the orientation. After getting my class schedule and having some delicious lunch at the school, Alexei and I returned to our apartment and realized that our fridge was bone-dry empty.

To remedy our lack of food, Alexei and I followed CEA student Isaac to a supermarket half of a mile away from our apartment. What we did not realize is that we would have to walk the half of a mile back. With 80+ pounds of groceries. I probably shouldn’t have bought that 6-pack of milk (apparently milk is able to last weeks unrefrigerated since France ultra-pasteurizes their dairy. Source; Alexei.) After the most uncomfortable trek in our lives, we had food in our apartment for tomorrow: the first day of school.

Thursday (Day 4) began like any year of school. I prepared my things, went to the bus stop, and arrived at my class: Macro Economics. For SKEMA, each course is only held once a week for 3 hours, so I got comfortable and began listening to our German teacher. Each class is taught in English, and my multilingual professor spoke fluently and clearly. After class, I went home and prepared for the on-campus international exchange integration group’s first big party. Hosted on the beaches of Juan-les-Pins, the party was meant to integrate French and foreign students. I went with a large group, it was a blast and I met a ton of French students.

For Friday (Day 5) I had no classes and was free the whole day. I had already visited the beaches a few times so I decided to just chill until dinner, when we cooked some fresh butcher’s sausage into sauce and penne. The meat from the local butchers is extremely fresh, and sometimes cheaper than the supermarket! After having some friends over for dinner, we all visited a local Pub, the “Hop Store.” The music was awesome-with a ton of classic American songs, both rock and pop-the pub was packed and the atmosphere was electric.

Saturday (Day 6) began with a SKEMA scavenger hunt around Antibes. The SKEMA staff put together a nice quiz that brought everyone around the city to explore museums, markets, and squares. This hunt was the last piece of the puzzle for me, and I felt as if I truly knew the city now. After lunch, I relaxed at the beach that I had been frequenting all week (La Plage de la Gravette) then went home and prepared for our first CEA excursion on Sunday.

Sunday (Day 7) was big. CEA planned a huge tour for our group that would begin in Nice, then move to Eze, then to Monaco and finally Monte-Carlo. We all boarded a private luxury bus with soft seats and air conditioning and began to drive down along the scenic pebble beaches to Nice. Once we arrived in Nice, we explored the old-town and the new-town, stopping at places like the open market and the beach. Our tour guide told us that Nice used to be part of Italy, it was founded around the 4th century BC, and that it held an immense amount of history. The sights were beautiful, and after walking around we boarded the bus again for Eze.

Eze had the best views. Since it is located atop a hill, you are able to see the entire city of Nice and its beaches. At Eze, we took a tour of the local perfume factory and then walked to the top of the ville. The little town had old churches, wooden creaky doors and ancient streets. There was no time to spare though, so we boarded our bus and headed to the luxurious Monaco.

Monaco is located in France but is technically its own country (think the Vatican.) Its one of the richest areas of the world since it has 0% tax for everything, therefore the rich like to move here to avoid high tax rates. After crossing the boarder, I was stunned by the beautiful architecture, giant yachts, and expensive cars swarming the city. Speaking of cars, Monaco is the home to the Formula 1 race track, which our bus drove around. Our tour’s last location was Monte-Carlo, a city in Monaco. Monte-Carlo is the ultra-rich part of the country, and we able to explore the casino region. The cars were amazing. Almost every car was a Mercedes, a Maserati, or a Lamborghini, and I even caught a fleeting glimpse of a Bugatti, After an hour or so of gawking at the cars, we all loaded up on the bus and returned home to Antibes.

So, that’s my first week, or at least the important bits. Thank you for reading! Next time, I’ll have more stories of travel, parties, and European askewness. Until the next post, au revoir!

Florence… I have arrived!

 

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Hello all,

My name is Carolina and I am currently a third year Graphic Design major. I have always had a passion for art and discovering new things. Ever since I can remember I haven’t missed a chance to create something or get my hands dirty with a new project, and I have been very fortunate that my parents have been able to provide me with a good amount of travel experience. Yet, when the opportunity of going aboard for a semester presented itself, I am ashamed to say that contrary to what one may think, I did not immediately jump on the chance to go. Although studying a full semester in Florence, Italy did sound appealing, the thought of leaving the comfort of Northeastern and my friends made me doubt my choice to leave. But it wasn’t long before I realized that opportunities like this don’t happen very often, therefore I decided to put myself to work and now here I am, on the other side of the world.

Although I would like to say that I have been aboard in Florence for a while I can’t, as I have just arrived a couple of hours ago. I have yet to experience much, but what I have been able to catch glimpses of has been amazing. Just walking to and from my building to the little convenience store at the street corner makes me feel like I have just been dropped into the middle of a movie. People have also been very nice, especially considering my lack of knowledge of the language. But, just because I can’t yet tell you much about this beautiful city that does not mean that I can’t tell you about my journey here.

After months and months of getting things together – visa, medicines, paper work, etc. – the day finally came to leave. The packing had taken its toll on me as I had attempted to put 4 months worth of clothing into one suitcase. Although the urge to take everything in site was hard to resist the truth is the clothes you take won’t make your trip, and anything you don’t take can be easily purchase in one of the many stores found around the city. So just remember that when packing, only take those few basic things you can’t live without, because you can survive 4 months without your favorite coconut shampoo, trust me.

Aside from the packing and getting things straitened out, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome were my nerves and doubting about whether I made the right decision by choosing to go abroad, especially when all your friends will stay together back in school. As I got to the airport this fear seemed even bigger as I found myself alone in a huge airport, but slowly people started coming together, which comforted me. I even talked to a girl on my flight about it and she told me that same thing had bothered her when she decided to leave for the semester; it was nice to know I wasn’t alone. Because even though the feeling that everything you know back home will keep moving on without you might be a bit hard to digest, the truth is you are just taking a little bit of a detour, and you’ll be back before you know it. So, if you are unsure of whether you should go abroad or not just remember it is easy to get lost in small moments. When in doubt just think about all the amazing experiences you are about to make with all these new people who have the same mindset of having the greatest time they can during their time abroad. I have only been here hours and I already know that the adventures just beginning.

 

Arrivederci!

Carolina R

A Long Wander to Bilbao

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Hi Mom! (Wait- you mean other people are going to read about my travels, too? Awesome!) Hi everyone! My name is Heidi. I’m a fourth year transfer student at Northeastern, and I’ll be blogging about my study abroad experience in Bilbao, Spain this fall. You’ll learn more about me through my writing over the course of the semester, but here are the basics: I’m from St. Louis, Missouri, with passions for vegan baking, theatre of the oppressed, puppies, sculptural crochet, social justice, dinosaurs, spontaneous rainstorms, and all things travel. But now let’s get down to the important stuff about this semester. Where exactly am I going?!

Bilbao is nestled in the mountains just inland from the Northern coasts of Spain, a metropolis where Basque and Spanish cultures collide and blend. It is a center of art and culture but more off the beaten track than more traditional Spanish study abroad sites like Madrid or Barcelona because of its history of industry and political conflict. I hadn’t even heard of it until I began researching study abroad, but I am thrilled to say that the University of Deusto, Bilbao, is where I will be spending this fall. As an anthropology and international affairs major, intersections of cultural difference, international politics, and individual lived experiences are at the core of my academic and personal interests and are at the heart of what I will be exploring during my time in Bilbao. While more recognizable cultural capitals of Spain like Barcelona and Madrid were highly appealing, my primary goal for study abroad is true cultural immersion. The high concentration of study abroad students and tourists in these cities can make it easy to be swept up in a culture of fellow Americans more interested in drinks and cheap thrills rather than focusing on being deliberately situated in the daily lived experiences of Spaniards. Bilbao has a rich heritage, with a smaller, more serious concentration of study abroad students. As an anthropologist, I am also interested in Bilbao as the capital of the Basque region of Spain which has a history of political conflict with the rest of the country and in 1978 was awarded the status of an autonomous nationality.

I arrive in Spain in less than a week, and while many of my fellow Northeastern students preparing to study abroad this fall are probably at home in the final stages of packing, I have already been on the road since the middle of July– first just to visit friends in Chicago and Maryland, then to my cousin’s wedding in Washington, D.C., but since August 11th, I have been in Europe. While I’ve traveled before in Central America, including spending my 11th grade year in Costa Rica with my family, and I spent last fall on a co-op internship in Cambodia, this is my very first time to Europe, and it has been thrilling so far. (Though packing was quarrelsome – I needed summer and winter gear, and was only allowed one checked bag of 44lbs and a regular old backpack to carry-on! Thank goodness I had my mom for her packing expertise!) I spent my first two weeks in Europe traveling with my 17 year old brother through the United Kingdom (London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Bath) and Paris. We get along superbly, and it was great to have a travel buddy, since I usually travel solo. Highlights for me included a tour of the Scottish Highlands with a cruise on Loch Ness (no luck seeing the monster!), exploring all the historic sights of Paris, and dipping in the ancient hot springs that flowed through the Roman baths in (you guessed it) Bath. My brother and I will also proudly admit to being huge nerds, so our other favorite sights were touring the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio (I cried like a baby when I saw the giant Hogwarts filming model), and the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff.

We parted ways in Paris, and I am now halfway through a solo trip in Italy with stops in Venice, Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Siena, some Tuscan hill towns, and the one and only Rome. If that sounds exhausting, that’s because it certainly is, and my poor feet must certainly hate me by now. I won’t say I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, or that it’s been easy. Traveling on a budget and visiting over twelve places in three weeks is hard work, and it is often hard for me to remember to take care of myself when I am so desperate to not miss a single thing. But I certainly have no regrets.

I rediscovered something important about myself while biking around the ramparts of the small, walled town of Lucca, Italy. A concept that has long been important to me is the one of “flow,” a mental place you reach when you are so deeply engrossed in an activity that you lose all sense of time and self and are purely existing passionately and deeply in the moment. Everyone finds their flow in different ways, and you can feel lost and unbalanced if you go through life for too long without losing yourself in it. Your flow might come through running, drawing, or solving complex puzzles. I sometimes reach it through performing on a stage or cooking an elaborate meal.

But I am most deeply in my flow when I am traveling. Specifically, I feel most whole when I am walking alone in a place that I have never been before, simply wandering with no destination or goal but to explore and discover. I find my flow in those quiet stretches when I am so lost in wonder that time and identity don’t make sense at all, and all I know is the secret splendors of this world that is beautiful, strange, and new to me with the turn of every corner. In these moments, I am the most and the least myself, as I become in tune with my environment. Alice Walker wrote, “The more I wonder, the more I love.” This love I feel through the joy of exploration is why I need travel.

I won’t be moving around quite so much once I land in Bilbao in a few days, though my program does include a few trips over long weekends. But the spirit of discovery will persist as I shift from tourist to temporary resident and student of Basque culture and life. I don’t officially have my classes yet, but I will be taking courses exclusively in Spanish, focusing on cultural heritage and language immersion. Fingers crossed that I get into the Spanish through Gastronomy cooking class! Thanks to the aforementioned year in Costa Rica, my Spanish is pretty good but will need brushing up, especially when it comes to grammar! I’m sure it will be up to scruff in no time, though, since my linguistic (and cultural) immersion will extend to my home life as well. I will be living with a host mother, who has asked me to call her Conchita, in her home close to the university. We’ve emailed a bit, and I can’t wait to meet her. More on that in my next post!

My goals for study abroad are to entirely immerse myself in the culture in which I am situated, to find in hands-on experience the applied realities of my academic studies, and to approach each day with an ethnographic magnifying glass and an open heart. I’ll keep you updated every two weeks or so on how my journey is going. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer. For now, I have Tuscany and Rome left to enjoy before moving on to the next grand adventure. ¡Hasta pronto! See you soon.

Ready for the Riviera! … I think

me rock

Hello any travel-loving people reading this!

I’d like to introduce myself: I’m Stephen, I’m a college sophomore, I study Math and Finance, and I come from the sprawling, metropolitan oasis of technological advancement that is New Hampshire (Haha. It’s a joke.)

I’ve only ever left the US one time to travel the “courageous” 200 miles to Canada. So I’m kind of nervous to travel the 3,000+ miles to the French Riviera. That’s like 15 times farther. I’ll be travelling under the CEA program, and I’ll be studying at the SKEMA school of business right outside of Antibes. I’ve looked it up on Google maps street-view and it looks awesome. Seriously.

Right now I’m slowly knocking things off of my “To-do” list I made back in April, and I’m down to ‘pack yo stuff’ and ‘go to the dentist.’ Besides those, my passport is fresh, my visa is stamped, and my ticket is booked. But don’t let me fool you; there are a TON more steps for study-abroad preparation: getting a phone, canceling subscriptions, checking in with your bank, exchanging currency, buying adapters, researching the town and country, etc. Not to mention actually learning the native tongue.

I took French in high school, so I only have a loose grasp on the language. Thankfully, none of my classes will be taught in French. I plan on trying to immerse myself with the French culture through the food, local bars (I’ll be legal in France! If you’re reading this, sorry Mom!) and restaurants, and especially the beaches. Did I forget to mention that Antibes has 16 miles of coast on the Mediterranean? Beaches all day, everyday (another joke, calm down Mom.)

But in all seriousness, I do plan on giving 100% effort with my school work. I’ve given up on Googling “differences of French and American college classes,” and I’ve come to except that I can’t really know what to expect. The only truth I know is that there’ll be billions of differences and all I can do is try and absorb, learn, and explore them.

My top worry isn’t actually the differences. Right now, it’s the packing. How many bags should I pack? Am I packing too much clothes? Not enough? My Google search results have been battling each other between the two points of “You don’t want to be over-encumbered by all of your bags! Only pack the essentials.” versus “You only need to carry your bags for a day, so take whatever you can carry! And keep room for trinkets to bring back.” I’m sitting here, with my scale balanced on both ends, having no clue which side I should agree with.

But enough about worries. I’m obviously excited to experience a whole new culture, and I’m also looking forward to meeting my roommate with whom I’ll be sharing a nicely furnished apartment. Our apartment will be a stone’s throw away from the sea-front, and it is located on a street that hosts a fresh-foods market everyday. I probably couldn’t ask for more. Except for a dryer; we have to use clotheslines.

Well, I think that’s enough pre-departure worries and excitements. By the time my next post goes live, I’ll be living in the sunny Riviera. I’ll be sure to include a ton of pictures, thanks for reading!

-Stephen M Dicillo

Hello all,

Two weekends ago some friends and I went to Chengdu for our three-day independent study weekend. Chengdu is a great city. It’s cute and clean and warm with a lot of cute coffee shops and shopping streets. We all instantly loved the city, even our friend that kind of hates China, loved Chengdu. She also thought she hated tofu but it turned out there was, in fact, a tofu for her! (I’m a big tofu fan so I counted this as a slightly personal victory.) In Chengdu we went to Le Shan Da Fo (乐山大佛) which is a mountain that has the world’s largest stone Buddha. My friend Alex and I were the only ones who wanted to wait in the really long line to see the Buddha from the base of the cliff and it was really incredible, I love the pictures from that day. Definitely one of my favorite things I’ve seen in China!

The second day we hiked Emei Shan (峨嵋山). It was really foggy, so in the way of a view there wasn’t much. However, when we were hiking up to the Golden Summit (and I had done no prior research) but I was thinking you know, “Goldennn Summit” pff yeah right. But then we got to the top where there was a HUGE, GOLDEN, multi-headed, Buddha statue and temple. It was really beautiful and a great surprise.
The third day we saw…PANDAS! They are just as cute as you would imagine. The zoo is huge and looks more like an ecological/botanical park than a zoo. It was also super cheap for a whole day in a beautiful park with pandas: only 58RMB for the student entrance fee which is less than $10. The panda’s enclosures are very open, they have low fences and the pandas have a lot of space to roam or just sit and eat bamboo. There are also peacocks that have free range of the park. One flew from a tree and landed right next to us, we all flipped out.

About our upcoming trip! We just finished one of our four big Chinese tests and tomorrow we are heading on a two-week field research trip along the ancient route of the Silk Road! This is organized by the Alliance study abroad program and the Silk Road is the theme of our study abroad program in Xi’an. I’m really excited about my capstone paper for the Silk Road class. For my capstone I decided to focus on Uyghur music (an ethnic Muslim minority group in China concentrated in the Xinjiang region). I’ve started my research and the literature is so interesting on Uyghur music! Most of the articles have to do with how the PRC appropriates minority music for political purposes through state-sponsored concerts and how this affects the image and identity of many minority groups by exoticizing and even feminizing them. On our trip I hope I will have the opportunity to talk to some locals about Uyghur music and maybe even see some live Uyghur music performances. Foot Hand Fish Panda1 Panda2 Peacock

Our itinerary looks amazing. We will be visiting old oasis towns in both Xinjiang and Gansu province.  A really broad outline:

First stop is to Dunhuang to see the Mogao Grottos and take a sunset ride on camels (ahh! :0)
Then it’s to Urumqi for some hiking, a mummy museum and a cultural exchange with local college students.

Then Kuqa to visit Xinhe, a musical instrument artisanal village. Then we’re going to a desert and a forest (in the same day).

Then to Kuqa’s Grand Mosque and Grand Bazaar and afterwards to Tianshan Shenmi Canyon.

The next day we will go to Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves and the Subashi Ruins (these are desert Ruins of an old Buddhist temple).

We will then make our way to Aksu for a visit to Tianshan Shenmu Park and dinner with a local farmer family. Then back to Urumqi! To see the Xinjiang Grand Bazaar and then back to Xi’an.

I can’t wait! Will post pictures when back in Xi’an!

Melbourne

DSCN0519 DSCN0487Similar to ‘reading day,’ Bond University has a week off before final exams commence. Most of the study abroad students take this as a vacation because we haven’t had any (official) days off this semester. Bond runs on a trimester system, so they don’t have ‘Spring Break’ or anything. They get 3 weeks off between each semester. I’ve wanted to go to Melbourne for a while, especially to see little blue penguins in the wild. I went from Friday to Tuesday with my friend Becca. It was a pretty packed trip. When we got there on Friday, we explored the city, went into a bunch of free museums and watched a free comedy show. We got dinner with my friend Leah from my high school (and Northeastern) who is studying abroad a bit out of the city. It’s so weird seeing people you know in a different country, definitely nice though!

On Saturday we did a Great Ocean Road tour. A lot of time was spent on the tour bus, the road is about 250km! (150 miles). I still haven’t gotten used to these conversions. We stopped every once in a while for sight seeing and pictures. We also saw koalas in the wild. The tour was from 7am to about 9pm so it was a long day.

The next day, we went on a tour from 9am to 10pm. It was a wildlife tour, including stops at a wildlife sanctuary, several beautiful beaches, the fallen London Bridge, and last but not least, Phillip Island. The wildlife sanctuary had albino kangaroos which was very interesting! As for penguins, hundreds of little blue penguins reside on Phillip Island. At the New England Aquarium, where I did my first co-op with the penguins, we have little blue penguins as well.

Every night at Phillip Island, hundreds of penguins come out of the ocean to make their way back to their burrows after a long day of hunting and swimming. Seeing them in the wild was indescribable and it filled me with emotions. I was tearing up and it made me so incredibly happy! 13 out of the 18 species of penguins are currently endangered or vulnerable to endangerment. The little blues are not of those 13 species, but things can change very quickly, and it’s hard to keep tabs on how many of them there are. They may be vulnerable to endangerment and we may not even know it. Penguins are very dear to my heart and I am extremely passionate about them, so seeing them in the wild was a dream come true.

On Monday, I spent the day at the Melbourne Zoo. My boss at the aquarium worked with the head of Communications at the zoo so I was able to get some behind the scenes action. I spent the day with the zookeepers of the Wild Sea Team. They take care of 24 little blue penguins, 2 pelicans, and currently 2 seals. They only take female seals that are too injured to go back into the wild, or that have been in rehabilitation too long to be able to adjust to life in the wild again. Another requirement is that their seals are ones that have been injured due to human causes. It really helps with education and sends a message about how detrimental humans have been to such amazing animals. They only take females because their exhibit is not large enough to be comfortable for the large males to live in.

My day at the zoo made me miss the penguins at the NEAq so much! As I am nearing the end of my study abroad, I am very sad to leave Australia. However, I am so lucky to have so many things to look forward to come back home to. My family, friends, coworkers, and school are all things that I am fortunate to have in my life and that will make coming home from this wonderful country a lot more bearable. Being this far away from home has been a challenge, as has being away from my friends at school that I have gotten so close to in the past few years. I am even looking forward to moving back into my apartment.
But enough of that, I will write a reflection about my experience when I get home. I have two finals coming up and I have a lot of studying to do for them. Anyways, Melbourne was amazing, and I’m thrilled that I got to do so much while I was there. Time to get studying, goodbye for now!

THE Great Barrier Reef!!!

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3/18/13, Tuesday

So on Sunday night I returned from another amazing adventure, one that I have been wanting to go on for years. On Wednesday morning I went to Cairns with 5 of my American friends who are all SCUBA certified. From Thursday morning to Saturday afternoon we lived on a boat and went diving at the Great Barrier Reef.

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The trip was SO much fun and we got to see so many cool things. We did 11 dives in total and each dive was about 40 minutes. We saw jellyfish, sharks, corals, anemones, turtles and dozens of different species of fish. Two of our dives were night dives where we used flashlights (or as Australians call them, torches) so we could see. It was interesting what the nightlife was like underwater. We ended up seeing 2 sharks on one of our night dives (or maybe we just saw the same shark twice, not sure).

Only 3 of our dives were ‘guided,’ meaning that we were only with an instructor for 3 dives. For the other dives we were in buddy groups. The first dive was guided so we could get a feel of the water, and our first night dive was guided as well because only one of us had been on a night dive before. Another dive one of the instructors, Sam, asked if we wanted him to go with us (just for fun) and I am so glad we said yes! We ended up seeing a turtle and were able to play with it! The turtles are so friendly and we got SO up close. It is interesting that the wildlife was so untroubled by our presence underwater, we were not seen as a threat at all, perhaps at sometime just an annoyance.

The key was to approach the animals slowly so they do not swim away and so that they do not feel threatened. As I write this I am still in awe that I actually got to do this. Definitely a few of the best days of my life and I couldn’t have spent it in a better place with better people. It is hard to put in words the beauty of the reef, and even the photographs do not completely capture the magnificence. The Great Barrier Reef is an amazing piece of nature and it is a shame that it is being destroyed by human activity and global warming. Being able to see a part of the reef before it is further damaged is a privilege in itself and I will remember it for the rest of my life.

Now back to the real world and tons of schoolwork,
Shannon