Maddie F., Australia-Terrestrial Ecology and Marine Biology at University of Queensland (Biological Sciences)

Innovative research and field study on the Great Barrier Reef and Terrestrial Australia


1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB? 

  • I took Terrestrial Ecology, Marine Biology, and Australian studies and they all applied to my major classes in Biology. It was super easy to get units on this program because it was made with the biology departments at UC’s, so there was no petitioning once we got back to get credit. It technically was worth 21 upper division biology units and counted as credits for EEMB 142A/AL, 147, and 159. Courses were much smaller than those at UCSB and they were half in the field so you get to know your professors super well through hiking or going on reef walks with them and in such small classroom settings. About every other week took place on campus with about three lectures a day of the same subject. I really liked this because we could focus on only one subject at once all day every day and then get tested and move on to the next subject. We also had some lectures in the field; sometimes we were drinking hot chocolate after dinner taking notes off a presentation on a projector under a tent. This way of learning was so much fun and felt so much more homey than the formal way of lectures at UCSB. Attendance was assumed and since it is such a small group of about 40 students, we all relied on each other to go. If someone did get sick though, professors were very understanding and helpful, even with the quick moving classes. The grading system was generous compared to UCSB and the methods of assessment felt fair and about the same quick speed as the quarter system at UCSB. The student/instructor relationship was much closer than UCSB and I am 100% confident they would love to write a letter or recommendation and would have lots to write about if I needed one. You did not need to take more initiate abroad than you would at UCSB because you are pretty much learning the entire time with the group. Participation felt easy in the field and it is really difficult to fall behind.

2. What was your favorite class abroad? 

  • My favorite class that I took abroad was Terrestrial Ecology. I had never been very interested in ecology or plants, but John was the best lecturer I have ever learned from and would relate his teaching to real life in every lecture. His lectures felt like complete performances, and paying attention came naturally. Every other week was also literally hiking through the exact concepts we learned in class, so it all really stuck as we could see and feel it happen in real life in addition to lectures in the classroom. He also had poems and inspirational quotes ready on command and took a real effort into getting to know each and every one of his students. He wanted to learn just as much as he loved teaching and everyone, whether they originially liked the subject or not, learned a lot and enjoyed doing it. I am confident I will not forget much of what we learned in this class simply because of the amazing way it was taught.

3. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience. 

  • I conducted fieldwork in both Terrestrial Ecology and Marine Biology. The terrestrial ecology field work was more structured and we learned in the field how to determine things like canopy cover, forest types, and fire danger. In the Marine Biology section, we were put into groups and went through all the steps of a real research project, starting with a proposal all the way to a complete write-up that could be submitted to a journal. One of my two projects is actually being submitted to journals right now and my group might have a published paper at the end of this year! I have never been given so much power and leadership in a research project and it forced us to grow and take initiative with amazing guidance from the tutors helping us.

University of Queensland in Brisbane

4. How would you describe your host institution? 

  • University of Queensland was much more quiet than UCSB. It has 50,000 students, about double UCSB, but did not feel much larger than our campus. Australian colleges tend to be more commuter schools than in America, so most students still lived at home and commuted to class, which gave a different feel than that of Isla Vista. It was close to the middle of the city and it was easy to get there by walking, bus, or even ferry depending on the homestay’s location. The city center is a few bus stops away and the nearest airport is about a 45 minute drive. My host sister and I would either walk about 15 minutes and take a 40 minute ferry to school or take a 10 minute bus ride. Some other homestays were further away in neighborhoods and could take more than an hour by bus.

5. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join? 

  • University of Queensland does have clubs that people can join such as the climbing club or rowing club, but they are hard to join with this program because we were not on campus the whole time and we would leave for weeks at a time pretty often. Some students did get involved in these clubs when we were on campus, but were not able to meet very regularly.


6. Describe your housing situation. 

  • This program has students in homestays. It makes more sense to have it this way because every other week you are staying in bunks in a rainforest or in research stations, so you are really only at the homestay about half the total time away. I lived with a local 86 year old woman from Brisbane in her apartment on the river with another UCSB student. Housing was pre-arranged by the program after taking a short survey that assigned the students with the homestay families. It was very different than IV housing because our homestay mom would make dinner and lunch and breakfast for us and we did not have much control over our food besides providing her with suggestions and discussing what she would make. The other UC student and I had our own rooms and closets within her apartment and she respected us like adults without any strict rules as long as we stayed in communication. It was furnished and beautiful. Some of our friends would have up to four students per family and some had host brothers and sisters, so it all depends on where you end up. Our apartment was one of the closest and was about 10 minutes away by bus, but some people were in more neighborhood like outcrops and would take over an hour to get to campus.


7. Where did you eat most of your meals?

  • We ate most of our meals at home or in the field. Our homestay mom would make breakfast, pack a lunch, and make dinner for us every day we were in Brisbane unless we told her we were going out, which saved a lot of money. On field trips, a crew would make us meals and the marine field trips had some of the best food I have ever eaten.

8. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students? 

  • An average meal was about 15$ and I would advice students to eat as much as they can at home with their host families and eat out occasionally. The homestay parents should be feeding you and if you have any problems with them or their food, just be honest and talk it out. Faking it and buying food instead is not a great idea. Honesty is always better. Alcohol was also extremely expensive, so my only suggestion there is Goon and cheap wine.

9. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals? 

  • No, more than half of our program was vegetarian or vegan and their homestay parents knew immediately and signed up for those eating restrictions. On field trips, every single meal had a vegan/vegetarian option and they all got to eat before the normal eaters to make sure everybody got fed. They were very accommodating and said Californians had the most dietary requirements of any group they have had.

10. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad. 

  • Brisbane does an event called Eat Street every Friday and Saturday night where they have a huge line of shipping containers with different vendors and different kinds of food. It is so much fun to go around with friends and taste all of the different kinds of food and listen to the live music. It feels somewhat like a fair, but all of the attention is on the food. I ate amazing pad thai, fish and chips, cotton candy, and funnel cake. 

11. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back? 

  • Vegemite toast!!! Most definitely the best breakfast on earth, contrary to the opinion of most of my friends on the program. Oh, and Tim Tams. You need to try the tim tam slam where you drink hot tea through a tim tam and then eat the melty chocolate before it falls apart.


12. Describe your host city. 

  • Brisbane felt like a teenage city. It was somewhat small but still very city-like with high rise buildings and people everywhere. It had a river that twisted and turned through the center of the city which provided a cool feel. There is also a free ferry service up and down the river called the Hopper which was so much fun to ride. There were people walking and biking and running around all the time and I felt safer than I do in most cities walking around. As a 20-something girl, I still felt very comfortable walking around by myself.

13. Was it easy to get around? 

  • It was really easy to get around. The busses are very clean and easy to use around the entire city, but they are a bit expensive. The program gives you a preloaded go card at the beginning, but I ended up spending around $200 on bus rides during my whole time there. There are also free ferries that take you around the city and the train and greyhound busses make weekend travel up and down the coast really easy also.

14. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students? 

  • I felt way safer in this city than I have in most large American cities. There were people moving around all the time and few creepy people. I was completely comfortable going on runs through the city by myself, just obviously don’t creep around alone in the dark. 

15. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city? 

  • Riding the ferry around!! There were also always cool markets and food festivals around, so keep an eye out for those. I loved going to the fake beach in the middle of the city and generally walking around and people watching. The ferris wheel on the river was also fun to ride.


16. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad. 

  • I noticed Australians generally do not eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as we do here in California, and they hate spicy food. Other than that, pretty easy and little culture shock because we all spoke english.

17. How did you handle culture shock? 

  • Just talk to people and see what they have to say! Australians love Australia and have so many cool facts to teach you. I personally knew nothing about it when I went and now I have so much love for the country. Everything in Australia is somewhat like America, just a little different. They speak the same language, but sound a little different. They have Burger King, but it is called Hungry Jacks. They say prawns instead of shrimp. You’ll realize everything there is same, but different.

18. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture? 

  • I loved their outlook on life. I feel like Australians generally do things that they really are passionate about and are not in a huge rush. Every tutor and professor I met was doing their projects strictly out of love for their research subject, and did not rush right into it when they did not know what they wanted to do. I feel like they have a more generally relaxed.


19. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad. 

  • My favorite travel story was night snorkeling in Heron Island. We all went out when it was dark and snorkeled with huge flash lights. We saw Spanish dancers, many rays, a giant loggerhead turtle with a head twice the size of my own, and all the nocturnal fish chomping at the coral. The rays of our flashlights caught jellies and all the meiofauna swimming around. The bioluminescence was also insane and you could hear all of our screams of excitement out of our snorkels.


20. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?

  • My biggest fear was being so far from home and my friends. It was definitely hard and scary at the beginning because there was not an immediate support system when things went wrong. It turned out being okay quickly because everybody there with us felt like family and I felt like I had an amazing support system right there with me every step of the way. Also, everybody there is going through the same thing so it is really easy to connect through missing home.

21. What was your biggest challenge abroad? 

  • My biggest challenge abroad was being so far from home and friends that I knew well. It was really scary to be far and have such a large time difference, because your “rocks” at home might be sleeping when you really need them. This felt somewhat like a problem, but it also brought the students that much closer. We were all there to lean on each other.

22. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad? 

  • I feel like I look at life differently. I don’t necessarily think that it was Australia in specific that made me change, but leaving the country forces you to see the way other people are living. I feel like it was a great opportunity to get out of the bubble of IV and California and America and see a different point of view of life and goals and career interests.

23. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students? 

  • Get out of your comfort zone, open yourself up to meet new people, and enjoy every moment because you will most definitely miss it when you get back. IV is waiting for you when you return.

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