For my STEP project I studied abroad in Queensland, Australia through the Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment program hosted by Ohio State’s Office of International Affairs. During my three and a half weeks in the “Sunshine State” I studied the Australian culture and sustainability efforts alongside my fellow Buckeyes and teachers from OSU’s School of Environment and Natural Resources. Exploring aboriginal sites, Queensland’s various natural terrains, and learning more about the world around me than I ever thought possible proved to be an incredibly informational and transformative experience that I will never forget.
Prior to my adventure in Australia I had never been outside of the continental United States so that step out of my comfort zone in itself was enough to ensure that this experience was one that was truly unforgettable. I learned a lot about my own strengths and abilities as well as a deeper respect for our environment and a culture that is not my own. As a result of being in a new place with new people I had to overcome my tendency of keeping to myself and my own ways. Prior to my experience I was always reluctant to try new things but being in a new country forced me to overcome this. Being surrounded by people different from myself made me open up more and become more confident in my ability to forge new relationships and make new memories. I learned a lot about Australian culture and history and will now have a greater understanding and respect for people who may not look or sound like me and who have different experiences than my own.
This trip opened my eyes to how much of the world I have yet to see and experiences I have yet to have. Being surrounded by such beautiful landscapes and foreign animals and places gave me an appreciation for nature I’ve never had before growing up in suburban Ohio. I had always assumed myself to have an appreciation for our environment but after seeing a culture and meeting people who put the needs of the world before their own and who have made it their life mission to preserve the sanctity of our world I realized I have the ability and motivation to do so much more.
Upon arriving in Australia I was immediately thrown into a group of fellow Ohio Stater’s that I had never meet before. We all had different majors and different years in school. It usually takes me a long time to open up and get to know people but with only having three weeks and spending virtually all of our time together I soon overcame my social anxiety and was all the better because of it. The same can be said for all the people met along the way over the duration of the trip. Every family, tour guide and driver was accommodating and welcoming and truly made me feel comfortable in places and experiences all new to me. I learned a lot about valuing and respecting other people’s backgrounds and cultures during my trip.
A lot of the involved hiking to and from and through many different Australian terrains. From the outback to the rainforest to the Great Barrier Reef, I was challenged physically at every turn and mountain. The first days in Queensland involved a six mile hike through the rocky ravines that lie in the center of the Daintree rainforest. I was pushed to my limits but after finishing the hike I had more confidence in my own abilities and a respect for the roughness of nature.
A big component of the program focused on sustainability efforts in Queensland. From reducing carbon emissions in the mining industry to preservation and conservation projects in the rainforest and Great Barrier Reef. We were introduced to families that used solar energy and fought for protection zone in the reef. To meet people whose mission it was to make the world a better place made me realize how much I can do both in my personal and profession lives to do exactly the same.
I saw a lot of beautiful sights and places that I had never seen before and it concerns me that future generations may not be able to do the same. Seeing the sunrise while kayaking on the ocean, or standing in the middle of the oldest living rainforest in the world truly made me feel connected to the world around me and made all my problems and worries fade away in the bigger picture of the vast world surrounding me.
To experience first-hand the sustainability efforts that are being made to preserve and maintain such a beautiful place gave me new insight to what I could potentially do with my chemical engineering degree after graduation. This trip inspired me not only to continue to personally value our environment and history of Earth but also to shift my career and school focus on environment studies and sustainability efforts within the United States. In addition I will continue to keep an open mind and maintain a sensitivity when interacting with someone of a different culture and background than my own. The respect and awe I have for our natural world is something I will have for the rest of my life and I will continue to make an effort to be sure that future generations get the chance to experience the same awe-inspiring sights that I saw.