Edward Jenner is an Honors College student majoring in chemical engineering in the College of Engineering and in physics through the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. He traveled to Australia last Spring and attended classes at the The University of Newcastle, Australia.
Since my last update, I’ve finished my studies, traveled the country, and took a lovely 15 hour flight home. I’ve been back for nearly three weeks and am still adjusting to being home. So immediately after my last blog post was the last week of class before the semester break. I spent that time working incessantly to finish my assignments on schedule and learning a very valuable lesson in storing homework on only one flash drive. Shortly thereafter, I was on a flight to Cairns. Cairns is a northern Australian city in Queensland that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be known for its amazing tropical forests or its beautiful seaside location, so it chose both.
My first day in Cairns I spent exploring the forests surrounding the area and covering the mountains. I had scheduled to go with a guide, in which an Italian family would also be joining me, but they backed out the morning of the tour, thus giving me my own personal guide for an entire eight hours. Along the way I went swimming in natural springs, climbed across (and fell off) large rock formations, and had the luxury of seeing a wide array of vegetation and wildlife. I came across a very lovely vine with barbs along the spine which hook into the skin, and since that isn’t enough, they also have unnecessarily sharp needles down the leaves.
After the voyage into the wild, I left on Tuesday morning for a 36 hour scuba diving trip at the Great Barrier Reef. It was a five hour trip to the actual reef, in which I made great friends with the crew and the only other passenger who spoke English. Unfortunately, the other 10 or so tourists were all French and didn’t seem too enthusiastic about making conversation with anyone else. Aside from that (and a bout of seasickness on the voyage out) the first day was amazing. We arrived at the reef at around 3 p.m. and after a quick scuba instruction were in the water. Because none of the tourists were certified divers, there had to be one instructor for every two divers, but fortunately, none of the French wanted to dive so we didn’t have to take turns in the water. After gearing up in a very flatteringly tight wet suit and donning the 80 lbs. of scuba gear, I took the plunge. I had trouble getting comfortable with being submerged and was very unnerved being in the water. After the first 30 minutes though I was completely at ease underwater, and was absolutely consumed by the reef.
We stayed anchored at the reef overnight, hours away from any visible land. Around 10:00, there was a scheduled night dive at the reef. I ended up being the only one interested in going into the water after dark, and almost backed out myself. The whole ocean was completely pitch-black and the moon was blocked from heavy cloud cover. I ended up finding the nerves to go in, and was well rewarded for it. When we jumped in, there was actually a decent amount of light underwater, and visibility wasn’t a problem. Also, I had the luck of startling an octopus on my way down to the bottom, which inked me and the dive instructor. What I didn’t know though is in low amounts of light, the octopus’s ink appears vibrant neon blue. Scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef was unarguably the most amazing single experience of my entire trip in Australia. The finale of the night dive was sitting on the ocean bed and flailing my hands through a group of plankton, which on contact, would flash bright pink and dart off.
I spent the rest of my break in Sydney with a friend enjoying the large city uneventfully. After which, I was straight back to class. The remainder of my semester was pretty uneventful. Aside from hours spent in the library studying, nothing of real interest happened, until finals came. Nothing actually interesting happened during the finals, but how they were conducted was pretty interesting and worth noting.
First off, the proctors for the exams were outsourced to non-university staff. The reasoning is that professors might be tempted to help students during the exam to boost their grades, which I understand, but I don’t think it’s a legitimate enough problem to warrant the funding and effort required. Also, the professors were not allowed to be in the same building when the exam was conducted. Thus, if there was a problem on an exam i.e. something being mislabeled or a badly worded question, the student would have to leave the room with a proctor, and make a monitored phone call to the professor and hope it would be something that could be answered over the phone. Secondly, a decent portion of the exams were held off campus. Three of my four exams took place on the other side of the city, at a horse track. It was a lovely building, and very comfortable, but was a bit strange to say the least. Last, multiple courses would be taking exams in the same room, and they didn’t always start or stop at the same time. I took my 2nd exam in a room with 2 other courses, both of which started and stopped their exams at different times. After my exams, I stayed in Newcastle for three more days before leaving to do a bit of traveling.
From Newcastle, I left for twelve days of traveling through different parts of the country. I spent three days in Brisbane, in which I did nothing in particular. I’d walk around through the city and go to museums and parks I came across, which was a lot more fun than it probably sounds. From Brisbane, I went on a four day guided tour through the outback in the Uluru national park area. The first day we visited King’s Canyon for a three hour hike through the rock formations and gorges. The canyon area used to be hunting grounds for the Aboriginal people, but unfortunately the majority of animals had been overhunted when European settlers came into the area. The first night we had a lovely introduction to the local wildlife. The nights drop down to around 0 oC, and mice would run towards us because of our food and warmth. We couldn’t leave any food sitting out or a mouse would make its way into it. We also had to sleep in what are called “swags” which are basically large leather sleeping bags. We’d place our own sleeping bags inside the swag, and then zip up the swag. We’d have to close it up entirely, or mice would crawl into the swag with us to get closer to our body heat. It took some time to get asleep since the mice would crawl on and around us in the swags. From there, we went on to visit two more rock formations, Kata Tjuta and Uluru.
After my brief travels into the outback, I flew back to Sydney for my last three days in Australia. I stayed in the same hostel from the beginning of my trip, and did a bit of souvenir shopping for family back home. Aside from that, I spent my last few days visiting my favorite places of Sydney; King’s Cross, Hyde Park, the Botanical Gardens, Darling Harbor, and the Opera house.