Organization: University of Sydney School of Life and Environmental Sciences
Dates: May 25, 2017 to July 22, 2017
Web: The Sydney Undergraduate Experience
In Sarah's own words
How I contributed: I assisted with lab procedures for research in soil moisture. This research is used to calibrate soil moisture probes to monitor water levels in Australian agriculture. Australia is the driest continent on earth, so water is the largest issue concerning soil. Over the duration of my internship, I was exposed to lab prep work (grinding over 400 soil samples in three weeks), measurement of soil particle content with a hydrometer, and data analysis in R. At the end of the internship, our data suggested that soil moisture can be measured as a function of clay content.
What I felt most challenged by: I felt most challenged by connecting my studies in rural development and sociology with my time spent in Sydney. In many ways, I felt ironic being in a city of four million people, living in plush accommodation, and having the luxury to eat lunch at a cafe every day. It was difficult to connect my knowledge gained from class about international trade relationships, colonialism, and indigenous populations. I felt like these issues are largely ignored living in urban Australia.
What I enjoyed most: I really enjoyed becoming friends with a local university student. We would hike every weekend together, and she even visited me when I was WWOOFing in the Hunter Valley, about 2 hours away from Sydney. We shared a lot in common--running, yoga, hiking, interest in environmental issues--and it was really great to escape from the urban culture of Sydney and the social environment of the dorm I lived in. I also liked working with the PhD student I was assisting for his research, and it inspires me to stay in academia knowing I will enjoy the culture.
Would I recommend this experience: No, I wouldn't for IARD students. There are several other experiences in other that are more life-changing and challenging. I wouldn't consider Sydney, Australia a challenge for IARD students, nor would I consider the University of Sydney program targeted at students interested in environmental sciences and development. I was the only one pursuing research in soil science in the program. Most other students were working in offices in downtown Sydney, so it felt very isolating. Overall, the University of Sydney summer program is very disorganized--I got my internship assignment the day before leaving, so it didn't give me any time to prepare for my research.
In Eleni's own words
How I contributed: The Intern Group is an organization that facilitates international internship placements. Through the Intern Group I worked with Earthwatch institute Australia, an environmental non-profit with other offices globally, that works specifically in citizen science and conservation and climate change research. My internship project was Business Development and entailed extensive research and analysis of potential corporate partners. My research culminated in a presentation and briefing for the CEO that was then delivered to the Board of Directors after I departed. I contributed significantly to their database and efforts to increase corporate partnerships and increase funding streams.
What I felt most challenged by: I was given a lot of freedom with my work and my mentor/boss was very visionary and focused on the big-picture, therefore I had to spend time figuring out the details and scheduling my work to reach individually set goals as well as my boss's overall project goals.
What I enjoyed most: Working with the other Earthwatch employees and getting to have a lot of independence in my work. I felt that I could create something very personal, yet which contributed significantly to the expansion and development of the Earthwatch organization. I also loved getting to know the other interns who worked around Melbourne through the Intern Group. The experience as a whole was very excellent with each element--the location, people, internship, etc.--contributing significantly.
Would I recommend this experience: Absolutely. I felt incredibly comfortable the entire time and thought Melbourne was a fantastic city to spend time in. Australians are very kind, welcoming and down-to-earth people. My internship was a perfect fit for me and the Intern Group staff worked hard to help match me with the best fit. The Intern Group also included social events such as a wildlife sanctuary visit and wine tour that were a blast and helped me get to know the other interns very well. The staff at the Intern Group were readily available to answer any questions and concerns that I had and kept in touch with each intern individually to check in.
Organization: The School for Field Studies
Dates: 3-Feb-13 - 8-May-13
In Jay's own words
How I contributed: I took part in scheduled tree plantings on abandoned agricultural land. The School of Field Studies worked with a nonprofit organization called Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands (T.R.E.A.T). This organization had a greenhouse and a center which grows rainforest seedlings into small trees. By planting diverse amounts of species over abandoned agricultural land, this organization works to restore rainforest in the area. We were able to see native animals such as the tree kangaroo come back to some of these past plantings.
What I felt most challenged by: I felt most challenged by the fast pace in which the courses moved and the lack of academic support offered to students. The program is shorter than an average college semester and therefore moves quickly through many topics. There were not as many resources available for support as there are at a typical college campus. The living and working conditions were also a challenge. We lived and attended courses at a field station in the middle of a new growth rainforest. Internet was also unreliable at the field station and the research resources were limited. We often referred to our field station as "a place where everything molds and nothing works–due to the constant rain and humidity. This was especially true during the wet season, which takes place during the spring semester.
What I enjoyed most: I enjoyed taking part in the scheduled tree plantings and traveling to Chillagoe, the Daintree Rainforest, Cairns and all around the Atherton Tablelands. The food at the center was also very good and much of it came from local farms. Far North Queensland is home to the Great Barrier Reef and the oldest continuous rainforest in the world. This is an amazing corner of the world and a great place to study biology and environmental issues.
Would I recommend this experience: I have mixed emotions about recommending this program to other students. Although I enjoyed my experience and learned a lot about the rainforest ecology, the program was very disorganized and I found the director of the program and the academic dean at headquarters to be surprisingly non responsive to specific problems I brought to their attention. However, a couple of my professors did a fantastic job with their courses. Far North Queensland is also an amazing place and the program focuses on the unique ecology of the area.
Organization: WWOOF Australia
Dates: 1-Jun-10 - 26-Jul-10
In Charlotte's own words
What I felt most challenged by: One personal challenge I faced was loneliness. This challenge stemmed from another logistical challenge, which was lack of access to phone and internet. Without a way to reliably and constantly communicate with my friends and family, anyone who knew me well at all, instead of being surrounded by strangers, I became very lonely. I tried to overcome this by purchasing a prepaid phone, but the phone did not get signal on the farm where I was living. I never fully overcame this challenge, especially as it became worse with the situation on the second farm in Tasmania.
What I enjoyed most: What I most enjoyed about my international experience was the sense of accomplishment that I felt upon finishing it. I learned tremendous amounts not only about agriculture, but also about myself. I feel more confident in my choice of major and career focus, and also better prepared to work in those areas. Also, Australian food is delicious, and I really, really liked being able to eat it all the time.
Would I recommend this experience: I would selectively recommend my hosts and field experience sites to other students. The experience was very valuable; however, for students who are looking to have a more structured international experience, I would not recommend the WWOOF program. For those who simply want to go abroad and have hands-on experience with agriculture while being very exposed to and involved in day-to-day life on a farm, WWOOF is an excellent organization that allows travel to many different countries.