Jonathan Fisk


Stanford in Australia, Autumn 2014-15
Major: Earth Systems
College year while abroad: Junior


Why did you choose to study abroad in Australia?

I’ll try to keep this short and sweet, because honestly I could probably talk for pages about why I wanted to study abroad in Australia. For one, as far back as I can remember I’ve wanted to go to Australia, so when I saw that I could study there for several months, it was a dream come true! In regards to academics, I’m majoring and coterming in Earth Systems, focusing on marine ecology and fishery management, so naturally Australia was a perfect choice in this regard! Between the courses offered and the locations of the program, there was no way I could pass this opportunity up! The scenery alone was astonishingly beautiful!

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Australia? 

Aside from expecting to see and learn about a lot of neat things, I made sure not to really come in with any set expectations. This turned out to be a GREAT choice. Instead of coming in with a grocery list of things I wanted to do, see, eat, and whatnot, I just came in with the mindset of going with the flow, making the most out of whatever happens, and just generally being down for anything! 

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Australia?

Countless! For one, all of the professors and tutors we had were incredibly knowledgeable in their fields, proving to be great resources for learning the materials and more. The biggest benefit in my eyes, however, was fieldwork we got to do during the program! Very rarely do you get the opportunity to go out into the wilderness or the ocean to actually observe the subjects discussed in class, and in such amazing locations nonetheless! Plus, the ability to conduct our own small research projects was definitely worthwhile.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

My biggest challenge was less of a specific moment and more of a sentiment that I think everyone on the trip had at one point or another. The character of the program means that you are spending most of your time with your fellow Stanford travelers. Tight hostel rooms, dorm accommodations on Straddie and Heron, and the fact that you are all taking the same classes together all adds up to not getting very much down or alone time. I think everyone got to a point on the trip where they really just wanted some space and maybe had a hard time finding it. This was a very important lesson for us to all learn- how and when to take time for ourselves and how to respect others’ need to do the same.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad? 

I am far less risk-averse than my parents are probably comfortable with (especially when it comes to marine megafauna (especially sharks)). Also, spiders can be super neat and fun, so long as they respect my personal space. 

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it? 

The frequent lack of adequate wifi. I jest (sort of), but seriously, Australia has some pretty slow internet, especially compared to Stanford’s wifi. This wouldn’t have been too big of an issue if I hadn’t had to take a small one-unit course during the Australia program, causing me to fumble around trying to get internet at certain points during the program. Basically, if there’s any way to avoid needed regular internet during your time in Australia, do that! It’ll save you a lot of headache, even if it means doing an extra amount of work before the trip. 

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make? 

For me, none! I got along just swimmingly with the culture of Australia and the program! The crude Australian humor, which I could see being quite an adjustment for some people, was right up my alley, and I didn’t experience any negativity despite being openly queer and quite visibly a person of color. 

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Australia?

This one’s easy! Definitely my favorite part of everyday life in Australia was being around such great people! The crew that applies and goes to Australia every year is a pretty self-selective one, continually stocked with goofy, curious, fun-loving people. The group that I went to Australia with definitely helped make the trip what it was, as I’ve heard people from other year’s trips say as well. 

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Australia? 

Oh, this is difficult! There were so many amazingly memorable experiences while in Australia! One particular moment that stands out the most, though, as a “yup, we’re in Australia” sort of experience happened one day during our stint in Far North Queensland when we were playing at a creek. A small group of us swam over to an area a bit of a ways away where we could climb up the trees. There, perched on one of the branches was a carpet python we estimated to be at least two meters long. Being the reckless bunch that we are, we decided it would be a great idea to climb the trees further to get a closer look, much to the snake’s displeasure. We hollered at the rest of the people that we found a snake, and pretty quickly a couple of them, with two of the tutors, swam over to see it for themselves. We thought the tutors were going to tell us to be more careful and to not agitate the python, but instead they ended up helping us navigate the branches and get even closer. At one point while I was trying to snag pictures of my friend getting close to the carpet python, I felt some brush over my foot. My first thought was, “Huh, that reed feels pretty smooth,” so I look down and it’s a small green tree snake slithering right across my foot! At this point I was so into the Australia experience I was barely even fazed, and just started laughing and told the others what happened. 

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience? 

Unreal, wild, stunning, charismatic-megafauna-tastic, peanut butter.

What was the subject of your Targeted Research Project? 

We used Baited Remote Underwater Video Stations (BRUVS) to look into the effects the marine protected areas (MPAs) in the seagrass meadows off Stradbroke Island have on fish abundance and species diversity. 

What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Australia? 

DO IT!!! If there’s any way to make Australia work with your schedule (which I can help you with!), then by all means go on the trip!!! 

If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently? 

Honestly, I don’t know if I would do anything differently! I had an absolutely amazing time, and felt like I took full advantage of every location during the trip! If I had to press really hard, I guess things would have been to some degree more enjoyable if I had done some cardio training during the summer before the trip (long hikes are long), but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the hikes or found them too difficult. One thing that would’ve been interesting is if I had looked into Aboriginal activist groups in Sydney and Brisbane so that I could meet with them and talk about contemporary issues, but given how packed the schedule can be I don’t know how practical this would have been. 

How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals? 

Throughout the program, my love for fieldwork grew and grew! No matter what path I chose for the future, I would love for fieldwork to be a regular part of it. Plus, all of the marine work we did confirmed my aspirations to work in marine ecology and fisheries management. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of marine work we did, and have the itch to get back out and do more. Additionally, getting some experience in conducting my own research project from start to manuscript, and talking with all of the PhD students on the program, further encouraged me to pursue a PhD after my Stanford career. 

What was your favorite food you had in Australia? 

EASILY my favorite foods were Chur Burger (chickpea burger with sweet potato fries is where it’s at) and liquid nitrogen gelato. No matter the situation, celebrate with some gelato. Treat yo’ self. 

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program? 

Besides the most obvious thing, which would have to be my Nalgene bottles (stay hydrated, y’all), I would probably say the most valuable item I took would be my Swiss Army Knife. You never know when you’ll need a food knife on a hike. 

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Australia?

The song Shut Up And Dance by Walk The Moon came out a bit over halfway through our program, and quickly became an anthem of sorts for the trip. Also, this by no means counts as ‘discovering’, but our crew brought back a lot of the angsty middle school throwbacks and it was amazing.