Nina Wagner

Nina Wagner (she/her) - Stanford in Australia

Major: Biology
Minor:: History
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This is a picture of me snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef! One of places we stayed was a small island called Heron Island that was right next to the reef, so part of our class while on the island was to snorkel and take pictures of fish so we could learn to identify them (hence the camera in my hand). We also were able to snorkel whenever we had free time, so I spent a majority of those two weeks in the ocean exploring!

Questions and Answers with Nina

Why did you choose to study in Australia?

Even prior to arriving at Stanford my freshman year, I had taken an interest in Australia because of its incredibly unique wildlife and ecosystems. I wanted to experience these features first hand to be able to gain hands-on knowledge and experience that I could apply towards my major and any future careers. The Australia program was unique in that a main part of classes were hands-on coursework ranging from snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef to hiking in the Outback. The Australia program also appealed to me because it moved locations every few weeks, offering us a chance to see more of the country and its wildlife.

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

Going to Australia I expected to enjoy the nature-based experiences and classes as they applied to my major and my main interests. Australia ended up being so much more than the scheduled experiences and classes, as we had a lot of free time to explore and see much more of Australia than I expected. I also was surprised by how quickly I developed a close-knit group of friends that I did not know very well prior to the program. I got to be fully immersed in Australian nature and while I did get to check off many of those classic Australian experiences, I did many other things on a whim that turned out to be just as if not more exciting that the things I expected to do.

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

The courses in Australia expand far beyond the classroom, allowing us to be hands-on with the topics and environments we were learning about. Labs and coursework involved snorkeling, hiking, and many other experiences that felt more genuine that just listening to a lecture or reading through a powerpoint would. The targeted research project that each student is required to do also allowed us to go more in-depth with topics that appealed to us while participating in fieldwork or research.

What did you learn about yourself while studying abroad?

Being in Australia gave me the chance to immerse myself in nature and understand my own relationship with it and appreciation for it. I found myself saying yes to more experiences that I typically would out of the curiosity and excitement I had for the wildlife I was surrounded by.

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

The greatest challenge for me was learning how to live a very communal lifestyle as we often shared rooms and amenities within hostels and dorms. Learning to find my own kind of privacy and alone time despite this took some time, but allowed me to better connect with my peers and the nature that surrounded us. Being in such close quarters with the same people for 10 weeks created a very tight-knit community and appreciation for each other and encouraged me to interact with and get to know everyone within our group.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

Australian culture in a lot of ways was fairly similar to American culture so it was easy to feel fairly comfortable despite being in a foreign country. It was interesting to experience and discuss the differences in the ways that Americans and Australians talk, and sometimes joke, about difficult topics such as race and gender.

What was your favorite part of everyday life?

The wildlife! Seeing things like kangaroos or beautiful reef fish every single day never gets tiring, and American wildlife, while incredible in its own way, doesn't have the same uniqueness that Australian wildlife does.

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

Getting to scuba dive and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef is something I will never forget. It was a privilege to see such a beautiful ecosystem and gain an even deeper understanding and respect for it. Additionally, I had never gone scuba diving, so breathing underwater while also seeing one of the most famous places in the world was incredible and overwhelming.

What 5 words would you use to describe the experience?

Wildlife, Life-changing, Surreal, Community, Snorkeling

What was your favorite food?

The fresh fruit we had at many of our meals was incredible!

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

Comfortable clothing--whether it was for sleeping, the long bus rides, or fieldwork, it was nice to have things like a comfortable pair of leggings or a baggy sweatshirt.

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

I tried making an "Australia" playlist while abroad but recently found I got as far as adding the song "Down Under" and nothing else, but what more could you need for a true Australian experience?