Shriya Das - STUDENT PROFILE
Stanford in Australia, Autumn 2017-18
Major: Human Biology
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This was taken on a beautiful trail on Stradbroke Island. The water was incredibly blue and clear, and the waves were enormous-- forceful enough to send us somersaulting underwater. Swimming at that beach was exhilarating and one of my favorite experiences in Australia.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH SHRIYA
Why did you choose to study in Australia?
The BOSP Australia study abroad program is truly unique — the entire Stanford group participating in the program lives together and takes the same classes while traveling to new locations along the Gold Coast every 2-3 weeks. I felt as though this program would expose me to parts of the Australian continent that I would never be able to explore as a mere tourist. Additionally, the hands-on fieldwork integrated into each class seemed like an incredible way to learn about Australia and its ecology. I had always wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef and the Australia program allowed us to spend 2 weeks right on the Reef, 2 hours away from the mainland, snorkeling in a coral cay with enormous biodiversity.
What were your expectations before you went and how did they change once you were in Australia?
I went into the program with very few expectations. I was hoping to explore as much of Australia as possible, and the program certainly allowed for that with the many locations and free days after exams. Apart from that, I wasn’t sure what to expect with the hostel-style living, camping, and locations of the program. My experience undeniably exceeded all expectations. The camping portion ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip. Sheoak Ridge is incredible in that it feels so untouched, pristine. Many of the trails were unmarked and we were able to go on nighttime walks to see even more wildlife. It’s easy to be anxious about the program due to the amount of unknowns, but nothing is daunting in the moment with the Stanford group and the wonderful instructors—the scariest moments were often the most rewarding.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Australia?
The Australia program enables hands-on learning that inspires you to care about the ecology, history, and policies of the country. On-location activities like snorkeling through the reefs after class and being able to identify the coral and fish types is incredibly rewarding. The Targeted Research Project (TRP) is also a great way to delve deeper into a particular subject, whether you want to do lab work involving coral or explore Australian policy and history regarding a specific subject. You end up learning vast amounts in short periods of time, but all the subject matter is so fascinating (particularly due to the integrated hands-on experiences) that you easily remain engaged throughout.
What did you learn about yourself while studying abroad?
This program cemented my love for travel and inspired me to capitalize on every opportunity to explore new places and cultures. BOSP also gave me a new appreciation for nature and wildlife. I had always loved the outdoors, but I had never experienced such beauty, seemingly untouched by the human hand. We were able go stargazing in areas with almost zero-light pollution and walk on soft sand beaches with no litter. Through this program you begin to understand society’s enormous detrimental impacts on ecosystems across the world and view every new outdoor experience through a transformed lens.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while abroad and what did you learn from it?
Being abroad naturally forces you out of your comfort zone in a lot of different, but rewarding ways. One that is unique to the Australia program, however, is the lack of alone time. You live in pretty tight quarters (up to eight people in a rather small room), and spend many hours of your day in class, on field trips, or just exploring with your fellow Stanford students. While this is a great way to forge lasting bonds with everyone on the trip, after several weeks of this, the lack of alone time may be grating. This was a key learning point as well— many of us needed some space especially after the new and transformative experiences that occurred so rapidly throughout the program. It is important to participate actively in the BOSP community, and also give yourself time to absorb everything you are experiencing.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Australia didn’t require many cultural adjustments per se. However, in a few of the locations, there was very little Wifi. Particularly in the first few weeks, when my parents wanted to keep in touch the most, our wifi was spotty and unreliable. While you will not need Internet access very often, it might be good to purchase data or sign-up for a phone plan that allows you to reach out to family in the first week. Once you go to Sheoak Ridge, you won’t have any service really, but you’ll be too busy to need it anyways!
What was your favorite part of everyday life?
It truly depends on the location— you have entirely different activities at each new place. However, one of the best experiences in many of the locations was being able to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets.
What was the most memorable experience you had while in Australia?
Definitely snorkeling. I don’t think I will ever swim in a place as beautiful as Heron Island. Literally as our boat pulled into the island for the first time, we could see sharks and rays below. The reef is teeming with wildlife— octopi, reef sharks, fish, turtles— you will never experience the ocean in the same way after seeing that much wildlife and snorkeling through such a beautiful ecosystem.
What 5 words would you use to describe the experience?
What was your favorite food?
Heron Island coffee— it was much needed and one of the few times we had regular coffee available!
What was the most valuable item you took on the program?
Definitely bring some warm clothes— I expected it to be really warm, but you end up having a good amount of nighttime activities, and it gets rather chilly at night.
What was your favorite music/band you discovered in Australia?
One night around our campfire, we did a round of “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.” It was very funny and surprising to rediscover that song from my childhood.