Back to SummaryTanya Widmer - Student Profile
I wasn’t supposed to go to Australia. I was always going to Florence. Typical me - since before I came to Stanford, I was already intensely reading the descriptions of each abroad program and attempting to plan out the next four years of my life. I didn’t know anything the large brown blob on the bottom-right corner of my world map called Australia. Little did I know that this would be the best I’ll-just-apply-and-see-what-happens decision of my life.
There are a few things I need to tell you about Australia, and then you have to go. First, let me address the avid travelers. You have to realize that there is absolutely no better way to see Australia. This is more than a series of Powerpoint slides in a classroom, more than any tour could offer. The Australia program is a hands-on, interactive experience; you are constantly moving from one breathtaking location to another, and the best part is that every day your “tour guide” is an expert in his field that can’t wait to tell you all that he or she knows. Any tourist can go on beautiful hikes, but not just anyone is lead through rainforests by the most enthusiastic and charismatic botanist in the world who wants nothing more than to make you love trees and understand the special ecology of the wide range of Australian ecosystems. Not just anyone receives a lecture on glow-worms by the very world expert who helped make the Planet Earth episode, just before you are lead through the pitch black forest in the dark to a wall covered in the tiny glowing worms you just learned about.
Now to address anyone and everyone who wishes they were a kid now and again. One of the aspects of the Australia program that I continue to rave about on a daily basis is how every class is fieldtrip-based. Before arriving in Australia, I hadn’t had a fieldtrip-based class since fourth grade in Santa Barbara when my
class visited Adobe missions and made homemade tortillas. That day was the most memorable academic experience I had in fourth grade, and that type of learning defined my time in Australia and will stay with me forever. I still remember how the indigenous people of Stradebroke Island made fire because I helped make one (it’s hard). I will never forget my first coral reef class, when our professor took us snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef and instructed us to take as many pictures of tropical fish with our underwater cameras as possible. I remember what a strangler fig looks like because I climbed one. I know how thrilling it feels to be next to a Manta Ray because a group of us saw them scuba diving after learning about them in lecture.
For those of you who are worried about being swamped with nothing but Biology while you are in Australia, you have no need to fear. The Australian Studies course, which focuses on history and politics, is the best history course I have ever taken, and the only history course to hold me at rapt attention during every lecture, in every museum and any other field trip we took. (This means a lot, coming from someone who is Human Biology through-and-through). Also, the Targeted Research Project can be molded to your interests, ranging from coral reef research to architecture or indigenous health issues.
To appeal to those people who like making new friends, I can honestly say that I left Australia with 47 new friends. I met some of my closest friends at Stanford in
Australia: I sat in a group of 9 of us in physics today (one year later), we have reunions as often as possible, and one of them is now my room mate. Living, traveling, studying, and eating with the same group of people every day was an intense yet very positive experience for me.
Having been to Florence, Italy as well, I can speak to how unique Australia is as an abroad program. In Florence, I had an almost opposite experience that I hold just as close to my heart. I lived in one city the entire time to the point where Florence was my real home; I lived with a host family who spoke an entirely different language, and had the freedom to shop for classes (which were offered in a classroom). The contrast between the Australia and Florence programs gave me a true appreciation for the benefits of each program, however different.
My last word of advice: make time to go abroad! If you like travel, learning, making friends, or feeling like a kid again, you have no excuse. Do whatever you have to do. And if you aren’t sure where to start, come find me.