Why did you pick this program?
Courtney: Pacific Discovery was a perfect fit for the type of program I was looking for. It was always my dream to visit Australia, and they offered an affordable a summer program that fit my school schedule. I wanted a program that offered me chances for adventure but education as well. Through Pacific Discovery, I was able to try new experiences like rappelling down cliffs, surfing at sunset, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, and bungee jumping in the Daintree Rainforest.
In addition, I was able to go behind the scenes in the Australia Zoo Animal Hospital, contribute to an insect research project on North Keppel Island, learn about the unique ecosystems of Fraser Island, and interact with the amazing flora and fauna of Australia, like kangaroos and koalas. Pacific Discovery offered experiential education, teaching me more about the world and myself than I could have ever learned in a classroom.
What is the most important thing you learned abroad?
Courtney: I would have to say that I learned so much more about myself than I ever thought possible. I moved away from home to attend college but there is nothing like traveling to the other side of the world to feel so free and independent. I have never felt so brave and uninhibited. I wanted to push myself and try every single new experience that I could.
On the last day of my trip, I did a bungee jump and that crazy feeling mirrored how every minute of my trip made me feel. I was so excited for every minute and that adrenaline never stopped. I gained such an appreciation for the beauty around me and the wonderful adventures I was having.
Traveling abroad was the most fulfilling thing I have done so far in my short life. Once you go abroad, I learned that you never stop wanting to see and experience more places. It’s a craving that I’ve learned will never be satisfied so I guess I’ll just have to keep exploring new places.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
Courtney: ABSOLUTELY DO IT! Do it with a willing and open mind! Once you step foot in the country you are visiting, focus all your attention on living every second to the fullest. Traveling abroad is such a privilege so go for it with no regrets. Don’t worry about your phone or social media happening back home. Commit all your attention to the present. Plan all the details of your trip well before you leave so you can enjoy yourself when you get there without worrying.
Also, don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone and try new things! You will even surprise yourself with what you end up enjoying. Take the time to interact with locals, not just the other students in your group. They can offer great insight into the local culture and give you great hidden secrets of the area. Locals are also your best way to get an authentic view of the place you are visiting. Have the time of your life, but, as always, be a smart and safe traveler.
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
Courtney: Well throughout our whole trip, we interacted with so many animals that I was constantly on cloud nine. Being a Zoology major and future veterinarian, animals are pretty much my life. When I saw kangaroos just hopping around a local park, I nearly peed myself with excitement. At the Australia Zoo, I’m pretty sure I took 50 selfies with my kangaroo friends at the petting zoo. However, nothing could top my anticipation of getting to hold a koala.
This experience was planned for the last week of our trip so when the day finally came, I couldn’t contain myself. The koala I got to cuddle with was named Pebbles, and she was the softest thing I have ever felt. They showed us how to hold our arms like a tree for them to relax and sit in. When they put her in my arms, I almost cried I was so happy. I was squealing the whole time so I’m pretty sure Pebbles got sick of me really quick. After I was forced to give her back, I'm pretty sure I smiled so much that whole day that my face hurt. Like, I held a koala! When do people actually get to do that?! It was my favorite memory from the trip and something I will definitely treasure forever.
What made this experience unique and special?
Courtney: One of my favorite aspects of this program was the small group atmosphere. I backpacked up the east coast of Australia with 7 other college students from all over the United States. By the end of the trip, they felt like family to me. Getting to experience new places with new friends was an incredible adventure.
Our guide, Kim, was also one of the greatest people I have ever met. She was an Australian native so she knew the area well and could teach us about local culture. She also was extremely well-traveled and was well-equipped with skills and crazy stories to make every minute enjoyable. I also loved the experience of seeing a new city every few days. In going from hostel to hostel, I was able to meet so many fellow travelers and hear their experiences. It opened my eyes to so many cultures and personalities, pushing me out of my comfort zone in the greatest way. By backpacking, I felt that I got to experience the country as a local instead of a tourist.