In the fall of my sophomore year at my home institution I decided to study abroad; a little over a year later, I was stepping off of a plane in the Cairns, QU airport. I had never been outside of the US and I never studied ecology in a rainforest; so I felt incredibly excited, but also very intimidated by the prospect of navigating entirely new circumstances.
Immediately upon landing I met other students from the program as well as several members of the SFS staff. The atmosphere was welcoming and I found myself immediately connecting and trusting the other students and our staff members. This set the stage for a successful semester both academically and socially.
When people think of going abroad, typically a worry is whether the program is actually oriented toward academics. For me this was very important because I am a science student (biology major), and I needed to be able to come back with something on my resume. In my experience, the individual SFS courses are designed with science students in mind; although not incredibly challenging, they require a certain level of understanding of research and experience with biology and environmental studies classes. The program moves quickly and research is a large element of the experience; therefore I don't recommend the program to someone who is not at least an environmental studies minor.
Safety is usually people's next concern when going abroad; I never felt unsafe on my study abroad with SFS. Safety was an important part of the program because of the location (in a remote area with some of the most poisonous snakes/spiders/marine animals in the world) and there were protocols put in place on the first day which prevented any eventful things happening during my experience. Even while on spring break, when we were on our own, we still had one of our professors within 40 minute of our location, and had safety contact information with multiple members of staff. If safety is why you're not considering this program- think again; in situations where action could be taken to prevent injury/etc.. the SFS staff are fully prepared. As for something like a terrorist attack; these happen everyday all over the world- and this shouldn't deter you from choosing to study abroad.
Having talked about safety concerns and academics, I would like to express how much fun this program actually is! The experiences I had on this program are really irreplaceable in my mind. There is never a dull moment in the SFS AU program, and you will never find yourself 'looking for something to do'. Whether it is daily activities going on around the Centre or field trips to old abandoned mining towns and caves in the outback or several weekends exploring Cairns, there is something for everyone (really). One week you might be traveling around the Atherton Tablelands interviewing local residents, and the next week you could be attending a fruit-tasting in The Daintree (one of the largest pieces of untouched lowland rainforest in the world).
One of my most memorable experiences was Spring Break when I was able to diving on the Great Barrier Reef (very affordably) with several friends from the program. I realized while I was diving that I was actually experiencing something that I had previously only studied. It was inspiring and it made me more excited about pursuing my career in biology. Experiences like these that combine what you are studying with what your are actually experiencing are things you will never forget and can be invaluable toward shaping the future you want.
SFS AU allowed me to experience so many new things that I had only previously dreamed about. Yes, it is an academically challenging program, and working hard is expected; however, there are many fun experiences to be had, so much room for personal growth and improvement. This program will give you as much as you want; if you take full advantage of it, you will come out of this experience more mature, more open and receptive to different points of view, and with more stories than anyone wants to hear.