I had started my Rustic experience last year, when I did the Thai Elephant Conservation Project and I absolutely loved it! I knew that I had to do another program and I wanted to work with animals again. I decided to go on the "You, a Roo', and the Australia Zoo" program. I would definitely recommend this program to any animal lovers and any person that wants to go to Australia.
The first great thing about my Rustic trip (and with all international programs) is that everyone on the program took the same flight to Australia. We all became really close just be being together in the airport and on the plane with an adult flight leader and it definitely helped calm my nerves about making friends. While we were waiting in the airport, everyone on my program had dinner together, played ice breaker games, and really got to know each other and make those great bonds before we even stepped foot in Australia.
When we arrived in Australia, we went right to doing fun activities. After ice breakers, a down down of the schedule, and a few rules, we went right into our first activity, climbing Mt. Ngungun. Climbing Mt. Ngungun was definitely very hard and I thought that I wasn't going to make it, but the other students and program leaders were so encouraging and I can now say that I hiked up a mountain! Climbing Mt. Ngungun is just one example of how we're never sitting, doing nothing. There's always something to do and all of our days are jam packed with fun activities. When we weren't working at the zoo, we would go to the beach, walk around Brisbane, go shopping, play games, go sand boarding, snorkel, have karaoke jam sessions, or just sit around and talk.
In addition to always having something to do, the program was exactly what I had hoped for in terms of working with animals. I had the opportunity to work with zoo keepers in the reptile, koala, general mammals, tiger, and birds exhibits. In the reptile exhibit, I watched a vet give snakes shots and medication, I got to be in a room with 20 venomous snakes, which made me feel empowered, and I got to watch the croc demo, which teaches the zoo patrons about how to stay safe with crocs living near them. The koala exhibit was definitely my favorite to work in. After cleaning the poop off the floors in all the koala enclosures and putting in fresh eucalyptus branches in, I got to take a koala to the front of the zoo and patrons would come up and pet the koala and take pictures with him. The cool thing was, I was also in the picture, because I was holding the Koala. It was amazing to see how my trust the Australia Zoo and the zookeeper had in me to have me represent the Australia Zoo by being in the patron's pictures with the koala. After that, I went to the photo studio and helped with taking pictures of zoo patrons holding the Koalas. In the general mama exhibit, I cleaned up the kangaroo enclosure, cleaned the main floors, made enrichment activities out of clay for the echidnas, and help zoo patrons take pictures with the echidna. I had never heard of an echidna before, so it was so cool to be able to spend hours with a new type animal. The keeper also allowed us to go backstage and go into the new meerkat exhibit. He let my partner and I sit down and have the meerkats walk all over us! It was so cute and one meerkat even climbed up onto my shoulder to get a better view of the sky! Lastly, in the bird and tiger exhibits, I mulched the enclosures. I loved working side-by-side with zoo keepers that have dedicated their lives to animals and I got to be right up close to all the animals.
After working with the animals at the zoo, the zoo let us have a free tortoise encounter, echidna encounter, and a free picture with a koala. In addition, we got 10% off everything in the gift shop and a free day at the zoo. During the free day, I did a tiger encounter, a cheetah encounter, and a Komodo Dragon encounter. I loved all of my encounters and I got to see that even though people view these animals as dangerous and to stay away from them, they're actually pretty amazing animals.
The Australia Zoo portion of the trip was absolutely amazing and working at the Grassroots Wildlife rescue and Rehab Center was incredible too. One women runs this center and she hasn't taken a vacation day in 25 years, so our help was greatly appreciated. We got to work with kangaroos, birds, echidnas, emus, and even a bat! We helped build new fencing renovate old things. While we were working at the rescue center, we were supposed to be camping in tents in a nearby camp site. Well, the first night we were there there was a freak cold wave and the temperature got down to just above freezing. Everyone was huddled together and the program leaders tried to do everything they could to make us warmer. No was knew that this was going to happen, as it was so unexpected and really hot the past few days. The next day, we were all basically frozen and the it was supposed to be even colder the next night, so out program leaders called the country directors to work out a solution. The country director was amazing and so nice and got us hotel rooms for the next two nights. I loved this so much, because it shows just how accommodating Rustic is.
Lastly, the program leaders, Kate and Harry, were the best. Honestly, both of them were so nice and amazing and weren't the type of leaders that just shuffled us around from place to place and didn't care about us. They were like an older sibling and a friend to me. They put every single student over themselves. Since I'm vegan and deathly allergic to nuts, they always made sure that I had food to eat and would go our of their way to get me food. I just loved them both and they were amazing program leaders.
My Rustic Experience in Australia was one of the best experiences in my life. I made friends that will last a lifetime, had once in a lifetime experiences, had amazing program leaders, stepped out of my comfort zone, and had the best time of the life. I am forever grateful for the opportunities Rustic has given me and I think that every single person should do a Rustic trip at least once.