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Journals from James Cook University, Australia

2011-02-28 Outback Adventure

One of the perks of being an international student at JCU is being a part of the Walkabout Club. Every month, students receive a schedule of weekend trips to various regions of Australia. The trips offered include diving the Great Barrier Reef, day trips to secluded beaches and swimming holes, and overnight camping on Fitzroy Island, all at a reasonable cost to students. At a convenience to the students, each weekend trip repeats about once every six to seven weeks, so if you cannot make a trip because of prior commitments or if the weather is poor, there is always a chance to go at a later date.

All four students currently studying at JCU from Linfield, Katie, Matthea, Sam, and myself, traveled to the outback this past weekend. More specifically, we went to Chillagoe, which is a very small town about 2 hours outside of Cairns. This town was originally created when copper and gold were discovered. Since the copper smelters were destroyed, the site has been used as a tourist attraction. Our trek to Chillagoe began with a man named Tony, who picked us up at JCU Saturday morning in a van, along with several other international students attending a different university in Cairns. Driving through the back roads of Australia was an unforgettable experience. Once the van was out of the mountain range in Cairns, the scenery changed entirely. Our surroundings began to look like pictures we had seen on postcards and on the Internet, and completely different than what we have been living in the past few weeks. The vivid green and lush tropical vegetation of the Cairns coast had suddenly disappeared and the normally brown savanna was full and green as we completed our drive to Chillagoe. Tony also informed us that the tropical climate of Cairns is not common in Australia, but there are only a few pockets of rainforest found along the eastern coast. Along with experiencing the new scenery, Sam and I saw our first wild Dingo, which our driver said are very rare to see, as well as several kangaroos along the road. The first night in Chillagoe was pretty relaxing, consisting of seeing the old copper smelters, swimming in a natural lagoon, and eating a delicious steak barbeque at the local pub.

Unfortunately, we were not able to have a campfire or stargaze because of rain, but luckily, it was dry long enough in the morning for our cave exploration to continue. Another guide drove us about 10 miles deeper into the outback, where we found a beautiful limestone cave. There are hundreds of limestone caves located in the outback of Australia; however there are only about five to six caves people can actually tour. And to get to the cave was no small task. The entire group had to climb through overgrown grass and trees, as well as climb over and under rocks on about a ten-minute hike to get to the cave. Once we got to the cave, the entrance was so small we had to get on all fours to crawl through the opening. The inside of the cave was not as dark as I was expecting it to be, seeing as there were natural skylights in some parts. It was intimidating to see a bat occasionally fly by your head or to encounter one of Australia’s massive spiders, but the sightings were just another part of Australia’s unique wildlife.

After our cave exploration, we went back to pub once more for a homemade hamburger before returning to civilization. Prior to spending the weekend in the outback, Sam and I completed our first week of classes at JCU. Being international students, we were not eligible to take upper-level courses, so three of our classes are exercise science subjects similar to ones we have already taken at Linfield and the fourth class is a biology class specific to the tropical flora and fauna of Far North Queensland. Classes here are much different than those we have experienced at Linfield. The largest lecture hall at Linfield holds one hundred students, and the classes I have had in that room still only have 40-60 students. Our largest class here at JCU is Lifespan Development. This class is held in a lecture theater, which can seat at least 200 students. Our class in Cairns contains about 150 students and our professor then calls in a videoconference to three other JCU locations, Townsville, Thursday Island, and Mount Isa. In total, there are approximately 250 students watching the professor lecture from Cairns. One of our introductory exercise science classes is also a videoconference, except our campus is on the other end of the conference. Watching a projection of a professor lecturing at a campus over four hours away is difficult to get used to. Another difference between the classes here at JCU and Linfield is the amount of work that is required for each class. The professors at Linfield require students to take more time out of their day to study and prepare for their classes and exams. Here at JCU, there are some courses where the final exam counts for 50% of the total grade and a mid semester quiz and two assessments will go towards the other 50%, with no other work that needs to be completed within the semester. Also, these subjects only require a 50% overall grade to pass the course. Having free time between and after classes during the week is something that Sam and I are not accustomed to, but I think we can learn to enjoy it. Amanda Contreras

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