School has finally begun and I think it is safe to say that I am finally settled in down under. My classes are very interesting, and I have found a particular interest in the classes that require field trips! This past weekend my Tropical Marine Ecosystems class had the opportunity to travel to Green Island, which is right on the Great Barrier Reef. Here, we went on a glass bottom boat tour and saw a sting ray, sea turtles, a reef shark, and a 60 year old giant clam! It is quite the sensory overload to see such an abundance of life right off the shore. Probably the most exciting event on this trip, however, were the three Humpback whales that swam up right next to our ferry on the way over! It was such an amazing experience to see these massive animals up so close. They seemed to like the attention, as they didn't mind swimming from boat to boat, putting on a show. We liked this trip so much that a couple of friends and I decided to go back again this weekend! This way we got to snorkel on our own time and enjoy the island without participating in the mandatory class activities, which were also really interesting.
One of the things I really love about studying at James Cook University is the block schedule classes. This means that one may only have a class once a week for two hours each. Personally, I only have classes scheduled three days a week, and four on occasion. This leaves plenty of time to visit the beaches, go into town, lie by the pool, and do whatever I please with this free time. One thing that is unfortunate about this is the fact that during the free time that is allowed, the last thing you want to think about is studying. Who knew that you could feel guilty for spending the day studying? But here, the weather is so beautiful all the time and there is always so much to do that sometimes it feels like you are missing out, even though you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. I have found that one of the best ways to tackle this guilt is to bike to the beach to do homework, and jump in the ocean during study breaks! This takes some serious will power if you actually want to get some studying done, though, so make sure you are motivated before you choose this option!
I am also getting more and more cultural experiences as the time goes on here. I have found that the best way to meet the locals is to participate in the nightlife that goes on in Cairns. The Aussies like to go out as much as they can, and the pubs are a great place to meet new friends. One of my favorites is PJ O'Briens. I have made several local friends at this pub. The relaxed, friendly atmosphere allows you to just sit down at a table with some strangers and start up a conversation. It is always easy to break the ice because the first thing locals will notice is your accent and ask, "What part of the States are you from?"
There is also the Cairns Festival that is currently going on here. This is a festival of music and the arts. Much of the entertainment is free, and a great chance to see some of the culture, such as Aboriginal art and music. Fire dancing is huge here, and I was lucky enough to see a street performance last night, actually. I am looking forward to more of the events being held in town. I will be out of town this coming weekend, however, because of a field trip that I have to Cape Tribulation. This is a place that I have been looking forward to seeing since I have come to Australia, so it should be quite the trip! It has some of the most diverse rainforest and reef in the world.