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 Back to SummaryChristopher Hanson - Student Advisor Profile

photo of Christopher Hanson
Stanford in Australia - Autumn 2008-09
MAJOR: Earth Systems
ACADEMIC INTERESTS: Science Communication, Oceans, the Tropics, History, Filmmaking

As a filmmaker, I appreciate gorgeous scenery and a lot of action. Having a serious bout of wanderlust, I knew when I enrolled at Stanford that I would not be on campus for all 12 quarters. All of Stanford’s overseas programs would have afforded me the opportunity to experience life on a different piece of land, but when it came time to choose a program, Australia was the clear choice for me.

Australia, or “Oz,” as some people affectionately refer to it, is truly a sunburned country. It’s hot, and it’s dry. Sunscreen, bug spray, and a canteen are often

...you really don’t know Australia until a kangaroo interrupts your soccer game on the beach, a possum crashes your party, and you listen closely as a 21st-century Aborigine tells of his people’s plight and place in modern Australian society.

necessities. To be honest, a lot of Oz lives up to the Outback Steakhouse stereotype—Aussies relish the outdoors, surfers shred waves along most of the coastline, all-terrain vehicles really do plow the sandy beaches, and “barbies” (barbecues) are part of the national identity. So, if Americans already know Australia through restaurants, books, movies and television, then why go? Because you really don’t know Australia until a kangaroo interrupts your soccer game on the beach, a possum crashes your party, and you listen closely as a 21st-century Aborigine tells of his people’s plight and place in modern Australian society.

I am convinced that there is no better way to experience Australia than with Stanford. You and 47 of your soon-to-be closest friends move like a tight-knit wallaby family up and down the east coast, taking time to appreciate the rainforests, muck around in the mangroves, snap some underwater photos of the Great Barrier Reef, gain some culture in Sydney, and gawk at some of the weirdest animals you will ever see. And it’s all for Stanford credit! That’s the beauty of the program—what sounds like one epic field trip is actually one epic curriculum, whereby students learn by doing (what a novel idea!). Besides, if you’re going to travel all the way to Australia, you might as well stay for three months, right?

A brief side note about myself: I am an Earth Systems major; I have participated in the Stanford@SEA program; I spent a summer as a research assistant at Palmyra Atoll; and a buddy and I traveled to Norway this past summer to shoot a documentary on whaling and sustainability. Obviously, the eco-minded Australia program was a good fit for me. But what if you are the more practical engineering type, or a “fuzzy” who would rather learn about Australia’s people than its flora

I decided to study Australian architecture, which led me to integrate my knowledge of Australia’s climate and landscape (acquired during the program) with all that I had learned about Australia’s history and indigenous culture.

and fauna? Well, I say there is still a place for you in this motley crew. My favorite class, “Coastal Resource Management,” is taught by a slam-dunk professor (Ron Johnstone), and teaches students how to manage people rather than the environment (as far as I can tell, this kind of learning could benefit anyone). And fuzzies, I can both sympathize and empathize with your cause. By the time I got to Oz, my brain was awash with years of studying fish facts and oceanography, and I felt the need to do my targeted research project (TRP) on something not ecological (just a little break). I decided to study Australian architecture, which led me to integrate my knowledge of Australia’s climate and landscape (acquired during the program) with all that I had learned about Australia’s history and indigenous culture. With such a comprehensive research topic, I felt like I got the best of all worlds. I also successfully avoided science overload by choosing to pursue research in the humanities. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Stanford in Australia has an undeniable science bias, but the program offers other classes and research opportunities for those students interested in other subjects besides ecology. In short, even if you’re not a HumBio, Bio, or Earth Systems major, I assure you that there is a spot for you in the Australia program. All you really need is an inquisitive mind and a healthy fondness for adventure.

Finally, as great as the Stanford in Australia program is, one can’t possibly see all of Down Under in three months. I would highly encourage program participants to travel before and after the program. Go to the Outback, see Ayers Rock, cruise the west coast, or hop on a plane and see New Zealand. Australia and the USA are roughly the same size in terms of area—the terrain one covers with the Stanford program is about the same as from Jacksonville, Florida to New York City. That’s a lot of moving around, but there is still far more to see. Go see it—and don’t forget your sunscreen.

 

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