Back to SummaryJohn McCallen - Student Profile
I love outdoor exploration and adventures, particularly those involving the ocean, so when I decided to study abroad, Australia was my automatic choice. My primary interests were swimming in the Great Barrier Reef and seeing as many of Down Under’s bizarre endemic plants and animals as possible.
I knew that Australia is home to the largest coral reef system in the world, but before my trip I had barely heard of Oz’s steamy mangrove swamps, cool temperate rainforests, fire-loving dry woodlands or surprisingly biodiverse heaths. During the austral spring and summer of 2007 the Stanford Program in Australia explored all these ecosystems – and many more – with great depth and intimacy.
By then end of my first week in Australia I had already gotten to hold a sleepy Koala (one of the most satisfying and adorable experiences of my life). Soon after I was scouting sandy backwoods of North Stradbroke Island for wild orchids. By the halfway point of my stay I had already explored beautiful Heron and Wistari reefs for two whole weeks. Add in sightings of a wild platypus and several encounters with Southern Cassowaries (“the world’s most dangerous bird”) and my experience in Australia was already unforgettable…
But there was so much more! Crocodile cruises on the Daintree river, Australian ghost stories in the subtropical rainforest, a tour of the Houses of Parliament, spectacular zoos and unbelievable botanic gardens, a posh evening at the Sydney Opera House and Aboriginal music and Dreamtime stories, to name but a few more of Australia’s treasures.
Perhaps one of my favorite things about the Australia program was the way in which academics were approached. For example, during our Coral Reef Ecosystems class, Dr. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Dr. Mary Alice Coffroth, world experts on coral bleaching and disease provided our lectures. Immediately after, we would suit up in snorkel gear to see, touch and collect coral samples from Heron Island’s reefs. During our Coastal Forests block, Professor John Hall blended his deep knowledge of Australian terrestrial ecology with his gift for storytelling to bring us some of the most engaging and well-designed lectures I have ever experienced.
Finally, throughout the entire program each student had the opportunity to design, implement, analyze and present a Targeted Research Project. I chose to compare epiphyte communities across different Australian forest types, which allowed me to spend a lot of time climbing trees and identifying orchids and ferns, but also scouring the scientific literature and performing statistical analyses on my data.
While I was in Australia there was literally a new adventure
every day. We were always going, doing, moving and
investigating. If you are a hands-on learner, a nature-lover or a born
explorer, apply to Australia! While I was Down Under it never really
felt like I was at school, but I can honestly say I’ve never learned so much in