Back to SummaryKristen Malinak - Student Profile
Going abroad to Australia had never really crossed my mind before coming to Stanford, but as soon as I heard about the program I was curious. Australia was somewhere I’d only read about and seen in the movies—including the classic, The Rescuers Down Under. I knew about boomerangs, Foster’s beer, the gnarly surfing, and that there was this big piece of desert reverently termed the “outback” or the ”bush.” But going abroad to the east coast of Australia in the fall of 2011 revealed the little details that make this continent so unique and valuable, and I will never forget my time there.
Arriving in Brisbane after a grueling 24 hours of travel, I was unexpectedly giddy and energetic. My travel companion, my friend Elise and I, quickly made friends with our van driver—the first instance of many displays of abundant kindness shown to us by the Australian people. As soon as our 46 other classmates arrived to our first hostel, shouting and giggling were heard throughout the halls. I definitely heard people practicing their Aussie accents and referring to each other as “mate” and asking when we were having “shrimp on the barbie.” Nobody knew what to expect, but everyone had high hopes. And little did we know, our expectations were to be met and surpassed by every class we took, every location we visited, every experience we shared in the exotic landscape of Australia.
Our wonderful administrative staff based out of University of Queensland in Brisbane quickly sorted out the logistics and laid out the plan for the rest of the quarter. Throughout the program, Ross, Karen, Jemma, and Justine would show up in our various locations, offering advice and companionship while serving as our housing and transportation guardian angels. Having such a dedicated team intent on making sure our trip ran smoothly was integral to the seamless transitions we witnessed between classes and locations.
Indeed, the crossroads between lecture, fieldwork, and location is what makes this program extraordinary. It was such a pleasure to take concepts learned in lecture with our professors out to the field. After learning about the role of fire in Australian ecosystems, we were led into a forested wilderness to observe the effects of fire regimes first hand. If we were curious what the “wall of mouths,” or tons of fish feeding on microscopic plankton, looked like, we simply donned our bathing suits, grabbed a buddy, and swam out to check it out. When I started to wonder how a mangrove tree could survive in salty ocean water, I put on the oldest clothes I brought with me and grimaced as I braved foot-deep mud to find out for myself. One of the most rewarding things for me, however, was when I was able to develop my own research question, and implement my own experiment with the guidance of my very much-idolized professor and friend Claire Baker. Let’s just say I became very attached to my transect tape and have probably never been more excited when I saw a couple platypus swim across the top of a creek for 5 seconds.
Looking back, I can't even begin to list the many ways that my friends made in the Australia program have influenced me. They helped me rediscover confidence to try new things outside of my comfort zone—ranging from a difficult hike set to words of encouragement from new friends to delivering a twenty-minute presentation on my own scientific research. I have added forty-six people to my list of friends I can call on at Stanford. In Australia, I was introduced to countless people with such different backgrounds and interests. My experience in Australia has enabled me to seek out connections with people in a wide range of communities. Indeed, I would not have met several of some of my close friends without spending time with them abroad.
I am honored and excited to be one of Australia’s student advisers this year, and I look forward to helping keep the program such an immersive, rewarding experience as well as reaching out to applicants to make sure that they get the most out of the Australian adventure.