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 Back to SummaryLibby Burch - Student Profile

Stanford in Australia, Autumn 2011-12
MAJOR: Human Biology
ACADEMIC INTERESTS: Epidemiology and infectious disease, medicine, mental health issues.

One of the first things our professors told us when we arrived in Brisbane was that “Australia is a land of extremes”, and over the course of the next 12 weeks, I began to appreciate just how true that statement was. I discovered how stunningly beautiful the Great Barrier Reef is, and how stiflingly hot the outback can be at midday. I learned about how unique Australian fauna is to the country, and how plants have adapted to the harshest of environments. I realized how even though we never stayed in one place for longer than three weeks, we only visited a tiny portion of an enormous continent.

When I look back on what I thought about going abroad, I remember worrying that it would be just like a quarter on campus, only a campus where people have cool accents and drive on the wrong side of the road. I couldn’t have been more wrong. If I had to pick one part of the Stanford in Australia program to rave about (a nearly impossible task), it would have to be how dynamic and unique it really is. For those of you who share my worry, let me set the record straight: nothing about this experience is typical of a quarter at Stanford.

One of the first things our professors told us when we arrived in Brisbane was that “Australia is a land of extremes”, and over the course of the next 12 weeks, I began to appreciate just how true that statement was.

Professors are so much more than just teachers. They are your mentors for your research, your tour guides through the places they are passionate about, and they will undoubtedly become your friends. Classes are so much more than just lectures. A typical day could include snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef at night, hiking though a rainforest, or getting your butt kicked in a basketball game with a group of visiting Aboriginal middle schoolers. At the risk of sounding too excited about Australia, the awesomeness doesn’t end there. You and the other 47 students will become so much more than peers after surviving the mangrove mud, living together up and down the east coast, and being jostled around in the back of an all-terrain “troopie”. To put it simply: there really is no comparison for Stanford in Australia.

Professors are so much more than just teachers. They are your mentors for your research, your tour guides through the places they are passionate about, and they will undoubtedly become your friends. Classes are so much more than just lectures.

As a student with a love of all things scientific, I had high expectations for all the cool biology classes we got to take. I have no doubt in my mind when I say that every single one of those expectations was exceeded. Even the class I wasn’t too excited about, the more “fuzzy” Australian Studies course, turned out to be one of my absolute favorites. I can’t tell you how many times I thought to myself (and even said out loud) “Is this real? This is class?” And that is not to suggest that I didn’t learn anything while abroad; the memories I have of places we went and things we experienced made my time in Australia one of the most academically rich quarters yet. I know how to characterize a rainforest tree versus a sclerophyll tree because we spent several days exploring each ecosystem. I remember how to differentiate the two species of manta ray from a lecture because I got within arms reach of one while scuba diving. I can talk about how the Australian government works because I sat inside the Australian Parliament and saw where laws get passed. The structure of the program as a traveling, field trip based curriculum was the defining aspect that made Stanford in Australia so amazing.

I know how to characterize a rainforest tree versus a sclerophyll tree because we spent several days exploring each ecosystem. I remember how to differentiate the two species of manta ray from a lecture because I got within arms reach of one while scuba diving.

My time in Australia seems simultaneously like an eternity ago and like just yesterday. Yes, Stanford is an amazing place full of amazing opportunities. Yes, going abroad can force you outside your comfort zone and into unexpected territories. Stanford in Australia is something no amount of words can describe and no amount of memories can convey. All I can say is that I miss seeing the 46 friends I made, I miss the adventure of moving to a new and exciting place every few weeks, and, most of all, I miss that land of extremes called Australia.

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