Monday, May 22, 2017

The Aussie Outback

Hello everyone!

Major apologies for the delay in posting- the past few weeks have been extremely hectic!  Each weekend, I’ve been in a different state, and I’m in the midst of exam season- and there’s only 1 lab practical assignment between me and summer (or winter, if we’re speaking Aussie seasons)!  In continuing the recap of my amazing mid-trimester break, today I'm going to focus on my 6-day bus tour through the outback!  

Since the tour started in in Adelaide, I decided to spend a few days to see what the town was about.  I spent one day on a wine tour through the Barossa Valley- known for impeccable wineries!  I got to try all sorts of wine and eat an amazing meal.  I would have to say my favorite were a red shiraz and a pink moscato.  The tour also stopped by a cute, little German town called Hahndorf.  It had all sorts of German restaurants, cafes, and shops.  By the end of the day, I was quite tired from traveling, so I knew it was time to catch up on my sleep before beginning my outback adventure!

On first official day of the bus tour, I woke up bright and early at 5 am to get to the Adelaide central bus station.  I found the Groovy Grape tour bus, along with the tour guide, and I knew right away I was in for an adventure!  Throughout the morning, we stopped by several hostels in Adelaide to pick up other tour-goers.  In total, there were 20 of us.  As we traveled throughout the day, we stopped at Mt. Remarkable National Park, where we went on our first hike through Alligator Gorge.  It was incredible seeing how vividly orange the stone was.  At the end of the night, we stopped at a motel in Quorn where we had an authentic Aussie meal- “sangers” (sausages), chicken kabobs, and kangaroo meat.  I was actually quite surprised that I enjoyed the Kangaroo- 10/10 recommend!

The following day was another early morning.  In fact, there wasn’t a single day of the tour that we didn’t wake up later than 5 am.  We rode in the bus for nearly the whole day, making our way up to Coober Pedy.  Many people also claim that Coober Pedy looks like Mars or the Moon it’s been the landscape for many famous space movies.  The town is known as the Opal capital of the world, so there were mines and underground buildings and houses everywhere!  In fact, we stayed in an underground motel that night. I was a little nervous about it at first, but I (clearly) ended up making it out alive.  That night, we visited a kangaroo sanctuary where a couple takes in injured kangaroos found on the road or joeys without mothers. 

The third day was our biggest day for driving- 9 hours on the bus with plenty of small stops along the way as we made our way up Stewart Highway to get to Watarrka National Park area for the night.  This was our first night not sleeping in a proper bed.  Something I particularly enjoyed about my outback tour was sleeping under the stars.  We quite literally slept with nothing but a sleeping bag and “swag” (no tents!) but it was incredible being able to see the beautiful night sky as we drifted to sleep. 

The next morning is when the adventure really began.  At 7am, we arrived at Kings Kanyon to begin a 5K hike.  King’s Canyon was absolutely gorgeous and breath-taking.  The first 15 minutes… not so much.  The first part of the hike involves “heart-attack hill.”  While it was definitely a stiff hike, and I was more concerned with getting a heart-attack from the terrifying view when looking down.  I think the experience helped me in getting over my fear of heights, though (at least a little bit).  Following the hike, we began our way to Uluru in the town of Yulara.  When we arrived, we visited the Aboriginal Cultural Center.  It was really interesting admiring Aboriginal artwork and learning more about their culture, especially the significance of the Uluru rock.

The next day was probably the busiest we’d experienced.  In the morning, we walked all 13K around Uluru- taking about 4 hours, but it was well worth the time to be able to get up-close-and-personal with the rock’s beauty.  The view was incredible, and it really gave me a strong insight on Aboriginal culture and beliefs, as many of the sights were sacred and included stories of what the areas 
were used for.  

After the Uluru walk, we broke for lunch, and I ended up riding a camel- rather interesting.  A few hours later, we continued hiking by visiting Kata Tjuta.  The view of the valley from the second lookout was amazing- and the bottom was quite a long way down!  Our evening came to a close as we watched the sunset- with cheese and Jatz.

Day 6, our last day, finally came, and at this point, we were so exhausted from all the hiking and driving.  Our final adventure included driving up to Alice Springs (on Easter Sunday) where we were able to get a little nap in before going to the bars as a group for one final night out.  The next morning, I boarded the plane back to Armidale to get back to studying and finishing assignments. 

Something unique about Australia is the amount of emus (ostrich-like birds) that roam around.  In fact, years ago, the birds were so heavily populated that Australia actually had a war against them, but lost, so they still continue to roam.  This one didn’t look too happy to see me.  During the adventure, the long bus rides were not too dreadful, because often times, we were able to see some pretty cool wildlife.  What I loved about the Northern Territory is how many unique lizards there are crawling around (blame Magnetic Island for stirring up my reptile-island).  Also, we saw wild horses and wild camels roaming around, which was so cool because it’s definitely not something you see everyday in New South Wales, where I go to school.  Overall, I am so thankful I took the opportunity to visit the outback because it reiterates the point that the different parts of Australia 
are so unique and the whole country isn’t just like Sydney.

Speaking of Sydney, I’m currently at the Sydney airport, getting ready to head back to Armidale after yet, another extended weekend adventure.  I promise to be back on the blog later this week to outline the rest of my other weekend adventures.



Friday, April 21, 2017

The Island Life

Happy Friday (or Saturday for my fellow Aussies)!  I hope everyone's had a good start to their weekend.  For today's blog post, I'm reflecting over the wonderful four days I got to spend on Australia's east coast in Townsville and Magnetic Island.

On the first day, I arrived at the Townsville Airport, then hopped on a ferry to get to Magnetic Island.  The island was beautiful with numerous beaches.  I also was quite impressed with the hostel.  Being established right along the shore, the hostel had a very beachy-vibe to it, and the bar had events every night, making it quite easy to meet people.  It was very backpacker-friendly, so I was able to make friends from all over the world- including the UK, Italy, Germany, France, Canada, and even someone from Florida.

On the first full day spent on the Island, I went to an area called Horseshoe Bay.  It was an adorable little town located along the beach with numerous activities, stores, and cafes.  I really enjoyed a place called Cafe Nourish that made delicious acai bowls and coconut lattes.  Also near the beach is the Bungalow Bay Koala Village- one of my favorite parts about the island.  Not only did I get to hang out with some adorable koalas, but I also got to hold crocodiles, snakes, lizards, and turtles.  After that afternoon, I grew an immense obsession for Australian reptiles.  After the tour, I even had the opportunity to help feed a swarm of birds who literally flew all over me.

The following day was spent at another small beach in Arcadia.  It's definitely less populated and more remote than Horseshoe Bay, but I really enjoyed that aspect of it.  It made it very easy to just relax and lay under the sun.  The area also has many enormous rock deposits, making it a perfect spot to view the ocean and the rest of the island.  

The next day, I caught a ferry back to Townsville, where I spent the morning roaming around the town.  I explored the harbor area and stopped by the Anzac Memorial Park.  In Australia, Anzac (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) Day is a very important holiday that commemorates Australia's first military action during the First World War.  Later, I settled into the nicest hostel during the duration of my trip.  The Townsville YHA looked like a 4-star hotel, with extremely clean facilities, a cafe and restaurant downstairs, and a roof-top pool and bar area.  During the night, some UK friends that I had previously met in Magnetic Island joined Nila and me for a night out at the Mad Cow- a pub notorious in Townsville for good drinks and live music.

During my trip, I also received some exciting news that I was selected as one of the Purdue International Agriculture Ambassadors for this coming school year!  I can't wait to help organize activities with Purdue Ag's future exchange students, in addition to speaking to university classes to promote Purdue Ag Study Abroad.  I've definitely gained so much during the course of my international exchange, and I can't wait to share my memories and experiences with other students. 😃

Next blog stop: Adelaide and the beginning of my 6-day tour through Australia's outback!



Wednesday, April 19, 2017


G'day!  As I begin reflecting on my mid-semester break endeavors, I have decided to start my story-telling with my 4 days spent in the city.  Sydney was probably one of my favorite places that I visited because it is full of life and so many people.

The first morning of my two-week trip met me with a 6-hour drive to Sydney (I wasn't the driver, of course- Aussies drive on the left side of the road).  We had to leave quite early due to the Cyclone Betty bringing bad weather to Australia's east coast.  When I arrived, I got settled into my first hostel- Base Sydney- which was quite a new experience for me.  Overall, I really enjoyed staying in hostels throughout my trip because they allowed me to meet so many unique individuals from across the world who were traveling or working.

During my first full day, I was able to walk all along Bondi beach and spend some time under the sun.  Its water, clean sands, and nearby buildings have to make it one of the prettiest beaches I've ever been to.  The area is full of numerous hole-in-the-wall restaurants and pubs.  I fell in love with their lattes and acai-bowls.

Another thing I really enjoyed about Sydney was how many world-renowned restaurants are scattered in the city.  One afternoon, I went to a place where they make gelato literally in the shape of a flower.  It was almost too pretty to eat, but of course, I couldn't help myself.  While in Sydney, I also tried sushi for the first time (shocking, right?) at a sushi train restaurant where sushi is makes laps around the tables on a belt, making it a perfect place for a quick eat.

Of course, I couldn't go to Sydney without also spending time admiring the Opera House and the bridge.  The opera house was absolutely breathtaking.  While I didn't go inside on this trip, I'm really looking forward to going back to Sydney in a few weeks to see The Wombats play at the venue.  The bridge was also an incredible sight to see.  I was able to take these photos from a ferry that took me to Manly later that day.

My favorite spot in Sydney to visit was Darling Harbor.  It was very close to the hostel, making it quite easy to take walks to at night. It is so beautiful at night when everything it lit up, and there are numerous cute shops and cafes along the wharf.  This part of the city definitely made it hard to say goodbye, but I was able to fall in love with other parts of Australia during my trip as well.  Keep your eyes out for my next blog post where I'll recap my time spent on Magnetic Island!



Monday, April 17, 2017

Australia Easter

Happy belated Easter to my US friends and fellow Aussies! I hope everyone's holiday has been splendid!  It's definitely been awhile since I've posted, but for a very good reason.  The past two weeks, I have been on my mid-trimester break and have taken an amazing journey throughout different parts of Australia.  Don't worry- I will disclose all details, photos, and stories throughout the next couple weeks of my adventure, but in honor of the holiday, I would like to dedicate this blog post to a widely-celebrated holiday in Australia- Easter!

Australia's major religion is Christianity, with roughly 60% of its people practicing it.  Because of this, Aussies take Easter quite seriously.  For instance, Good Friday and Easter Monday are also recognized as public holidays, and many companies close on these days.  Since I go to St. Albert's College- a Catholic based residence- we, too, have partaken in festivities.  I was able to experience my first Catholic mass during Ash Wednesday, as St. Albert's College put on its own service.  It was really great seeing the college come together in support of its core values and beliefs.

Something Aussies and English people do around Easter time is make and serve "hot-cross" buns.  They're sort of like rolls made with cinnamon, fruit, or chocolate chips, with a cross on the top, in regards to the crucifixion of Christ.  I completely fell in love with these treats and was dubbed the "Miss Hot Cross Bun" by my fellow tour-goers for my obsession.

Since I have been traveling during the holiday, I got to experience Easter in a totally different way.  My Groovy Grape tour woke up around 6 am to drink a cup of coffee and admire the beautiful sunrise at our campsite in Yulara.  Our tour guide made us a wonderful Easter breakfast of fruit and hot cross buns (shout out to Clancy!)  We then proceeded to take a 5 hour bus ride and had to stop along the way to play with some adorable Thorny Devil lizards.  Alice Springs was our final destination where we settled into our hostel and went out for bevvies and a nice dinner in the town center.  It was quite a great way to finish off the break.

For now, I am extremely exhausted and am trying to be diligent in getting assignments finished for the last 4 weeks of classes- I can't believe my time here has gone by so fast!  For those of you who have not been able to contact me via cell phone, I should have my American SIM card back in my phone soon.  Stay tuned the rest of this week for more stories about my mid-semester trip!



Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Sorry I've been slacking on my blog posts the past couple weeks.  I have been quite busy working on assignments and being productive.  While the social life at my Australian uni has been quite fun, I've also been dedicating quite a bit of time to getting projects and essays finished before the mid-semester break.

To start off, I have been absolutely loving my classes so far!  My experience with cotton grew immensely at the beginning of the semester, due to my trip to Goondiwindi.  It has been quite interesting learning about cotton, as I had pretty much 0 knowledge of the crop before I left.  So far in my Cotton Production class, we have discussed  the major types of cotton grown in Australia, cotton breeding, irrigation, and nitrogen needs.

My Ecology of Plant Populations class has also been going quite well.  I must admit, it was challenging at first, as this is the first ecology class I've taken as a college student, but I have found it so fascinating to learn about how different organisms interact with each other and how small interactions can have large effects on the ecosystem as a whole.  We're currently working on the Pollination and Breeding aspect of the unit, which I have taken great interest in, especially in terms of mutualistic relationships between pollinators and plants.  Last week, I had my first major assignment of the semester due- a 2,500 word essay on how recent climate change has affected plant populations- and I was extremely thrilled to find out I got a High Distinction on it- the highest letter grade in Australia.  This has given me more motivation to keep up the good work.  While I am taking 19 credit hours total this semester (4-400 level classes and 1-300 level class), I am trying to make it my personal goal to come back to the states with a 4.0.
A lot of lengthy codes for R!

I have absolutely fallen in love with my Genomic Analysis and Bioinformatics class!  It is so fascinating to me how with a little statistics and programming, geneticists can predict and discover so many things about the genomes of numerous species.  This class incorporates a lot of livestock- including Australia's two biggest largest animals species, cattle and sheep- which I have found quite interesting, since in the past, I have dealt primarily with plant genetics.  I am learning a lot about the R program and how to use it for Anova and for QTL mapping and Genome Wide Association studies.  I hope I can apply the lessons I have learned to future research projects I contribute to, especially in terms of QTL mapping.

Since I am pursuing a minor in communication, I decided to take a Digital and Social Media class.  We have learned a lot about how technology has changed so rapidly since the mid-1900's.  We've discussed how social media has become a tool of surveillance, both for governments and for advertising, and how the rise of technology presses many ethical questions, especially in terms of robots and intelligent machines.

As some of you may have seen, last week, I attended the trimester 1 Albies academic dinner.  At academic dinners, students in the college are rewarded for their hard work from the previous semester based on the grade averages they received.  Our senior common room members were also invited to attend, and we had a lovely dinner, wine, and entertainment throughout the night. This academic dinner was particularly exciting for Albies, as its grade point average had improved 10% from the previous trimester.

In other academic news, I am also thrilled to announce that I was just named the Purdue Honors College Off-Campus Representative.  For the next year, I will help keep other off-campus Honors College students in-the-know with upcoming events in the Honors College and provide one-on-one assistance when I get back by holding an office hour each week.

I know this semester has already been so busy, and the rest is going to fly by!  I'm trying to do my best to take it all in and gain the most I can out of the cultural experience, while also ensuring that I am meeting my own personal academic goals.  For now, I am going to try to work on my second major ecology essay for the trimester.



Friday, March 17, 2017

St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

In honor of the holiday, I decided to do a throwback blog post to my study abroad experience this time last year.  For spring break '16, I participated in the "Agriculture in Ireland" program where I got to explore the country, become immersed in the culture, and of course, learn a bit about Irish agriculture methods.

One of my favorite places in Ireland was Dublin.  I really enjoyed going to the UCD College to learn more about their agriculture programs.  Ireland is known for dairy cattle production.  While in Dublin, we got to explore Temple Bar- the pub scene- which consisted of numerous pubs.  The night life was fantastic and everywhere seemed so alive!  We also got to tour the Guinness factory and drink a free pint- one of my favorite parts.

Throughout my time in Ireland, we also go to visit numerous historic sites, museums, and castles.  I particularly liked climbing the stairs of the Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone for good luck.  I must say, though... looking down from the tall castle was pretty scary!

While on our trip, we spent numerous hours in a bus, traveling from city to city.  It wasn't too bad, though, because the view of the country side was absolutely beautiful.  Here is a road-side picture of our trek to the Cliffs of Moher.  

Speaking of the Cliffs, this has to be another one of my favorite places I got to see in Ireland.  The view was clearly spectacular.  Even though Ireland is known for having constant rain, our group lucked out because it didn't rain a single day we were there- making our view of the Cliffs perfect.  Not going to lie, I was pretty scared when taking this picture, though.  There is literally nothing to catch a fall, making the Cliffs pretty dangerous.

I had such a fantastic time in Ireland that I really hope I get the opportunity to go back someday.  For now, I hope you all have a fantastic St. Patrick's Day!  And remember... It's always a lovely day for a Guinness. 😉



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

UNE Campus

Hello everyone!

In honor of my "one-month anniversary" of being in Australia, I wanted to dedicate a blog post to the beautiful University of New England campus.  While walking half an hour up a hill to class every day may not seem too great at first, the beautiful campus with many sights makes the trip enjoyable.

First and foremost, the Booloominbah building is absolutely stunning- it makes me feel like I'm looking at a castle.  This is a central building at the UNE campus.  If you're important, chances are, you'll be in this building a lot.

Secondly, on my way to class each day, I have the pleasure of walking by "Deer Park."  It's a cute little area with wildlife, including deer, rabbits, and of course, kangaroos.  I feel much safer knowing I can get as close to the fence as I want and they won't touch me.

Sheep are a huge part of Australian livestock, so it's only fitting that we have a huge pasture full of sheep on our campus.  There are even numerous classes students can take regarding wool production.

Throughout my daily walk up top, I also cross numerous bridges and creeks.  During O-week, some of the leadership actually jumped in the creek- I personally wouldn't try it.

Also, it's nearly impossible to go a day without running into these "cute" little Australian magpies- they're nearly everywhere.  I've never woken up late because they always sing bright-and-early in the mornings.

It doesn't even seem real that I have been on the other side of the world for a full month!  I've had a wonderful time, making some awesome friends and being involved in the Albies and UNE community.  But I guess it's true what they say- time flies when you're having fun.