Emily Brieant (she/her) - Stanford in Australia
Major: Human Biology
Minor: Earth Systems
College year while abroad: Senior
About the photo: This silly selfie was taken on the ferry ride to K'gari, our second island and academic module and also the most meaningful part of the trip for me (and many of us). We were just coming off our coral reef snorkel life, and all we really knew about K'gari was that swimming was prohibited, Wongari dogs prevented running and 9/10 of the world's deadliest snakes slithered along the sands.
Questions and Answers with Emily
Why did you choose to study in Australia?
I was taken by the dynamic nature of the program and its promise of adventure. I figured I would never have the opportunity to explore Australia generally, but moreover explore the place in such a varied, immersive manner if I didn’t study with the BOSP program.
What were your expectations before you went and how did they change once you were in Australia?
Hearing the testimonies of previous students and advice from program advisors, I honestly had fairly few expectations before arriving. I think mostly I anticipated adventure and not a whole lot else, besides maybe encounters big/strange/poisonous animals. I think upon arriving, I was surprised by the ways Australia compared to America and of course the manners in which it very much did not. I was somewhat surprised by how relatively tame (and few) our encounters were with deadly wildlife--I’d envisioned in my mind, constant scares with head-sized spiders and MMA-trained kangaroos.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Australia?
Gaining a practical sense of ecological field work was quite valuable to me, as someone who had relatively minimal exposure to this prior to the program. I think this immersive style of learning was to me the most additive academic benefit--learning the theoretical/conceptual lessons and then going out and actually seeing and experiencing those ideas, processes, ecosystem phenomena allowed for a much more sincere appreciation of each topic. The variety of learning modes was immense, with the structure, content and teaching styles changing for each course/ module. To this end, engaging with only one course at a time was also a novel learning experience and helped foster a very present academic mindset. Living each day with professors was also a neat experience that I feel is rarely replicated on campus, and I think sharing moments of all kinds, between meals, volleyball games and night walks and snorkels, with your teachers is truly special.
What did you learn about yourself while studying abroad?
In general, I think Iearned how often I should say yes and how great it can be to let go of notions about your skills, yourself and the unfamiliar! I think I came away with a much clearer understanding of what I value in learning and what perspectives/lens I wish to prioritize in the process of education. I also learned a lot about how I view community in my life. One reason the program was so meaningful was in large part a result of the relationships built along the way--the intimacy of sharing breathtaking scenery, eight hour bus rides, the tetrus of regular packing, unpacking and hauling our selves and belongings. I would also say I came away with a freshly affirmed desire to see the world and connect with other cultures and lands I don’t yet know.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while abroad and what did you learn from it?
Not being able to structure my day and routine in the way I was accustomed to or anticipated, especially in terms of food and exercise, was challenging. I was missing preseason for my sport and it wasn't really possible to train in the way I was supposed to/intended to. I think I internalized in a very real way the importance of recognizing the present circumstances, opportunity and environment and embracing a new pace and way of daily life. Letting go of familiar routine was ultimately a valuable shift that helped me enjoy the uniqueness of each moment on the trip.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Reckoning with the modern Australian landscape and national spirit with the past and ongoing degradation of indigenous ways of being was a cultural adjustment that challenged my perspective. It was at times a confusing experience to enjoy the wonderful places we were exploring and the general abroad experiences while understanding these excursions at large were in many ways at the expense of Aboriginal culture and peoples. Reframing my western perspective on ecology and nature more broadly was also noticeable cultural adjustment.
What was your favorite part of everyday life?
The pace of life was so enjoyable, and the regular immersion and awareness of the natural environment was such a refreshing way to live each day. I felt so connected with the world around me in a way that made me feel the most present I’ve felt during academic courses. It felt like such a healthy, stable and grounding existence that was simultaneously full of rich, new experiences. Being outside truly never gets old and always brings something new to marvel at.
What was the most memorable experience you had while in Australia?
This is truly an unfair question. Probably a visit on K’gari we shared with two Butchilla young women and an elder. The self identified women in our cohort spent the morning walking within rainforest along a sacred birthing creek, an all women’s space in Butchilla culture. Listening to their perspectives was so meaningful and the generosity they showed us was something I’ll hold onto forever. Our journey to the creek was also memorable, as we piled into Land Cruisers and took the uncertain inland path through bogs and sand and forests, without any idea of how long the route would take (we couldn’t take the normal beach highway route since the tides were too high.) Overall a full and pure day of nature and culture and connection!
What 5 words would you use to describe the experience?
Fresh, enriching, earthy, a whirlwind, and H20 just add water (in real life/time).
What was your favorite food?
Honestly I would not laude Australia for its food, but while in Sydney, we stayed in Thai Town, where I consumed probably some of the best food of the trip--orders of Pad-See-Ew on repeat. More broadly, across the various beach towns we stopped over, the Poke and Acai Bowl establishments were consistently wonderful.
What was the most valuable item you took on the program?
Probably my laptop. I made sure to pack strategically, limiting transport of meaningful and/or expensive items, as I know I am somewhat prone to mishaps of forgetting, losing and/or breaking. Was also making space for the valuable items and experiences that would come along the journey.
What was your favorite music/band you discovered in Australia?
The indigenous music we encountered during our Terrestrial Ecology unit on K'gari. It was moving and lyrical and novel to my ears and mind. Another band, which was not necessarily a favorite nor one I’d return to, was a Screamo set were stumbled across in a pizza parlor basement, renowned in Sydney and known for its live music. Not by any means a new discovery, I feel obliged to note that some folks learned of a 5SOS concert happening during our time in Australia and were culturally/nostalgically inspired to attend.