Megan Hirsch - Stanford in Australia
Major: Human Biology
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This picture is of me in front of the Sydney Opera House. We went to the Sydney Opera House in the last few weeks of the trip, and was one of the few “touristy” sites we visited, but it was beautiful! We saw a play inside and walked around the water nearby, and it was a wonderful evening.
Questions and Answers with Megan
Why did you choose to study in Australia?
I caught the travel bug from a young age, and always knew that I wanted to go abroad during my time in college. Dreaming about all the places I could actually go to always made me so excited, to expand my world view and immerse myself in something totally daunting and fascinating at the same time. Deciding on which abroad location I would go to was honestly really difficult for me – I wanted to do them all! However, when I started learning more about what the Australia program had to offer, I realized that it was a unique opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. Traveling around the country to see multiple locations, both remote and in cities, with a tightly knit cohort of other passionate Stanford students – what more could I ask for? Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef and hiking through the beautiful wildlife all while studying a subject that had interested me for a while but that I hadn’t gotten a chance to study formally yet, seemed just about perfect to me.
What were your expectations before you went and how did they change once you were in Australia?
One of the beauties of going abroad through Stanford BOSP is that it allows you embrace ambiguity. Going into Australia, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I knew that we would be on the move, diving deeply into ecology, and making strong bonds to the other Stanford students on the program, but aside from that, I really wasn’t sure what my life would look life for the next few months. And that is scary! But it was also one of the best parts of the trip that I truly learned a lot from – I learned how to say yes to anything they would throw at me and to savor the moments we had without thinking about what was coming next. It allowed me to reflect on what was most important to me in my life and my interests, and to step back from the everyday life we all have that is so focused on planning.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Australia?
As a pre-med and HumBio major, my classes were always pretty determined, with less room for exploring random interests. The classes in Australia allowed me to explore a subject that I’ve been interested in for a while, but wasn’t able to fit into my time on campus (while getting credits for my major, too!). Studying something different from my major also allowed me to evaluate what I truly enjoyed the most, and to think big about what I might want to be in the future, which is so important to do in college.
What did you learn about yourself while studying abroad?
Everyone always jokes about how going abroad will “change your life,” but I think they’re not wrong that it really can! For me, I learned more about myself than I ever expected to. I learned how to identify what I needed (mentally, socially, academically, etc), how to savor the moments that are truly special, how to appreciate myself and the people around me who make me happy, and how to live far away from home (which was something I had never really done as a Bay Area local). While abroad, I realize how much this experience was something I was doing for myself and it would never come again in the same capacity, so I had to make the most of everything while it lasted!
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while abroad and what did you learn from it?
After just a few days on the program, we started our first class in Sheoak Ridge, which is beautiful, peaceful, and super remote. As much as I loved my time there (and I really did), it was hard to have no service or wifi for 2 weeks! I am very close with my family and it was weird not updating them daily on things I was doing, hearing how my sisters were adjusting to their lives as a new college freshman and middle schooler, and not having that time to unwind while I talk on the phone to my mom or send her pictures to show that I’m still alive and thriving. But, honestly, it couldn’t have been better timing – the lack of service forced us all to really hang out with each other and bond right away. I realized that I would have to figure out adjusting to Australia life without the crutch of talking to my family (at least for the first few weeks), and it made it even more exciting to talk to them when we got back to the city!
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
I knew that Aussie slang would be very different from American slang, but learning their slang was one of the fun parts of being in Australia. They definitely have some words that I never would have guess in a million years, so it was always fun trying to guess!
What was your favorite part of everyday life?
I couldn’t decide on just one favorite part so I’ll include two. First, spending every minute with the other Stanford students was a truly unique and awesome experience – we built such good friendships and waking up and spending the whole day with them in our activities was truly what made the program so great for me. Second, stepping outside your room and literally being on a white-sand beach on the Great Barrier Reef or in a rainforest with wallabies surrounding you was so amazing I had to constantly remind myself that it was really real.
What was the most memorable experience you had while in Australia?
While we were on Heron Island, a beautiful, tiny island, we spent every evening watching the gorgeous sunsets on the beach, wading through the waves. Those were some of the best moments, just all being together with all the other students and the professors, in such a beautiful location, feeling so happy. I will never forget those beautiful views!
What 5 words would you use to describe the experience?
Adventure, tightly-knit, fast-paced, fun, and unique
What was your favorite food?
The food we had was always prepared and planned for us, so we were spoiled in that regard. One uniquely Australian food that is a must-have is Tim Tams – they are chocolate covered wafers that are so delicious! We had a taste-test of all the flavors one night, but ultimately decided that original was the best.
What was the most valuable item you took on the program?
Packing for this trip can be a bit daunting because you don’t know exactly what you’re getting yourself into! I would say the best thing I brought was my rash guard – the Australian sun is intense and it’s so much better to be able to spend the long days in the sun without worrying about getting burned.
What was your favorite music/band you discovered in Australia?
While this is not an Australian music form, we listened to a lot of reggaeton while we were in Australia, because it fit the beach-y, relaxed vibe of the trip!