Investigate alternatives to current systems that are degrading the environment and increasing inequality, and be inspired by the incredible beauty of Australia’s World Heritage areas.
Live two blocks from the beach in the small coastal town of Byron Bay.
When not traveling or in a homestay, you’ll live in an apartment two blocks from the beach in Byron Bay, a town of 9,000 at Australia’s most easterly point. Permaculture education and sustainable farming are popular here, and farmers’ and craft markets are common. The region boasts many artists and musicians and has a strong Aboriginal culture.
Go on a four-day camping trip with Aboriginal elders.
Experience traditional and contemporary Aboriginal cultures, learn hunting and gathering skills, and discover ways to protect the environment.
Learn about ecopsychology, environmental action, and sustainable futures during interactive, multi-day workshops.
Learn about environmental psychology during a two-day workshop held at the Forest Haven Meditation Center, located in a quiet and majestic eucalypt forest. Discover how Aboriginal peoples view and relate to their environments in a one-day workshop led by a Bundjalung elder. Explore the culture, concepts, and language of sustainability in a two-day workshop held in an inspiring and sustainably designed learning space by the beach. Gain practical tools to take effective action in a workshop on environmental social change.
Explore the methods of environmental activism.
See models of social change and examine what’s needed to solve major environmental problems. You’ll see examples of successful campaigns, meet environmental activists, and gain tools to take action at personal, community, and structural and political levels. You’ll explore projects you can undertake and be encouraged to identify skills you already possess.
Discover how Australia’s successful sustainability efforts can be applied at home.
Australia has a climate governed largely by El Niño; geology resulting in poor soils; unique organisms; human occupation for 50,000–75,000 years; and upheaval following English settlement. It suffered impacts from climate change before other developed nations. Australian economic, social, and political structures are often similar to the US, and sustainability solutions are often relevant to both countries.
Spend eight days in Tasmania, exploring its ancient forests and learning about conservation.
Tasmania is a geological and biological treasure where a billion years of Earth’s history are exposed to view. Here, you’ll meet activists and see Tasmania’s magnificent forests.
Do independent field research or an internship.
This program and its research and internships empower you to contribute to more sustainable societies. You’ll investigate practical alternatives to the economic system degrading our environment and increasing inequality. You’ll learn to apply sustainability principles in your life and in any career you choose.
Key Topics of Study
Key Topics of Study
- Sense of place
- The natural environment and nature conservation
- Social change and environmental action
- Ecopsychology and environmental ethics
- Aboriginal relationships with the environment
The interdisciplinary coursework for the Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action program focuses on empowering students to make changes toward sustainability in their own lives and in society. The program does this by providing students not only with the knowledge to understand the nature of the ecological crisis but also with the skills to effect change and the inspiration and hope needed to motivate them to take action. Students examine not only the impact of human activity on the environment and ways governments, industry, and citizens are working to protect and conserve natural resources but also the psychological and philosophical dimensions of these issues. Students interact with professionals, academics, conservationists, community members, and host families. During the final five weeks of the semester, students leverage their field study experience and research skills to complete an Independent Study Project or internship.
The following syllabi are representative of this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term. The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.
- Sustainability and Environmental Action Seminar – syllabus
- (ENVI3000 / 8 credits / 120 hours)
- An interdisciplinary course focusing on an analysis of efforts to pursue sustainability in Australia. The course is designed to empower students to make a positive contribution to making societies more sustainable.
- Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
- (ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience and the development of the research skills necessary to undertake the Independent Study Project. Material includes cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; writing a research proposal; referencing; appropriate methodologies such as interviewing, surveying, observation, and content analysis; field study ethics and the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; developing contacts and finding resources; gathering, organizing, analyzing, and communicating data; and maintaining a work journal.
- Independent Study Project – syllabus
- (ISPR3000 / 5 credits / 150 hours)
- Conducted in northern New South Wales or in another approved location appropriate to the project. Students may undertake a traditional research project or, alternatively, produce a creative piece (e.g., art, film, creative writing), or undertake a practicum. All projects must relate to sustainability. Sample topic areas: effect of dolphin feeding on environmental perceptions of tourists; permaculture as an alternative to traditional agriculture; a feasibility study for the introduction of solar power at Macquarie University; creating effective urban community gardens; practicum with the Wilderness Society River Red Gum campaign; creating artwork for a National Parks Service campaign; sustainable housing; why farmers choose to convert to organic agriculture; the role of art in promoting sustainability; conceptions of wilderness in Tasmania; practicums with community gardens, organic farms, environmental NGOs and environmental education centers. A number of students have pursued highly successful creative ISPs, but students must apply for permission to undertake creative ISPs, and this will only be granted if the student can prove that s/he has adequate pre-existing skills. For example, if a student is majoring in the medium (e.g., creative writing), we accept that as evidence of pre-existing skills; if someone is not majoring in the medium, we ask them to provide proof of his/her skills. Proof of skills in a given medium will typically consist of things like writing awards won, exhibitions of work, publication of work, and so on. For more information, please inquire with the admissions counselor.
Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.
Much of the program (a total of around 25 days) takes place in the field. Readings, workshops, discussions, and lectures are integrated into each excursion. In each destination, you will learn about climate, geology, geomorphology, soils, and flora and fauna as well as the area’s human history and culture, in order to instill a sense of place and to help understand its unique management issues.
Lamington National Park and Seven Mile Beach
You will spend a five-day orientation at Lamington National Park in southern Queensland and at Seven Mile Beach south of Byron Bay. At Lamington National Park, you will stay at the historic Grooms cottage and then camp at Linnaeus Estate, a 280-acre property with one and a half kilometers of pristine beachfront recognized as one of the most beautiful privately owned properties on Australia’s east coast. During orientation, the group will review program goals and safety, learn about Australian cultural norms, and start the process of establishing a group bond. You will be introduced to the range of ecosystems and landscapes in northern New South Wales, from subtropical rainforests to beaches and reefs.
Experience stunning scenery at one of Australia’s largest conservation reserves.
Southwest Tasmania is one of the last true wilderness regions of the world. Tasmania was the last landmass to break away from the southern supercontinent, Gondwana, and today it has an extremely diverse ecology including grasslands, eucalypt forests, alpine heathlands, moorlands, and cool temperate rainforests. Its stunning scenery, Aboriginal heritage, and conservation values have resulted in 40 percent of the state being set aside in nature reserves, including the 3.5 million-acre Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, one of Australia’s largest conservation reserves and one of only two World Heritage areas to be listed under seven different criteria.
But Tasmania is a conservation hot spot in more ways than one. It has a history of bitter conflict over the use and preservation of natural areas that is still very much alive. Tasmania has been the scene of some of the most epic environmental battles in Australia, which have shaped the national conservation movement. It was the birthplace of the world’s first green political party, and the state has the highest green vote in the nation. Tasmania also provides a case study of corporate corruption of government leading to poor policy outcomes, and a model for activist politics to combat the corruption ofgovernment policy.
The program’s eight-day field trip in Tasmania includes walks in spectacular, glaciated scenery and magnificent forests, which include coniferous species of Gondwanan origin, extensive rainforests, and the world’s tallest flowering plants. You will meet forest protestors who battled to save old growth forests from logging. You will also examine the competition between nature conservation and tourism and the use of the land and resources for wood, minerals, and energy production. Traveling by bus, the group will visit key sites that illustrate these struggles and sustainable solutions. The program will also stay in the Tarkine region of northwest Tasmania, which was rated by CNN as the number one natural area in the world to visit.
Aboriginal Camping Trip
Acquire traditional ecological knowledge in the quest for sustainability. The Aboriginal studies component of the program gives you insights into an entirely different way of looking at the environment and resources.
The group will have a five-day camping trip on the Clarence River in northern New South Wales. The excursion will be led by Aboriginal guides who have long been associated with the SIT program and who enthusiastically share their knowledge of traditional and contemporary Aboriginal cultures. You will make traditional Aboriginal artifacts, learn hunting and gathering skills, experience Aboriginal customs, and hear stories about how to care for and live in the environment.
Sydney and Melbourne
Examine urban sustainability in two of the world’s great cities. With more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas, cities are a vital element in the study of sustainability. On the weeklong field trip to Sydney and Melbourne, you will attend a number of lectures and see examples of sustainability initiatives in urban settings.
During one-day field excursions around Byron Bay and Lismore you will visit a number of sites important to Australian conservation history and explore temperate and subtropical rainforests, sustainable house design, organic farming, permaculture, community gardens, and renewable energy technologies.
Faculty and Staff
Faculty and Staff
Peter Brennan, PhD, Academic Director
Peter designed the Sustainability and Environmental Action program and has been its academic director since its 2000 inception. He has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in ecology and geography from the University of Queensland and a PhD from the University of Hawai‘i, where he was an East-West Center fellow. His dissertation examined the effects of forest fragmentation on rainforest communities in Central Queensland.
Peter was born in Brisbane, just north of the program base in Byron Bay. For five years, he was an archaeologist in Hawai‘i and taught at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, the University of Hawai‘i, and Queensland University of Technology. He was academic director of the SIT Study Abroad program in Cairns, Australia, from 1993 to 1997.
Peter designs the academic components of this program, supervises staff and faculty, teaches courses, and ensures students’ academic needs are met. He draws on his familiarity with New South Wales and his passionate belief in field-based, environmental education. In his spare time, Peter likes to surf and is involved with a number of local environmental groups.
Elizabeth (Eshana) Bragg, PhD, Assistant Academic Director
Eshana is an ecopsychologist and has taught in the program since 2000. She has an undergraduate degree in ecology and psychology from the University of Sydney and a PhD from James Cook University in Far North Queensland. She focuses on understanding the psychological relationship between people and nature and using this to motivate social change and environmental action. Eshana is on the editorial board of the peer-reviewed journal Ecopsychology. She has consulted for Sustainable Futures Australia since 1998, specializing in developing innovative educational materials and experiences and systems for organizational change. She has managed award-winning projects. Eshana collaborates with visual artists and photographers and uses creative and interpretive writing for sustainability social marketing campaigns. She works in partnership with government, industry, and communities (including Aboriginal custodians).
In her role with SIT Australia, Eshana facilitates student discussion groups, sets essay topics, teaches research methods, and supervises Independent Study Projects. She leads a two-day experiential workshop on environmental psychology in a rainforest retreat center and a workshop on action for social change.
Gina Crane, Homestay Coordinator
Gina has been homestay coordinator since 2003 and was previously a homestay mother for six semesters. She recruits, vets, and trains homestay families; assigns students to homestays; and organizes social events associated with the homestay.
Laura Brennan, MA, Lecturer and Program Assistant
Laura has worked for the program since its inception in 2000. She handles accounting and behind-the-scenes organization. She also teaches methods classes and is responsible for the Aboriginal portion of the program. Laura has a degree in accounting and a master’s degree in Asian studies, has taught at Hawai‘i Pacific University, and was co-academic director of the SIT program in Cairns for four years.
Peter Cuming, Lecturer
Peter is a leading Australian sustainability planner and educator who has taught in the program since 2001. He holds an honors degree in urban and regional planning and a diploma in permaculture and completed postgraduate work in coastal management and mediation. Peter is founder and managing director of Sustainable Futures Australia, an award-winning firm focused on sustainability planning, design, and education. He has 30 years’ experience as an environmental planner, strategist, and facilitator of community-government-industry partnerships. Peter has been chairperson and a member of natural resources management, education, health, and community development boards and advisory committees, and he was a local councilor. He teaches a workshop on sustainability.
Mary Graham, Elder
Mary is a highly respected Kombu-merri elder, researcher, and former academic who has held senior positions in Aboriginal organizations. She has been a member of the prime minister’s Reconciliation Council, an elected member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, and a fellow at the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action. She is a member of the Ethics Council of the Congress of Australian First Nations. Mary teaches a workshop on Aboriginal worldviews and has worked with SIT since 1993.
Russell Butler, Lecturer and Aboriginal Elder
Russell leads the four-day Aboriginal field trip. He is a Banjin elder who learned many traditional skills and stories from his grandmother. Russell says, “I went to two schools—mainstream school and my grandmother’s school. . . . Now it’s my job to teach my sons, to pass on that knowledge, and keep those skills and traditions alive.” He teaches the cultural and material aspects of the traditional Aboriginal lifestyle and uses stories, discussions, and bush walks to teach ethnobotany, tool making, and Aboriginal environmental philosophy. Russell is also a renowned artist and an actor. He has worked with SIT since 1993.
Helena Norberg-Hodge, Lecturer
Helena is an author, filmmaker and pioneer of the “new economy” movement. Helena’s book, Ancient Futures, which has been made into a film, has been called “an inspirational classic.” Earth Journal counted her among the “10 most interesting environmentalists,” and she received the Right Livelihood Award, or “Alternative Nobel Prize.” Helena studied linguistics at the University of London and MIT. She founded the International Society for Ecology and Culture, is a founding member of the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture, and co-founded the International Forum on Globalization and Global Ecovillage Network. Helena previously taught in SIT’s International Honors Program. She lectures on globalization and the localization movement.
The homestay is an integral part of the SIT experience. During your homestay, you’ll become a member of a local family, sharing meals with them, joining them for special occasions, talking with them in their language, and experiencing the host country through their eyes. Homestay placements are arranged by a local coordinator who carefully screens and approves each family. Students frequently cite the homestay as the highlight of their program. Read more about SIT homestays.
Following orientation in Byron Bay, you will move into a two-week homestay with a family in Lismore or a nearby rural location in northern New South Wales. The homestay will provide you with insights into Australian culture and allow you to establish ties to the community.
Lismore is a typical Australian country town with a population of 30,000 and is home to Southern Cross University. In rural areas near Lismore, you will stay with a host family on a farm or in a small village or hamlet. Many of these communities were settled by people seeking “alternative lifestyles” in the 1970s and more recently by “tree changers” relocating from cities. While in your homestay, you will attend lectures and workshops and undertake day trips in the surrounding area.
Lismore is best known as the gateway to the rainforests of northern New South Wales and the center of the alternative lifestyle movement in Australia. Many homestay families are very knowledgeable about the environment and sustainability, and you will benefit from their firsthand perspectives on the green challenges.
Other accommodations during the program include apartments, hostels, lodges, and campsites.
You will participate in several multi-day interactive workshops.
The quiet and majestic eucalypt forest around the Forest Haven Meditation Center is an ideal venue for the two-day workshop in environmental psychology. You will camp overnight in the forest and wake to a dawn chorus of bird calls. Dr. Elizabeth Bragg, an ecopsychologist, will explore with you ways to remain resilient in the face of serious environmental crises. She will also familiarize you with a range of philosophical perspectives on the natural environment, from economic rationalism to deep ecology and ecofeminism. This will enable you to begin to pinpoint and develop an understanding of your own individual environmental philosophy and to appreciate the need to understand the environmental philosophies of others.
Aboriginal Worldview Workshop
Mary Graham, a Bundjalung elder who has been teaching with SIT Study Abroad since 1993, will lead this one-day workshop, which explores the way in which the land is central to Aboriginal identity. The workshop will examine differences in the way indigenous peoples view and relate to their environments. By coming to understand a radically different worldview, you will be able to deconstruct dominant western worldviews. You will be led to critically analyze your own relationship with the environment and to reflect on what contemporary western societies can learn from indigenous cultures that might help them in their efforts to become more sustainable. The workshop is run in Aboriginal style with the group sitting in a circle and sharing stories.
Sustainable Futures Workshop
Peter Cuming, a leading sustainability planner and educator, conducts a two-day workshop exploring the culture, concepts, and language of sustainability. Concepts covered will include embodied energy, lifecycle assessment, ecological footprint, inter- and intra-generational equity, and the precautionary principle. The workshop will give you the context and confidence to personally engage in a range of practical measures to actively embrace sustainability. Peter instills in students a sense of excitement at the opportunities that exist to promote sustainability in all walks of life. You will undertake a number of practical exercises such as designing a sustainable house and community and developing a strategic plan to achieve a sustainability goal. The workshop is held in “The Crab,” an inspiring and sustainably designed learning space by the beach.
Social Change and Environmental Action Workshop
This workshop, led by Dr. Elizabeth Bragg, will present models of social change and examine the type and scale of changes that are needed to solve our major environmental problems. It will present examples of successful environmental campaigns, and you will be introduced to a wide range of environmental activists. The workshop will provide you with practical tools to take effective environmental action at different levels: personal, community, and structural/political. You will explore ideas for projects you can undertake while still an undergraduate, and you will be encouraged to identify and value skills you already possess.
This program offers a five-week internship with an environmental nonprofit organization or a government department or agency focused on environmental issues. An internship with a for-profit entity is also possible but only if the entity is primarily focused on environmental outcomes. The internship will enable you to gain valuable work experience in the field of sustainability and enhance your skills in an international work environment. A minimum of 150 hours must be spent working for the organization.
SIT internships are hands on and reflective. In addition to completing the internship, you will submit a paper processing your learning experience on the job and analyzing an issue important to the organization you worked with, and/or you will design a socially responsible solution to a problem identified by the organization.
- Researching and writing materials for a social media outreach campaign with 1 Million Women
- Campaigning with The Wilderness Society for a new national park in Victoria
- Developing a children’s space within the Mullumbimby Community Garden
- Taking photographs and developing promotional materials for the Melbourne Farmers’ Market
- Collating and analyzing information from a renewable energy forum at the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage
- Assessing demand for local foods at Armidale City Council
- Working on a campaign to preserve the Great Eastern Ranges with Australian Conservation Foundation
- Developing a travel plan for a large hospital with Victoria’s Health Department
- Assessing the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives targeting small businesses at Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment
- Campaigning against the expansion of salmon farming with Environment Tasmania
- Helping Ocean Planet with marine conservation campaigns in Tasmania
Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project
For many students the Independent Study Project (ISP) is the highlight of their academic experience in Australia. The ISP allows you to apply the knowledge and skills you have obtained throughout the semester to a sustainability issue. You will work with an assigned advisor to develop a proposal, and you will then spend the last five weeks of the program in the field and writing up your report. Projects can be undertaken anywhere in Australia that is appropriate and safe.
You will engage in direct research on a wide range of topics related to sustainability, undertake a practicum with a relevant organization, or develop a piece of creative work on a relevant topic.
Sample ISP topic areas:
- Effect of dolphin feeding on environmental perceptions of tourists
- Permaculture as an alternative to traditional agriculture
- The role of art in promoting sustainability
- Creating effective urban community gardens
- A feasibility study for the introduction of solar energy at Macquarie University
- Developing a sustainability guide for students on the program
- Developing a map and track guide for the Royal National Park in Sydney
- A study of the voluntary simplicity movement in Melbourne
- Creating the artwork for a National Parks Service campaign on bell-miner related dieback
- A piece of travel writing on the Murray River and the meaning of sense of place
- A study of the transition town movement in Australia
Students on this program represent diverse colleges, universities, and majors. Many of them have gone on to do important work that connects back to their experience abroad with SIT. Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:
- Founder of Miracle One organic winery, Sonoma, CA
- Freelance environmental journalist and faculty member at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
- Marketing specialist at Stem Inc., Millbrae, CA
- Campaign organizer for Environment America, Washington, DC
- Environmental outreach coordinator, Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Cost and Scholarships
Cost and Scholarships
SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.
SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding for the term during which they are studying with SIT. This award can be applied to any SIT program. Qualified students must complete the scholarship portion of their application. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.
The tuition fee covers the following program components:
- Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
- The natural environment
- Environmental philosophy and ethics
- Aboriginal relationships to the land
- Research Methods and Ethics course and Human Subjects Review
- All educational excursions to locations such as Tasmania, Melbourne, Sydney, plus an Aboriginal excursion, including all related travel costs
- Independent Study Project or internship (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
- Health insurance throughout the entire program period
Room & Board: $6,400
The room and board fee covers the following program components:
- All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Byron Bay), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project or internship, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
- Homestay (two weeks in Lismore or a nearby rural location in northern New South Wales)
- All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
Estimated Additional Costs:
International Airfare to Program Launch Site
International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.
Visa Expenses: $115
Books & Supplies: $200
International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.
Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.
Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.