Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology
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In the Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology study abroad program, students learn in a truly world-class environment. Australia is home to flora and fauna that cannot be found elsewhere in the world, and students examine complex ecosystems directly where they are found.
- Living on the Doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef – During a 10-day stay at the Lizard Island Research Station, students spend approximately 50 hours conducting scientific surveys among the coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
- Living in the Rainforest – For eight days of the rainforest seminar, students live in accommodations on the edge of an upland rainforest teeming with life. At dawn, birds such as the Chowchilla, Eastern Whipbird, and Superb Fruit Dove often make their presence known through a cacophonous "dawn chorus." At night, leaf eating possums, bandicoots, flying foxes (large fruit-eating bats), and pademelons (a miniature kangaroo of the rainforest) are easily spotlighted in the forest and small clearings near student accommodations.
- "Going Bush" with Aboriginal Elders – During the group's seven-day camping trip, students travel to remote bushland with SIT's Aboriginal guide Russell Butler. The camping trip deeply immerses students in the outdoors in order to allow them to better experience an Aboriginal perspective toward Australia's natural resources, history, culture, and contemporary social and environmental problems. Through close observation, discussions, and firsthand experience, students acquire a better understanding of the First Australians' intimate understanding of ecology and environmental management.
The Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology program consists of the following main components:
- Orientation – During this weeklong period, students are given an introduction to the rainforest, reefs, and culture of the region. Students travel to coastal and upland rainforest parks, meet local Aboriginal and non-indigenous Australians, and visit the Great Barrier Reef.
- Cairns Homestay – During the two-week homestay in Cairns, students stay with local families and attend lectures at Reef Teach, SIT's classroom facility. During this period, students learn about Australian culture and ecology and take local field trips to learn basic field techniques for use during later excursions and their Independent Study Project.
- Field Modules – Following the homestay in Cairns, the group undertakes the Aboriginal camping trip, the rainforest ecology module, and the coral reef ecology module. Upon completion of each field module, students return for a few days to the Northern Greenhouse Hostel in Cairns, which serves as the program base. While in Cairns, students may attend lectures, prepare for the next field excursion, and refine concepts for their Independent Study Project.
- Independent Study Project – Students spend five weeks conducting original, independent research on a selected subject at a location appropriate to their topic.
Cairns is the commercial and tourism hub of Queensland's Wet Tropics and Cape York Peninsula. Serving as the program's base, the city offers students excellent access to the region's important ecological sites. During this period, students attend lectures and engage in afternoon educational excursions to places such as Flecker Botanical Garden and Cairns mangrove boardwalk. During these short excursions, students complete field exercises as part of their investigation into urban ecology. This period is designed to help students become familiar with the people and places of the region and prepare them for the intensive field modules that follow. Students spend two weeks living with an Australian family.
Environmental Field Study Seminar
The Environmental Field Study Seminar (EFSS) provides conceptual preparation and skill development to assist students in undertaking ecological and anthropological field studies in a cross-cultural context. Beginning with the sessions during orientation, and continuing throughout the semester, the EFSS develops students' skills and fosters their ability to observe, interpret, and appropriately function within the range of Australian environments and cultural contexts encountered on the program. Field exercises, assignments, and group discussions focus on various methods and techniques used in the collection and utilization of field data and scientific literature. Students conduct marine, terrestrial, and anthropological fieldwork.
Independent Study Project
For many students, the Independent Study Project (ISP) is the culmination and overall highlight of their academic experience in Australia. The ISP allows students to take the information they have acquired from thematic coursework and field study and apply it to designing, implementing, analyzing, and writing up a scientifically valid research report. Through their own initiative, students network and collaborate with Australian experts. In the past, many students have made lasting professional connections during their ISP.
Past ISP student projects have included:
- Assessments of biota in planted habitat corridors connecting rainforest fragments
- Ecology of coral diseases
- Issues surrounding Aboriginal health and social justice
Duration: 15 weeks
Program Base: Cairns
Prerequisites: Coursework in environmental studies, ecology, biology, or related fields, as assessed by SIT. Read more...
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