Australia

Sustainability and Environmental Action

Surrounded by the inspiring beauty of Australia’s World Heritage areas, investigate sustainable ways of protecting the environment and promoting equality.

At a Glance

Credits

16

Prerequisites

None

Courses taught in

English

Dates

Jan 30 ‎– May 13

Program Countries

Australia

Program Base

Byron Bay

Critical Global Issue of Study

Climate & Environment

Climate & Environment Icon

Development & Inequality

Development & Inequality Icon

Overview

Why study sustainability in Australia?

With poor soils, unique organisms, and a climate governed largely by El Niño, Australia has keenly felt the effects of climate change. From your base two blocks from the beach in the small coastal town of Byron Bay, you’ll explore Australia’s burgeoning permaculture and sustainable farming initiatives. During excursions and workshops, including ten days in Tasmania, a sustainable urban design workshop in Melbourne, and a five-day camping trip with Aboriginal elders, you’ll meet environmental activists, see examples of successful campaigns, and get tools to apply sustainability efforts at home.

You’ll spend much of the program in the field. 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. During three interactive workshops, you’ll learn about environmental psychology, discover how Aboriginal peoples view and relate to their environments, and get practical tools to take effective action toward environmental social change.

Highlights

  • Go on a five-day camping trip with Aboriginal elders.
  • Live two blocks from the beach in the small coastal town of Byron Bay.
  • Spend 25 days learning in the field.
  • Spend ten days in Tasmania, exploring its ancient forests.

Prerequisites

None

Excursions

Ecopsychology Workshop

Camp in the quiet and majestic eucalypt forest of the Forest Haven Meditation Center for a two-day workshop in environmental psychology. Ecopsychologist Dr. Elizabeth Bragg will introduce you to a range of philosophical perspectives on the natural environment, from economic rationalism to deep ecology and ecofeminism and help you explore ways to remain resilient in the face of serious environmental crises. You will begin to develop an understanding of your own and others’ environmental philosophies.

Aboriginal Worldview Workshop

Explore how the land is central to Aboriginal identity in a one-day workshop led by Dr. Mary Graham, a Bundjalung elder who has been teaching with SIT Study Abroad since 1993. Examine different ways indigenous peoples view and relate to their environments and start to deconstruct dominant western worldviews as you come to understand a radically different worldview. 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.

Social Change and Environmental Action Workshop

In this workshop, led by Dr. Elizabeth Bragg, you’ll examine models of social change and the types and scales of changes needed to solve our major environmental problems. You’ll look at examples of successful environmental campaigns and be introduced to a wide range of environmental activists. You’ll get practical tools for effective environmental action at different levels: personal, community, and structural/political. As you identify skills you already possess, you’ll explore ideas for projects you can undertake when you return home.

Lamington National Park and Seven Mile Beach

The program’s five-day orientation starts in Lamington National Park, where you’ll stay at the historic Grooms Cottage when you’re not outside enjoying the park’s mountain views, lush rainforests, and sightings of rare bird species. Orientation concludes at sustainable Linnaeus Estate, a 280-acre property with 1.5 kilometers of pristine beachfront on Seven Mile Beach. On day trips 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.

Conservation and Activism in Tasmania

Tasmania’s extremely diverse ecology — including grasslands, eucalypt forests, alpine heathlands, moorlands, and cool temperate rainforests — has 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 only two World Heritage areas to be listed under seven different criteria. The program’s ten-day field trip in Tasmania will take you through spectacular glaciated scenery, magnificent forests with coniferous species of Gondwanan origin and the world’s tallest flowering plants. You’ll also stay in Tarkine, a vast wilderness known for its natural values and high concentration of ancient Aboriginal sites.

Tasmania has been the scene of some of the most epic environmental battles in Australia. It is a case study of the corruption of government by corporations and a model for activism combating corruption. In this birthplace of the world’s first green political party, you’ll examine the competition between nature conservation and tourism and the use of the land and resources for wood, minerals, and energy production. You will also meet forest protestors who successfully battled to save old growth forests from logging and visit key sites that illustrate these struggles and sustainable solutions.

Aboriginal Camping Trip in New South Wales

Acquire traditional ecological knowledge on a five-day camping trip led by Aboriginal guides who have long been associated with the program and who enthusiastically share their knowledge of traditional and contemporary Aboriginal cultures. Here, along the Clarence River, 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

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, two of the world’s great cities, you will attend several lectures and see examples of sustainability initiatives in urban settings.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Academics

Coursework

Access virtual library guide.

The interdisciplinary coursework for this program focuses on empowering students to make changes toward sustainability in their own lives and in society. It does this by providing students not only with an understanding of the ecological crisis but also with the skills to effect change and the inspiration and hope to motivate them. Much of the program (around 25 days) takes place in the field. Readings, workshops, discussions, and lectures are integrated into each excursion. Students examine impacts of human activity on the environment; ways governments, industry, and citizens are protecting and conserving natural resources, and psychological and philosophical dimensions of these issues. 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 syllabi below 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.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • Sustainability
  • Sense of place
  • The natural environment and nature conservation
  • Social change and environmental action
  • Ecopsychology and environmental ethics
  • Aboriginal relationships with the environment

Sustainability and Environmental Action Seminar

Sustainability and Environmental Action Seminar – syllabus
(ENVI3000 / 8 credits)

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

Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits)

A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience and the development of the research skills necessary to undertake either an Independent Study Project or an internship. 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.

Course Options

In addition to taking the above courses, students will also need to enroll in one of the following two courses:

Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 5 credits)

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). All projects must relate to sustainability. 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; otherwise, we ask them to provide proof of his/her skills, such as writing awards, exhibitions of work, and publication of work. For more information, please inquire with the admissions counselor.

For many students the ISP is the highlight of their academic experience in Australia. The ISP allows students to apply the knowledge and skills they have obtained throughout the semester to a sustainability issue. They will work with an assigned advisor to develop a proposal and will spend the last five weeks of the program in the field and writing up their report. Projects can be undertaken anywhere in Australia that is appropriate and safe.

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

Browse this program’s Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.

OR

Internship and Seminar
Internship and Seminar – syllabus
(ITRN3000 / 5 credits)

This seminar consists of a five-week internship with an environmental nonprofit organization or a government department or agency focused on environmental issues. Permission may be granted to undertake an internship with a for-profit entity, but this will only be given if the entity is primarily focused on environmental outcomes. The aim of the internship is to enable the student to gain valuable work experience in the field of sustainability and to enhance their skills in an international work environment. In consultation with their internship organization and their SIT internship advisor, students will identify a project focus and internship supervisor. A minimum of 150 hours must be spent working for the organization. Students will complete an internship and submit a paper in which they discuss the overall structure and work of the organization, process their learning experience on the job, and analyze their focus topic. The paper must also document a comprehensive schedule and the specific skills and knowledge acquired through the experience and how the student intends to apply these skills and knowledge upon return to the United States. A focus will be on linking internship learning with the program’s theme of sustainability.

Sample internships:  

  • 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

Interactive Workshops

You will participate in several multi-day interactive workshops.

Ecopsychology Workshop

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

Dr. 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.

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.

Homestays

Lismore

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. Lismore is a typical Australian country town with a population of 30,000 and best known as the gateway to the rainforests of northern New South Wales and the center of the alternative lifestyle movement in Australia. Surrounding Lismore are farms, small villages, and hamlets. 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 workshops and lectures at Southern Cross University and go on day trips in the surrounding area. The homestay will provide you with insights into Australian culture and allow you to establish ties to the community. Many homestay families are very knowledgeable about the environment and sustainability, and you will benefit from their perspectives on the green challenges.

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.

Other Accommodations

Hostels, lodges, and campsites

Career Paths

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

Faculty & Staff

Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action

Elizabeth (Eshana) Bragg, PhD
Assistant Academic Director
Peter Brennan, PhD
Academic Director
Gina Crane
Homestay Coordinator
Laura Brennan, MA
Lecturer and Program Assistant
Mary Graham, DUniv
Elder
Russell Butler
Lecturer and Aboriginal Elder

Discover the Possibilities

  • COST & 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.

    See Full Breakdown
  • ACCESSIBILITY

    Prepare for an accessible educational experience with SIT Study Aborad! In-country conditions and resources vary by site. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact disabilityservices@sit.edu for more information.

    Accessibility Overview
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    Listen to alum Rachel Erlebacher from Cornell on Australian Broadcasting Commission radio

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