Well, I made my students write about their final impressions, so I guess it’s only fair if I do it, too. And, of course, these are my final impressions of the semester, not the whole SFS experience. Right now I am traveling all over the country—with my family, by myself, with friends—and will return to the Centre to welcome a new group of students in early February.
What did you like most about the SFS experience?
The whole experience of being a Student Affairs Manager (SAM) was incredible. Though I was a little stressed to begin the new position (especially since my visa got delayed and I didn’t arrive in the country until several days later than planned, and when students asked me how long I’d been working for SFS, I had to answer “About four days…”), the whole semester went so well. I’d heard horror stories at the SAM training about how awful the students would be and all of the rules they would break, but I had an amazing group of 29 students (and three more-than-amazing interns to work with) to introduce me to the new job. Because I was preoccupied with my job duties, I didn’t get the chance to sit in on the courses as I would have liked, but I got to know the students during our trips to Chillagoe and the Daintree, during mealtimes and reflections, during a fun-filled evening of Halloween activities, at a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner (for 80 people!), during all of the day trips I planned, driving students around in our fleet of vans (HSL (Hessle), FZB (Fezbah), and MBV (MBV, my personal favorite)), and during Friday morning community service. What I liked most about the SFS experience was getting to know these people and living in a small, close-knit community with them. And they all know how much I liked them because I cried a lot when they left.
You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
It was fun getting to know Australian culture again. Little by little, the pieces of slang (How ya goin’?, G’day, Cheers Mate, etc.) and the ways of life crept back to me, and I have been able to embrace the culture in a more full and somewhat different way since I consider myself a part of the community, now that I am living here for a year and not just a student visiting for a few months. The Atherton Tablelands culture is especially unique, and it’s hard to explain, but I come away from a Tree-Kangaroo and Mammal Group meeting thinking, “That was a very Tablelands experience.” Maybe in the future I’ll be able to characterize this place in a better way, but for right now, it’s becoming home.
What is life at the field station really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts of living at a remote field station?
Before I came, I was picturing bugs in my room, mold growing on everything, and cold showers. Well, there are bugs in my room (a swarm of at least one hundred ants living in the doorframe between my bedroom and bathroom, plus the little brown beetles that always manage to get inside, and occasionally a cockroach or a huge white-kneed cricket, plus all the spiders that I happily share my room with in the hopes that they will catch all of the other guys), and oh wait, mold is growing on all of my shoes and I had to store my clothing in big plastic boxes while I’m away), but I have had a hot shower every day. So things are better than I expected.
Seriously, I love living at the field station. When I wake up in the morning, I hear the Catbird and Whipbird calling, and when I go to sleep at night, I hear the Orange-footed Scrub Fowl cackling and the pademelons rustling in the grasses. Every morning I walk from the Dongas (Australian word for the trailer that we live in) to the Centre down a pathway through the rainforest where I hear the Wompoo (fruit pigeon) cooing and watch the Chowchillas dance, and every evening, I traverse the same pathway in the dark, using my headlamp to steer clear of the white-kneed crickets and cane toads that hop along through the forest. This is my third job in a row where I’ve had a pleasant five-minute stroll in a beautiful place as my commute to work.
And life at the Centre is simple. We have meals at regular times (they are delicious) and everyone takes turns to help set up and clean up. If I’m not in my office, I can sit outside in the sun with the students, chatting or reading a book. There are always people around to say “Good morning” or “Good night” to. And if I’m doing my job well, everyone is happy to be there.
What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
I really loved sharing reflections as a group. During lunchtime announcements, the student of the day would share a reflection, and during Town Hall meetings and other group gatherings we would each reflect. I especially loved these reflections toward the end of the semester, simply because they kept getting more beautiful. On Thanksgiving, we each shared what we were thankful for. During a disorientation activity, we each shared something that we appreciated about another person in the group (tears were shed), and on the final day, the student of the day told us “I expected to fall in love with Australia. I expected to fall in love with the rainforest. I didn’t expect to fall in love with each of you.” Breaks my heart that they’re all gone now.
Give three adjectives that best describes how you are feeling right now.
Satisfied, loved, pleased