This picture of this gorgeous frog was taken on a two-hour hike I took during a field trip with my natural resources class. My advice for anyone choosing classes at the Universidad Nacional in Costa Rica is to sign up for ones with field trips! Honestly, even the most boring ones were really fun as I got to hang out with all of my classmates in a much more casual and engaging setting. It’s also a great way to explore the country, especially on a budget as most travel costs are covered and food and lodging is at reduced prices!
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For five nights I slept in a small one room shed-like house on Kangaroo Island. Remote, and away from anyone else, myself and 4 other girls spent these days traveling around the island completing a field research project, cooking meals together, playing endless rounds of “would you rather” on car rides to field sites, and just getting to know each other. Three of the girls were Australians and the fourth is an international student from Norway. We went into this trip none of us knowing anyone very well, and came out with friendships to last.
It was my first time since coming to Australia that I’ve actually been able to hang out with Australians and get to know them on a personal level. I couldn’t be more thankful for the group of girls I was paired with. It was complete luck as I remember sitting in our Conservation and Restoration practical on the first day of classes that I ended up in this amazing group project. Everyone in the class seemed to know each other for years, all set in their majors for a while and the course being offered later on in the degree. I sat in the classroom, seemingly alone and then the professor announced that the big assignment of the semester would be a group field research project. Great. I looked around the room already seeing people whispering to their friends around them. I sat still, completely frozen until the girl next to me asked if I’d like to join their group. I don’t think I’d ever felt so relieved in my life, and then the excitement set in because we would be asking for the Kangaroo Island project. An island of kangaroos, sign me up! The three Australians, Charlotte, Esther, and Izzy, couldn’t be sweeter and then another exchange student from Norway, Miranda, asked to join our group and there we were, 5 girls ready to head on an adventure to Kangaroo Island.
During the second week of mid-semester break I packed up a duffel bag and hopped into a truck with the group early Sunday morning to catch the ferry to Kangaroo Island. Though I was still a bit shocked from the temperature drop coming back from Cairns, I was so excited to get to the island and to get to know the girls I would be spending the next 5 days with. Arriving at Izzy’s parents house, which she was nice enough to offer to us instead of camping, I was in awe. The property was immense with rolling green hills continuing all the way to the ocean. It felt so open and so secluded. I fell in love quickly. Then I went to the bathroom and was greeted by a lovely little Huntsman spider (what you’ve all been expecting since I’ve arrived in Australia).
After we got settled in our little home for the next 5 days, it was time again to focus on the actual task at hand. Our research project was a project that has been ongoing for years now, looking at the conservation efforts of the Drooping Sheoak on Kangaroo Island. The Drooping Sheoak is a tree that produces cones with seeds inside them. The Glossy Black Cockatoo eats only these cones and its population is struggling, Kangaroo Island being the only place they’re currently found in South Australia. Monitoring their food source and observing whether or not chewed up cones could be found under the trees we were marking, is a good indicator for where the cockatoos are feeding and what sites are doing well. We visited 8 sites over the span of 5 days, some being on private property, conservation sites, and re-vegetation sites, counting the cone production of 40 trees on each site (a very tedious process, trust me). The entire time, as many cones as we were counting, we had so much fun driving around the island, sharing stories, and returning each night to our little home.
With no wifi, cellphone service, or TV, we had plenty of time to get to know each other. This consisted especially of just having fun listening to each other’s accents, trying to imitate it in our own accents, much to our amusement. Charlotte, Esther, and Izzy definitely did not get tired saying “Hey! I’m walking here” anytime New York happened to come up, while I couldn’t quite get down “There’s a shark in the water!” One night while we began to play some card games, I asked (thinking it was a complete shot in the dark) if anyone had ever heard of the game Mao, a card game my friends and I love and play back home. To my surprise, Esther and Charlotte knew what I was talking about. Here I was all the way on the other side of the world about to play a game I must have played countless times Freshman year with my hall-mates. Such a small thing like a card game, in that moment, meant the world to me.
The next few days consisted of plenty of field work, but not without spotting some of the (adorable) wildlife on Kangaroo Island…
…Including my new favorite animal: the echidna. LOOK AT IT.
As its name suggests, Kangaroo Island is home to mainly kangaroos (shocker I know). What was shocking was how many kangaroos this actually implied. As we drove up and down the island, I counted 6 kangaroos that had ran in front of the car (way worse than any deer you’ll face in upstate New York or when you’re driving out to Montauk). They. Were. Everywhere. And it was absolutely amazing!!!
The different field sites we visited were also gorgeous in themselves, but coming back to our humble little abode after a long day of field work was always the best feeling. Master chef Izzy (no exaggeration) always prepared delicious dinners for us all and again nights were spent getting to know each other, discussing things as silly as what celebrity crushes we all would marry to social issues shaking all of our countries right now.
On one of our last nights, we had invited another group from our class, also doing research on the island, to come over during what would be the worst storm to hit South Australia in 50 years. Luckily the house ran on solar power so we were not hit with the huge power outage that South Australia experienced, but we did miss a day of field work. At some point during the night of the storm we had begun to swap ghost stories, some spooky enough to definitely raise the hair on the back of my neck. Of course, after the stories were shared I had to go to the bathroom, conveniently located in a separate shed next to the house. As I tiptoed to the restroom with the stormy wind and rain whipping around me, I shined my phone’s flashlight into the darkness in front of me. I kept telling myself that the scariest thing that could be in the bathroom was a spider and even that wouldn’t be so bad. When I began walking back toward the house, right as I reached the front door I heard a loud thud to my left. I couldn’t see anything, the porch light not reaching very far, but I could hear the thumping on the ground grow louder like footsteps coming toward me. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready to scream and fight some ax murderer when a little kangaroo hopped into the porch light. I learned it’s quite easy to get the spooks when you’re living on an island in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a storm, and believe me I was laughed at quite a bit when I walked back inside, but all in all I had such a great time with some great people. Learning more about Australia while making new friendships was definitely the highlight of Kangaroo Island.
I did not want to leave the island on the last day and return to Adelaide where the start of classes awaited me. Especially after I had met 4 amazing new friends, it made getting on the ferry back to Adelaide even tougher. Now classes have started once again along with final papers and exams. I only have so many days left in this beautiful place, but I’m trying to push that thought as far away from my mind right now.