We wanted to share one of the many amazing adventures from Grace Ryan, a University of Montana study abroad student. As we retrace our study abroad experiences, it’s important to write down the memories we want to share with each other, as well as to help remind us of our beautiful adventures during study abroad!
First, Let’s meet Grace,
Where in Australia are you studying Grace?
“I’m studying at Griffith University on the Gold Coast in Australia”
Where are you from originally?
What is your major through UofM?
“I’m studying photojournalism and history”
Wow! Super cool Grace Any future goals?
“After I graduate from UM my goal is to travel full-time in any way that I can”
Thanks Grace! Please Enjoy!
Cierra reaches across the table and passes me a handful of White Cheddar Cheese Itz. She just picked up a package her mom sent her and it’s stocked – granola bars, peach rings, pretzels, Reese’s Cups. All of the best American junk food you can’t find here.
It’s a Thursday afternoon and we’re sitting on Cierra’s porch, watching some boys play basketball on the half court in front of us. One of them attempts a three pointer and misses the net by more than a foot.
There aren’t many people out, but the village is filled with noise. Birds caw and squawk and crow from the trees that fill the open spaces between the apartments. There are pecking noises and chirping noises and loud, animalistic cries off in the distance. We didn’t know that when we signed up to study abroad in Australia, we were actually being shipped off to Jurassic Park. I half expect to see dinosaurs emerging from the tall trees and stomping around in the rolling, green landscapes.
We’ve somehow wandered into a conversation about sociopaths. Specifically how to spot and avoid them. Cierra’s roommate, Dana, comes outside with her laptop and sits down. She starts reading from something she found online on sociopathic behavior. We’re all sitting within a few feet of each other, but Dana has to speak loudly to be heard over the growing noise coming from the trees. We’ve been here for two months and as the days grow warmer, the Australian wildlife grows more confident.
Just last week, our friends had their first run-in with a Huntsman Spider – the tarantula-sized creatures that are commonly found in Australia and are fast enough to catch their prey that they don’t need to spin webs. Just about the last thing you want to find in your home. They all came back from class one day to find the spider hanging out on the wall above the couch in their living room. After a lot of screaming and calling in reinforcements, they formed a plan of attack. First they sprayed it with chemical window cleaner, but instead of it falling dead to the ground like they had hoped, the spider spread its legs out and seemed to double in size. They changed tactics and this time, Molly smashed it with a pan, causing the spider to fall to the ground. It took five more minutes of hitting it with dishware and spraying it with toxic chemicals to finally kill it. They screamed the entire time.
The next encounter with dangerous Australian animals happens a few days later. I’m sitting on my friend’s balcony and, as usual, we’re talking about space. Tonight’s conversation revolves around the idea that we’re already in it. Space, that is. I often have this thought when I’m sitting on the beach and all I can see is sand and sea and sky. That I’m just a tiny little spec on the side of a huge planet in an even huger galaxy in never-ending space. Tonight we’re discussing what a freeing thing it is to realize how insignificant we are in relation to the infinite universe.
We’re all a bunch of nerds. It’s great.
We’re so absorbed in our space conversation that we don’t notice the small crowd that has formed on the sidewalk below. And then something catches my eye.
“Wait. Guys. What’s happening right now?” Everyone follows my gaze down to the sidewalk and sees what distracted me.
A snake. Probably six feet long and thick.
One of the RAs is crouched down in the rocks that line the sidewalk that winds through the village. He has both of his hands wrapped firmly around either end of the snake and is slowly lifting it up. Half a dozen students stand in a crowd behind him, enraptured by the show.We lean over the balcony to get a better look. We’re all enraptured too. “Oh my god.” “It’s huge!”
“My apartment’s right there – it could’ve gotten in!”
It’s easily the biggest snake I’ve ever seen outside of a zoo. The biggest snake I’ve ever seen. Hanging out around my apartment at night. The RA places the snake in a large, clear plastic box, which he quickly seals up and carries away. We find out later that it was a python. The Australians warn us that September marks the beginning of snake season. That won’t be the last big snake we see, they tell us.
My next run-in with Australian wildlife happens a few days later when I’m walking back from the gym. I have my headphones in and I’m listening to music. I’m not paying attention to where I’m going. I glance down and see a small, grey mass on the sidewalk right in front of me. I jolt to a stop. The thing is similar to a lizard, but fatter and with a shorter tail. Its body is about a foot long – dark grey and white and patterned. Its belly lies low to the ground and its arms and legs stick straight out from the sides of its body. A bright blue tongue flicks in and out of its mouth. I stand, staring at it, too shocked to move.
My first coherent thought is that I should try to get a picture. I fumble with my iPod, trying to find the camera app. But when I take a step forward, the little guy turns away and scurries back into the bushes, much faster than I would’ve expected. I stare at the spot in the bushes where it disappeared, but don’t see any more movement. I continue the walk back to my apartment, this time keeping my eyes peeled on the sidewalk in front of me.
Never before have I lived in such close quarters with such foreign creatures. I often see tiny lizards hanging out in our stairwell and strange-looking butterflies that flutter from plant to plant on campus. For weeks when I first got here, I was woken up around six a.m. every morning by what sounded like birds attacking each other outside of my window. The birds are still there, but I rarely wake up to them anymore. It’s amazing what a person can get used to. But not all of my wildlife encounters have been shocking or traumatizing ones. For example, when we went hiking at Noosa National Park, we stopped for a lunch break on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. In the half hour we took to relax and eat our food, we were visited by a pack of dolphins jumping in the waves, and a sea turtle swimming just below the surface of the water before diving down deep and disappearing into the darkness.
I’ve also seen a Tasmanian devil, humpback whales, koala bears, and even a little joey jumping into its mama’s pouch. I’ve seen dingos, lizards, crabs and more exotic birds than you could imagine. But the most memorable experiences will always be the least expected ones.