Christine Olson had dreams of a trip to Australia someday. Like many, the thought of seeing the Sydney Opera House, koalas and kangaroos seemed fascinating.
When the opportunity arose to travel there over her semester break, she couldn’t turn it down.
The opportunity was made possible through a three-week course called “Sustainable Australia: Environment, Agriculture and Culture.” The course was the perfect academic combination to fuel the biology major’s passion for outdoors and travel.
Led by David Iaquinta, professor of sociology, the course took students to Melbourne, Sydney, and the island of Tasmania, where they explored the culture, exotic wildlife, landscapes, and a wide range of agriculture.
“Tasmania and Australia in general is a unique place with distinct fauna and flora, reversed seasons and shared cultural heritage in important ways. This provides an excellent opportunity for students to compare the agriculture, environment and culture in Australia and the U.S.,” said Iaquinta. “Since we draw students from a variety of majors (agriculture, natural resources and liberal arts), we can explore these in the long days of the southern hemisphere summer.”
“Each day was some adventure I could have never imagined you could do in Australia,” said the Millard West High School graduate.
For example, Olson toured the Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania where she learned about wombats and the Tasmania devil. Among her favorite memories was interacting with kangaroos.
“They would walk right up to you and eat the food from your hand, and they would also grab your hands with theirs to keep you from moving your hand,” she said. “That is something you cannot experience in the United States.”
Olson learned about sustainability and the environment. While she admits she wasn’t as familiar with an agriculture-based lifestyle having grown up in Omaha, she soon learned that “sustainable agriculture is a really cool way to help the environment yet still help feed people, too.”
Olson was surprised by Australia’s environmental conservation efforts and their focus on education.
“The Melbourne Zoo has so many in-depth environmental aspects to it that helps kids to see the impacts we are having on the environment,” she recalled.
Iaquinta hopes students gained “a true appreciation for many of the specifics of Tasmanian and Australian culture, ecology and their relationship to the larger world system of trade and human experience, more generally, the richness of another culture and ecology.”
Olson takes away this heavy lesson of world culture.
“The course helped open my eyes to different cultures and people around the world and allowed me to see how similar we are halfway around the world but also how different,” she said. “This experience really helped me realize that I may love nature but seeing how people react to nature is really cool for me.”
“It was a great pleasure to introduce the students to places, people and experiences that I knew intimately from having spent my sabbatical in Tasmania the previous year,” Iaquinta added. “The students were willing collaborators in creating a positive group experience. The range of experiences was so broad that there was something for everyone, but each student also had to reach beyond her comfort zone and area of primary interest to explore new things.”
Now Olson turns her attention to her NWU commencement and graduate school as she considers a career as an environmental studies professor or administrator.
“That could all change in this next year, but I’m excited to see what direction I head in.”
***Christine Olson is among 250 presentations being shared at the annual Student Research Symposium on May 1.
Story by Danielle Anderson, public relation intern.