ALTOONA, Pa. — It’s a big world out there, and Penn State students have ample opportunity to explore it through education abroad programs. There are hundreds of options all over the globe, and this past summer, several students took advantage of a new program in Australia.
On May 13, students and faculty from across Penn State boarded a plane for the 21.5-hour flight to the Land Down Under. Chris Smithmyer, a part-time lecturer in sociology at Penn State Altoona, created the first-of-its-kind study abroad program. Open to all Penn State students, those on the trip spent six weeks in the country and earned credits in two courses: International Business, Culture, and Conflict in Australia; and International Environmental Conflict and Society in Australia.
Two faculty members and three students from Altoona went on the trip, including AJ Fink, a senior history major.
“I have always wanted to study abroad or go outside the country,” he said. “I was too scared to go to a country where they spoke a different language, so I thought it was a good first step to really study the world by going to an English-speaking country.”
He wasn’t disappointed with his choice.
Smithmyer organized the trip in such a way that the country itself was the classroom, with much of their time spent visiting relevant buildings and cities, exploring in nature, and becoming immersed in the culture. Their adventures kicked off in Brisbane where students observed the city’s infrastructure. There, they also visited a koala sanctuary where they were able to hold and cuddle koalas, without question a big hit with the students.
From there, travel was nonstop. Students learned how to surf on the Gold Coast, and went shark diving at Port Lincoln.
“You never realize how big they are,” Fink recalled, eyes bright with the memory. “They just come out of this deep blue and appear. I loved it. I loved every second of it.”
They saw kangaroos and the Sydney Opera House, a performing arts venue that is among the 20th century’s most distinctive buildings. They visited Parliament and saw a soccer game at the University of Queensland. They snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, went whitewater rafting in the Daintree Rainforest, and rappelled in the Blue Mountains. They spent hours hiking in national parks and rainforests and saw the incredible cave system of the Jenolan caves.