Student Interview: Nina Bakker JCU, Fall 2017


December 6, 2017

Student Interview: Nina Bakker

HOME SCHOOL: Rodger Williams University

 Why did you choose JCU?

 I chose James Cook University because of both the location and the classes that were offered. As far as location, the JCU campuses in Australia are located in both Townsville and Cairns, which are basically both in the tropics, and this is my personal climate preference. In addition, being at JCU, due to the location of the university, gave me easy access to the Great Barrier Reef, and since I am a diver, this was definitely a bonus. I am a marine biology major, and JCU also offered the widest variety of classes within my field of study. It was not until after I arrived in Australia that I came to the realization that JCU is actually the number 1 university in the world for marine biology. I am very satisfied with the choice that I made to attend James Cook.

What did a normal day or week look like for you?

 Personally, I had very busy weeks, but that is partly because I made them that way. I had class every single day of the week, Monday-Friday, which I actually tried avoiding at first, but that is the way my classes ended up working out. Fridays, fortunately, I only had one practical in the morning, so that gave me a bit of a break. I also volunteered for an organization called Finprint, which I would volunteer for four hours a week, spread out between Tuesdays and Wednesdays. About 3-4 days a week, after class, I would spend the afternoons/nights working on assignments. The weekends I would try to save for friends and for fun. Almost every single Friday, after dinner, all of the friends would get together, wear Hawaiian shirts, play fun games and go out to the university club. We would spend our Saturdays also hanging out, whether it was watching movies, playing volleyball, going to the river, going to the strand, or going to Magnetic Island. Many Saturday nights (and sometimes even on Tuesday nights), people would go out to town together to dance and have a good time. There were those weeks that I was lucky and was able to travel to other parts of Australia and those were the weeks I looked forward to the most.

What was the most challenging aspect of your transition from American college life to Australian Uni life?

There were definitely some challenges that I faced when I moved to JCU. The top challenge that I faced was the fact that I was constantly distracted and this made it difficult for me to focus on my work much of the time. Here in the US, I attend a university in Rhode Island and most of the year, it is freezing so I usually do not want to leave my dorm. However, Townsville in particular is always warm, always sunny, the river was a 10-minute walk from where I lived, and the beach was not too far either. Thus, I definitely did not want to be sitting in my room staring at my computer screen. In addition, I found that many of the internationals, whom I became very close with, used their study abroad semester to take easy courses that they needed to get out of the way. Therefore, many of them only had classes a couple days a week, and would always ask to hang out. Unfortunately, I utilized the semester abroad to take all of the marine biology electives that I needed, and since JCU is a top ranked university for marine biology, the courses were not so easy for me. To overcome this, I found a friend who also happened to be a marine biology major and therefore had just as much work as I did. We were also in two of the same courses and she happened to live right next door to me, so we would get together almost every day and do our assignments. This helped immensely as we would discuss our assignments and go to each other for anything that we did not understand. I would also leave the dorm sometimes and go to the library, which was a lot less distracting than being surrounded by my roommates and other friends nearby.

What is one thing that every student studying abroad should do?

I have been home for about a week now, and I look back on my semester abroad and all of it just feels like a dream that I had. This is due to the fact that the semester just absolutely flew by. I basically feel as if I went to Australia, blinked, and the semester was over. If a student is going to study abroad, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EVERY SINGLE SECOND! Do not waste time! I regret every single minute that I spent in my bed watching movies when I could have been hanging out with the amazing friends that I made, or just walking to the river to swim. Yes, it is important to relax once in a while, but if you have any energy at all, use it to do something productive. Find a job, find a volunteer position, join some clubs, etc. Australia has so many amazing things to offer, and I promise, no matter where you are, you will never run out of things to do. If you have the money to do so, use your study breaks to go on excursions! Even if you don’t have the money, traveling can be made cheap. The point of studying abroad is to study, but it is also to see the world, and I do not regret any of the trips that I went on during my semester abroad. These were some of my favorite moments out of the entire experience! One more thing that students should do while studying abroad is make connections by forming relationships with both the locals and other internationals. The thing that makes studying abroad so amazing is the people, and you can learn so much about different cultures by getting to know people. After forming such tight relationships for me personally, it was almost impossible to say goodbye at the end of the semester, but I know that I will see all of the close friends that I made in the near future, and now I have friends all over the world that I can visit!

What will you miss about Australia?

This is such a tough question to answer because I could spend my entire life listing things that I already miss. I believe the thing that I will miss most are the people. The semester would not have been nearly as amazing as it was without the relationships that I formed during the 4 months that I was abroad. As soon as I stepped foot onto campus 4 months ago, my Australian roommate was there helping me navigate the JCU websites and informing me of important concepts that I needed to be aware of. She taught me an insane amount about the Australian culture. My Danish next door neighbor helped me through almost every single assignment that I was handed and struggled through many of them with me. Without her, I do not think I would have done nearly as well as I did. My Danish friend and all of my other friends kept me company throughout the entire semester. We would attend soccer games together, watch movies together, eat together, go on Macca’s runs together, celebrate birthdays together, walk to classes together, go to the beach/river together, go on hiking adventures together, talk about our problems, etc, etc. I feel extremely fortunate that I ended up meeting the particular group of people that I did.

Australia itself is an incredibly beautiful country. Each state and even different areas within each state have different things to offer, whether it is a change of climate, scenery, or even animals that inhabit each area. I will miss going on trips around Australia and experiencing these changes in different regions. I am going to miss Townsville weather, and the fact that it was always sunny and always warm. I am going to miss the beautiful views that I was constantly surrounded with the entire time I was in Australia, whether it was in Townsville on top of Castle Hill or all the way in Tasmania on top of some random mountain. I am going to miss going on hikes, looking up into the trees and spotting koalas. I am going to miss walking around campus at night and spotting all the amazing wildlife including wallabies, possums, and snakes. I am definitely going to miss so much about my new forever home.

What are your plans after you graduate?

I am actually very indecisive about my plans after graduation. I have two semesters left now of my undergraduate degree and will be graduating in December. At this moment, I plan on using the semester after I graduate to both work, so that I can save up some money, and find an internship related to my field of study to gain some experience. After that semester, I will most likely be continuing my education in marine biology and I believe I either want to attend graduate school in Florida or go back to Australia. I will have to wait it out and decide what is the better option for me when the time comes.

Why would you recommend JCU to other students/what kind of students would you recommend for JCU?

I found that JCU was a compatible university for a wide variety of people. For starters, JCU is a fantastic university for those who are interested in the sciences. There are many fields of science that JCU is known for, in which research is constantly being conducted. Being a marine biology student, I felt that JCU was the perfect university to attend during my semester abroad, as it is the top university in the world to study that particular field. They also have a fantastic diving club, which takes members diving for lower rates to incredible dive sites. The university itself is within close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and the famous sunken ship, the S.S. Yongala. This opens up many opportunities for research and those interested in getting involved by both volunteering and interning. It is also a great university for those interested in zoology. I had friends during my semester abroad that were majoring in the zoology field and they were able to go on a variety of fieldtrips, in which they camped for several nights in order to learn about the local wildlife. There are also many clubs on campus that are beneficial for those interested in wildlife, such as the zoology club, which would take the members around campus and other parts of Townsville to search for different animals. The campus is located outside of the city, so a variety of wildlife can be seen by just walking around campus. Thus, JCU (particularly the Townsville campus) is a good place for those who would prefer being outdoors, and who do not want a big city experience. Townsville is considered a city, but it is not nearly as extravagant as any of the other major cities around Australia, such as Sydney and Melbourne. It is a very casual place. Personally, I loved this aspect of my study abroad experience. Those attending universities in major cities will not really get to experience the wildlife aspect of Australia and that is what Australia is known for! My residence hall at JCU was a 10-minute walk from the local river where I spent many of my afternoons with friends swimming, hanging out, and going on walks on the path along the river. The river was a great place to go birdwatching, see turtles and fish, and even see the occasional freshwater crocodile! There are many hiking/biking paths near the university, which for me, became very useful when I wanted to get my mind off of assignments. Those who are interested in studying tropical environments would also benefit, as the JCU locations are in tropical environments. I also found that living on campus was very social, so for those looking to make heaps of life-long friends, and for those looking to meet Australians, living on campus at JCU would be the place to do so!

How did Arcadia have an impact on your experience?

The Arcadia staff was extremely helpful throughout my entire study abroad process. As soon as I was accepted into the program, one of the advisors was emailing me and assisting me every step of the way. If I had any question at all, my advisor (Caitlin), would quickly answer my concerns via email, and she even talked to me over the phone various times. Without her, I would have been completely stuck filling out the paperwork. As soon as I walked off the plane following my arrival into Australia, the Arcadia staff was there, picking all of the internationals up, helping us with our luggage, and bringing us to orientation.

During the orientation, I learned an insane amount about the Australian culture and about the university I would be attending because of the Arcadia staff members. The orientation itself was held in Melbourne, which I personally loved because no one in our group was going to be attending university in Melbourne, so we all got to experience a different part of the country that many of us would not have been able to see otherwise. We also learned heaps of information about the city and got tours of the different areas.

 When I first arrived in Townsville, I was given sheets for the bed, a soft blanket, a pillow, and a towel because of the fact that I came with the Arcadia program. Many of my other friends did not receive these things, and had to go out and buy their own. I was very grateful because I did not have to spend the first night without sheets like the others, and I did not have to make a separate trip to buy those items. Throughout my entire semester in Townsville, our personal Queensland Arcadia advisor, Gizmo, made herself available to us. She took us on many fun excursions, showed us around the local area while providing facts about the area, and she was there to talk to us whenever we needed it. I am very glad that I made the decision to study abroad with Arcadia.