Get involved!

Alexis Schwartz James Cook University, Australia


October 6, 2015

Regardless if you’re here for a semester or a year, it is such a short time. It’s already October. My friends are going to be leaving next month and I’m going to be free to roam and go on adventure until February. Time is going by so fast. We’ve been here for three months. It’s crazy! And yet, it feels like I’ve been here so much longer. Like, I’ve always been here.

Because it goes by so fast, you have to get involved in everything while you can! You have to see, visit, partake, do, be everything you can; take advantage of it. If you’re going to spend a lot of money you might as well do it for a once in a lifetime experience right!? But you really don’t need to spend a lot of money to get involved and to experience everything. There are so many free things to experience like beach trips, street markets, festivals, fairs, clubs, and college activities.

Understand that you are in a new environment and there are lots of things to do and see but that the only reason you’re here is because you’re studying. Just make sure you’re being honest with yourself about your habits. It’s really hard to get a control and discipline yourself when you’re getting invited to do everything with everyone or you have this one experience that you just really want to do, it is. But all the fun things aren’t going to seem worth it if your GPA drops or you have to take a class over. But don’t let studying completely seclude you from experiencing it either. There’s no point in flying so far from home if you’re just going to sit inside. Compromise. Set goals for yourself and when you complete them reward yourself by doing an activity. If you have to read a chapter, or article, or two, go to the beach and read it while on the sand relaxing. You can always get your assignments and studying done and have fun. Find the balance!

Kangaroo selfie. (:

That being said, I’ve experienced quite a few things and I can’t wait to experience more! I’ve gone on multiple beach trips to the Strand that’s only a 20 minute bus ride away, I’ve gone to Reef HQ, Billabong Sanctuary, hiked Castle Hill, kayaked in the rainforest, gone to the night market, and cultural fest; all things I’ve told you before. But I never talked in depth about them or how I got to do them. The Strand, night market, cultural fest, Castle Hill, Reef HQ, and Billabong Sanctuary are all local to Townsville. I’m super lucky when it comes to activities to do. Townsville always has a lot going on it seems.

The beach is a 20-minute bus ride away and is just so lovely. It has calm waters, tons of restaurants, clubs, and bars within a 10 minute walk from where ever you find yourself there, parks and walkways, and its very own rock pool. In Jersey we don’t have those and I’ve only gone to beaches on the Jersey shore and down in Florida so I had no idea what a rock pool was. In Australia though, it kind of seems a bit more necessary. It’s basically a pool made from rocks and the ocean (mind-boggling, I know). They have the ocean filter in through the wall to create a safer environment from the terrifying stingers (jellyfish; which are indeed terrifying). It has a diving section and slowly descends to deeper waters like a normal pool. If you don’t like sand getting everywhere, the rock pool is definitely for you because it’s surrounded by walkways and grass and even has two parks on either side of it.

The night market is down by the strand and is the first weekend of every month. If you’ve ever gone to a market that’s once a week, this is exactly like that. They have some really yummy food like fairy floss (cotton candy), frozen yogurt, Pluto pops (corn dogs), some Thai, Mexican, Indian, and of course some Australian foods as well. They have everything from fudge to books to clothes to dolls. It’s really a nice place to get little souvenirs for you, friends and family!

Cultural Fest is once a year. It was August 19th - 23rd also down by the strand. It is exactly what it sounds like: a festival to celebrate cultures! There were so many performances and food and shops and workshops. It was absolutely miraculous. Unlike the beach and the market where you only have to pay for the bus ride down and whatever you want to buy, cultural fest has a fee. It was only about 10 dollars so nothing major and it is definitely worth it! It’s easily the best way to get to a more in depth look at other cultures around Townsville and Australia. These are all things you can do by yourself; no planning needed. If you want to go, you get dressed and hop on the bus for 2 bucks and make sure you have your camera.

Half the kayaking group floating around the wondrous waters.

Castle Hill is a ‘hill’ that pretty much surrounds Townsville. It’s the backdrop for uni and college and for the strand and in town. It’s honestly a beautiful sight of nature. I say ‘hill’ because it is literally two feet shy of a mountain and I can tell you, hiking it, with a bad knee and being out of shape, two feet does not make any difference. The climb is hard but it is definitely worth it. The sight is just beautiful. My profile picture was actually taken of me looking out from the top of it. It’s amazing exercise that is definitely rewarded with the magnificent sight you get after. Kayaking in the rainforest was indescribable. We had wonderful guides that not only made sure we were safe, gave us pointers, and laughs, also they were so kind and taught us about their culture and about the rainforest and area. I was the only person in our entire group who had never gone kayaking before. So having the Australian rainforest as my first trip is going to be so hard to beat. I couldn’t bring my camera along with me because it would have definitely been ruined from getting wet but that’s alright. Sometimes it’s better to just capture the beauty with memory and truly appreciate it instead of trying to eternalize it in the photos. It was 8 km, which was tough and long, but it was nowhere near as hard as I thought it was going to be. These activities were done with my amazing liaison for the program. She is absolutely incredible; all of them are and they make sure to give us as much memories and adventures we can get! I’m sure I would have found a way to kayak there somehow, but doing it with her was so much better. I got to do it for free and with a group of people that I came here with and was familiar with and I didn’t have to experience it alone.

Reef HQ and Billabong Sanctuary are definitely things I recommend especially if you like aquariums and zoos! They are exactly like them but ten times better and with an Australian twist. It cost me AU$50 to go to both with transportation. During orientation these were some of the activities. Reef HQ and Billabong were the first experiences I got to have here and I’m so happy I did. I got to pet a koala and a kangaroo and hold a snake and a crocodile. I even took a selfie with the kangaroo and got to feed her! I got to see tons of coral and fish indigenous to the Great Barrier Reef area without having to try to conquer my fear of diving in the ocean.

Adding on to that, I decided I wanted to participate in ICC, the Intercollege Concert Competition, where all of the colleges put together an ensemble and compete! There are categories for musical, choir, dance, instrumental, and band (which are different here as opposed to back home where instrumental and band both mean no singers just instruments; here band has vocals and instruments). I really like to sing so I joined choir! It’s all good and fun and there is so much support and spirit within the colleges and for the others. It reminded me a lot of a pep rally for homecoming but there was no big sports game after it. There are three judges that place colleges and give out trophies for second and first and then a big trophy is given to the college that won most spirit and the overall winners. And we won! We placed in second for instrumental and choir and first in dance and musical AND were the overall winners! It was so exciting! There’s so much pride and hard work and happiness that goes into and comes out of ICC; it’s incredible and I am so glad that I was able to be a part of it. The choir was even asked to perform at the Valedictorian dinner later this month!

Second place instrumental, first place dance, and overall winner trophies for ICC!

There are tons of other things that happen as well either in the city, in a particular college, or uni wide. Like charity events, pub-crawls, carnivals, free lunch Fridays, toga night and other various themed nights for the club on campus, and so much more. Don’t be afraid to go out a few nights and let loose. You’re a uni kid, you’re supposed to!