Experience Study Abroad: Say “Yes” to Everything

As we begin not only a new semester but a new year, it is a common resolution to try new things and broaden our horizons. In reflecting on her recent adventures studying abroad in Tasmania, Kara Hoving provides us with a way that we might fulfill this resolution: say “yes” to everything. It may just be one word, but it’s the best way to open ourselves up to endless new experiences. In order to further inspire you to adopt this mentality, keep reading to hear how this simple word shaped Kara’s experience abroad.

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In July 2017, I landed in Australia’s southernmost capital for a 19-week study abroad semester at the University of Tasmania. It was my first time traveling outside the United States, and I arrived on the island determined to explore as much as I could and to “say yes to everything.” This mantra led me from one adventure to another in what turned out to be the experience of a lifetime.

The island state of Tasmania is only about the size of West Virginia, but its unique geological history has produced a spectacular and diverse natural environment, with lush rainforests, mighty mountain ranges, sprawling moorlands, and glittering beaches all within a short distance of each other. It’s also the birthplace of Australia’s environmental movement, with an impressive concentration of renewable energy and a strong local food scene – the perfect habitat for an environmental science student.

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From the get-go, I started volunteering for a number of environmentally-oriented organizations. I participated in several conservation volunteering trips, from monitoring the health status of adorable wombats, to clearing plastic debris from among the stunning orange rocks of the Bay of Fires. I also volunteered as a receptionist for The Wilderness Society, which advocates for the protection of Tasmania’s endangered species and forests, and worked twice-weekly shifts in the shop and garden of my university’s wholefoods cooperative and sustainability hub, Source. As a volunteer, I met people of all ages, nationalities, and walks of life, with a constant flood of stories, knowledge, and laughter to share as we worked together for a common cause.

Inside and outside the classroom, I was determined to learn everything I could about my host country. I had plenty of opportunities to gain knowledge, not only about the environment and ecology, but also about the history and culture. Like America, Australia is a relatively young country, but it has an Aboriginal history dating back thousands of years. The Aboriginal people of Tasmania played a pivotal role in shaping the land, and evidence of their presence is everywhere, from seashell middens on the coast to the burn cycles of the eucalyptus forest. The conservation expeditions were often co-led by Aboriginal leaders who would share with us some knowledge and traditions, and help us understand the challenges Aboriginal people still face following European settlement.

In addition to learning about Australian history, I was actually able to bear witness to one of its pivotal moments. Throughout the semester, I watched the controversy grow around the nation’s postal survey on whether to legalize marriage equality, and celebrated with my friends when the vote came to a resounding “yes”.

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As a natural introvert, I was afraid it would be difficult to find friends, but it ended up being wonderfully easy. The Australians I encountered in my dorm and at Source were the most friendly and welcoming people I’ve ever met, and were always eager to show me around and include me in their adventures. But the University of Tasmania attracts students from around the world, and some of my closest friends came from places as far-flung as Mexico, Germany, Denmark, Thailand, and Vietnam. This allowed me to get a truly international education, as we shared stories and learned about each other’s cultures while bonding over our mutual love of the outdoors, Harry Potter, and Tim Tam cookies.

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With my new friends, I was able to delve fully into exploring this wonderful island. We had countless adventures climbing mountains, exploring caves, trekking through rain forests, learning to white-water raft, and camping under the stars. I repeatedly defied my fear of heights, and was reminded of everything this big, beautiful world has to offer. I couldn’t resist taking hundreds of pictures of the beautiful sights we saw, but I also strived to focus on living in the moment, to see and feel and breathe in the excitement of the experience instead of looking at it through a lens, to live each adventure instead of merely capturing it. One of my favorite memories was when, in early August, my friends and I drove out to a remote peninsula at night in hopes of seeing some bio-luminescent algae. After combing the moonlit beach for hours, searching for a glimpse in the water, we wandered into a tidal flat where blue fireworks seemed to erupt through the mud under our feet. It was the bio-luminescence, and we had a magical time dancing, splashing, and flinging the glowing goo everywhere while a meteor shower sent nearly a dozen shooting stars careening through the night above us. It was too dark for my smartphone camera to see a thing, but the memory is forever ingrained in my mind clearer than the highest-quality camera can capture.

One of the defining moments of my adventure was my decision to finish my semester with a six-day hike through the unspoiled central highlands on Tasmania’s Overland Track. Due to conflicts with our exam schedules, none of my friends could come with me, so I organized and undertook my first multi-day hike solo. Carrying everything I needed on my back, I walked over 50 miles through the mountains, befriending fellow hikers and being constantly astounded by the endless stretches of indescribable natural beauty. As proud as I was of the physical accomplishment, the best part was knowing that I had the courage and confidence to go after something I wanted, all on my own. I was able to leave my beloved island knowing I’d said yes to everything, seized every day, and explored as much as I could of Tasmania and also myself. I had been able to grow in ways I never could back home, cultivate new dimensions that I’d never had time for, and bring my adventurous side to full bloom. I’ll be returning to Iowa for my last semester with energy and enthusiasm, eager to find what the next adventure will be.

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Written by: Kara Hoving, Honors Student

Kara Hoving is a senior studying Environmental Science with a Biology minor and a Certificate in Sustainability. She can usually be found out running when the Iowa City weather is unfit for human beings. She still doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, besides change the world.

Edited by: Chloe Sekhran, Blog Manager

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