G’day from down unda!

G’day from down unda!

By Abby Webster

Walking through the Lismore campus reminds you that you’re in a subtropical environment - lots of cycads and eucalyptus trees and sunbathing water dragons.

I’m Abby – a 3rd-year PhD student at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). I traded gloomy Syracuse, NY for sunny Lismore, NSW, Australia and already know my 8 weeks will go by way too quickly. My exchange takes place at Southern Cross University’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry, where I’m doing a 15N-N2 tracer experiment to quantify benthic N2-fixation.

I had roughly 8 months from when I learned I’d be heading to Australia for research to the time that I actually got here. You would think that’d be plenty of time to prepare and to pack, but everyone procrastinates a little bit. Naturally, I was still packing my bags and checking their weight a few hours before my first flight left. I’d like to take a moment here to thank whoever invented packing cubes. They’re non-negotiable, and I don’t know why I haven’t used them before. Such a simple concept but so effective. My other very satisfying realization while packing – 15 mL vials fit inside 50 mL centrifuge tubes. Not sure why that felt like the biggest win when making things fit, but you can thank me later.

A few days, 4 airports, and 20+ hours of flight time later (across all three of my flights, don’t worry), I arrived on a Monday at 5:00am. My flight left LAX on Saturday night, so with the time change, I just skipped over the Sunday. First impressions – Aussie slang is fun, I’m keen on it. It’s normal to be barefoot outside or in the grocery store; my peers from ESF will appreciate that. And everyone is so nice here. Even the customs folks were careful not to totally rip apart a lavender sachet my grandmother sewed for me that I had to declare; Australia is (for good reason) very protective of what goods come into the country. I couldn’t help but think if it were the US, I probably wouldn’t have been walking away with the quilting still intact.


The big prawn in Ballina - on the list of Australia’s “Big Things.” I have yet to eat prawns here, but one of these days I’ll dig into a kilo with friends on the coast. I wonder if I can find any with Old Bay…

It’s a fairly small and quiet campus, but the central plaza is a really nice spot to catch some sun, read a book, or grab a treat from one of the popular cafés.

The first stop before reaching Lismore was to see the big prawn in Ballina, which was in fact large and appeared impressively accurate, though I truly wouldn’t know if it wasn’t. After arriving, I took the first couple days to get settled into my surroundings – get my groceries and pick up any other things I needed for my dorm-style living. Lismore is a quiet town, and luckily since I’m here in the springtime and temperatures are mild so far, it really is walkable.

It’s exciting to see wildlife for the first time, gaze at different stars at night, and to remind yourself this is home for a couple months. I’ve only been here for a few weeks now, but I’m beginning to think I may call eastern Australia “home” for a bit longer someday.  Cheers!


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