COLUMBUS, Ohio – This summer, rising junior Morgan Lowe took advantage of the many opportunities afforded to Ohio State students by studying abroad in Australia, learning about the human impact on the natural environment over a month-long program.
Lowe learned about the study abroad opportunities at Ohio State last year from her SASSO adviser, but waited until this summer to apply after attending an information session. Lowe was selected for a scholarship to study abroad provided to student-athletes, and then began research on where she wanted apply. After learning about the Australia program from a men’s gymnast, Lowe knew it was the program for her.
The experiential program explored the relationship between human and natural systems through the lens of environmental sustainability. North Queensland boasts some of the most diverse and remarkable natural resources in the southern hemisphere. Throughout the program, the group explored the relationship humans have with the natural world around them, the significance of indigenous cultures, and the future of environmental sustainability in Australia.
Lowe took the leap and was accepted into the “Australia: Human Impacts on the Natural Environment” program.
“I didn’t know anyone prior to applying because I wanted to go by myself and I wanted the experience of meeting new people,” Lowe said. “We went to an orientation before we left so I met some people there and got to know everyone. I also went to a pizza outing with a couple of people, and mainly texted people and asked ‘Hey, what are you bringing?’ I still didn’t really know anyone when we got there and was pretty shy, but over the trip I opened up more and made some really good friends.”
Lowe describes the process of getting to know everyone in the group as nerve-wracking, but pushing herself outside of her comfort zone helped her to make new connections and learn about herself in the process.
“I’m more of an introvert and it was all these people I’ve never met. I did know some of the athletes prior, so I stuck with them in the beginning and branched out later on,” Lowe said. “It was interesting because we’re around athletes all the time and a lot of us have the same work ethic and time management. A ton of the people were environmental majors, vegans, vegetarians – it was stuff I had never been around. It was so cool to meet all these people and hear different world views, but it took a bunch of activities and days together. We just relied on each other and about halfway through the trip, it happened. I still text some of the people now, so I made some really good friends.”
“The first three days we were in Hidden Valley which is like the rain forest,” Lowe said. “On the first day, we hiked to a view of the coast and it was so pretty. I hadn’t seen that much of a coastline before. On the second day, we hiked to a huge waterfall and sat at the bottom of it and ate lunch. On the third day we hiked down to a ravine and privately swam where the water was so blue. Those first three days were memorable and it was when we started meeting everyone.”
After moving on from hiking, the group spent two days identifying coral and fish species on the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system. It supports a wide diversity of life and was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981
“Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef was amazing,” Lowe remarked. “We went to six different sites over two days. The first site I was super nervous about snorkeling and being in the water with the fish, and by the sixth I didn’t want to come out of the water. We went out with a partner and swam around, looking at the sea life. There were gigantic clams and we were swimming in pools of fish, thousands right next to you. We saw sharks, sea turtles, sting rays and jellyfish – all sorts of really cool stuff. Knowing that you’re in one of the Seven Wonders of the World was really special.”
“Halfway through the trip we made groups of friends, and we had a lot more free time so we spent it in our groups. These were people I had just met but were super close to me all of a sudden. We opened up so much, almost more than I would if met someone here because we were experiencing that together. We would go out at night and have dinner together, sit on the beach, watch the stars and talk about life. It was really memorable being with them.”
Reflecting on the trip, Lowe learned many valuable lessons about herself, others and the world.
“I faced a lot of fears,” Lowe said. “I was scared of bugs, but the second night there was a spider that I swear was half a foot big in my room, so I had to get over that. I have a fear of heights and there were some hikes where to get down into the ravine, it was straight downhill. You had to scoot down the whole way, but I wasn’t about to not experience it so I just sucked it up and did it. I learned that I can push myself to do a lot of things that I’m scared to do.
I learned a lot about the environment and about Australia. I learned a lot about little things I can do for sustainability. A little bit matters, and you have to pay attention to it. Sometimes it’s easy to not think about it. I’m more conscious of recycling, trying not to use as many plastics and simple stuff that I can do and how important that really is.”
Finally, the experience gave Lowe a new perspective outside of the gym, where she spends most of her hours during the intense women’s gymnastics season.
“Here you’re labeled as the gymnast. You’re always around people that you’re like. There I didn’t have that. I said I was a gymnast, but I wasn’t doing gymnastics so it was really cool meeting people and opening up about myself not as an athlete, as a person and seeing that people still like me and respect me. I learned a lot about different people’s world views because they weren’t all like me. They don’t have the same life experiences as me, so learning about all different food choices and education choices. There was a lot that I took away from that.”