Burks Down Under: Blog 2

June 5, 2017

Vanderbilt redshirt senior linebacker Oren Burks has wrapped up his study abroad trip to Australia. Check out his earlier blog here, and enjoy his reflection on the experience below.

What's up, everyone? It's Oren again, checking back in at the conclusion of my study abroad trip to Australia for the month of May. I’m excited to share some highlights and key takeaways from my experience. For a good portion of this trip -- mostly the second half -- I have been without consistent wifi and phone service, which actually turned out to be something extremely beneficial. So often we find ourselves consumed by the convenience of the Internet and social media that we don’t get a chance to be truly present in the moment and enjoy things. Nevertheless, take a look at some highlights of my trip below!

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef
One of the primary highlights of my trip would have to be getting to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef on three separate occasions: once on Fitzroy Island and twice about an hour off the coast of Cairns, Queensland. What made these visits so special was the ability to compare each site to each other, providing unique perspective on marine life along the reef. I witnessed a vast diversity of plants, animal and corals, each with their own stories of evolution. While snorkeling, we had the opportunity to personally admire reef sharks, stingrays, sea turtles and a plethora of fish species in crystal-clear water. To make it to the reef, we would depart the dock around 8 a.m. and return to land around 5 or 6 p.m. Needless to say, the days were long but well worth it. During our final visit to the Great Barrier Reef, we ascended in a helicopter for an aerial view of the reef. That's when we realized just how large the reef actually was; it covers about 2,000 kilometers and features more than 3,000 reefs and 1,500 species of fish. The view from the helicopter is one that I definitely won’t forget for a very long time.

Australian Rainforest visits
During our time in Australia, we embarked on a series of rainforest tours in Daintree, Kuranda, among other locations. The Daintree Rainforest is known as the oldest rainforest in the world, dating more than 100 million years. It is located about two hours from North of Cairns where we crossed a ferry and went without service or wifi for three days. With so many years of evolution over time, it was interesting to learn about the important relationship between animals and plants and its effect on the formation of this massive rainforest.

One animal that we’ve studied extensively throughout this course is the Cassowary, known as the third-largest bird species. Cassowaries evolved over time to develop a fast digestive track, which allows them to eat poisonous cassowary plums that are extremely toxic to humans and other animals. For the seed of the cassowary plum to become fertile for reproduction, it must be eaten and digested by a Cassowary. Therefore, without the Cassowary, the tree would cease to exist, proving their dependence on one another.

Fraser Island excursion
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world covering 1,840 square kilometers. During our time here, we participated in a two-day tour through the island on tight and bumpy sand roads only suitable for vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive. Some highlights from the island included visiting Lake McKenzie, Champagne Pools, the Maheno Shipwreck and taking a scenic plane tour over the island. Lake McKenzie is one of many freshwater lakes on the island composed of rainwater filtered through the dense surrounding forest. As a result of this filtration, it featured the clearest waters I have ever seen surrounded by fine white sand. My classmates and I enjoyed the sun while playing a little volleyball on the beach with this incredible view.

On one of our nature walks, we came across a patch of Rose Gum Eucalyptus Trees that would take your breath away. They seemed to be from another planet, standing tall with smooth white bark that I was convinced had been sanded down. Champagne Pools gets its name from the bubbles that form after waves rush over the rocks into natural made pools. Then the scenic plane flight over the island really capped the trip. We flew over the huge fields of sand dunes and rainforest, and along a 50-mile long beach. It was yet another aerial view that put the magnitude of the island's land mass into perspective.

My trip to Australia has opened my eyes to a more global understanding of people, nature, and how the two interact. Everyone and everything serves an important role, none being more important than the other. As the natural wonders of the world are becoming more and more endangered, we should all take a look in the mirror to see what we can do better to ensure that our children's children can enjoy these incredible sights. I’m blessed to have had this opportunity to study abroad with the help of Vanderbilt University’s Athletics Department, and I look forward to cherishing these memories for the rest of my life. Anchor Down!


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