Dr. Shelly Chandler cowgirls up on camel leading Beacon students on their journey in Australia.
By Richard Burnett
As hundreds of travelers before them, a flock of Beacon College students set out on a journey this summer in search of knowledge and fun in another part of the world. Their destination: Australia.
Nearly 30 students, one alum, two parents, and one sibling joined the June trip, part of the college’s Travel Abroad Program led by Provost Shelly Chandler. More than 600 students, alums, family members, and faculty have participated since it began 20-plus years ago.
By visiting remote lands, towns and cities, travelers of all ages have energized their minds through Travel Abroad – the most recent group venturing across more than 9,300 miles from Central Florida to the scenic coast of Australia and the legendary outback country.
Learning happens organically on such trips; there are no formal classes, noted Chandler, a veteran of most of the Travel Abroad trips.
“The idea is to just have them take in the culture, experience it and understand it,” she said. “That gives the students an opportunity to think critically about the language, customs and practices of another country. The experience broadens their horizons.”
‘Loving every moment’
After an 18-hour flight across the Pacific, the group’s adventure began in Sydney – Australia’s largest, best-known city and site of the 2000 Olympics. They walked the arched Harbour Bridge, visited the famous Sydney Opera House, toured the Royal Botanic Garden, and dined at the city’s downtown restaurant and entertainment district.
Several days later, the group took a flight to the Australian outback – a land of rugged desert landscapes, diverse wildlife, exotic flora and ancient rock formations. The most famous of those formations is the Ayers Rock, or Uluru, a massive natural landmark of sandstone surrounded by springs, caves, and ancient paintings. The group stayed in rustic cabins, dined outside, and bundled up for 40-degree nights in the heater-less cabins.
Still, the outback experience was nothing less than enchanting for Helen Chinn, a Beacon sophomore this fall. She hiked around the Uluru, rode a camel, hugged a koala bear, pet a kangaroo and learned about wallaroos, “cousin” to the kangaroo.
“I loved every moment of it,” said Chinn, a business management major from Westfield, N.J. “It was a great way to spend a vacation, learning about people in different cultures, what they eat, how they live, their beliefs, how they think, speak – and their history. The people were so nice. I loved talking to them and learning from them.”
Seeing the world
The last stage of their journey took the group more than 1,200 miles north from Sydney to Brisbane, the country’s capital, high-tech mecca and international seaport. Often known as “Australia’s Miami” because of its gorgeous beaches, Brisbane also provided the group some rich sightseeing of parks, gardens and a wildlife sanctuary.
Overall, the Australia trip was especially meaningful for Beacon students, since it was the first one since the pandemic shutdown of 2020, Chandler said. It required much more engagement this time, involving mask-wearing, daily Covid-19 testing, health monitoring and following other Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. “There was a lot more paperwork,” she said. “But it was well worth it.”
Many of the students are already interested in the 2023 Travel Abroad program – a scheduled trip to England, Chandler said.
“They loved Australia and want to go to England next year,” she said. “They love having such camaraderie, meeting friends and seeing the world.”