GABRIELLE MILLER – STUDYING IN LISMORE, AUSTRALIA

Your greatest fears can be conquered with just a little faith and friendship, a lesson I took to heart during my latest adventure in Girraween National Park, Queensland, Australia.

I don’t know that I mentioned what classes I’m taking over here yet, but there is one in particular I took for fun and not at all to count towards my degree, which was perhaps, the greatest decision I could have made. The class is Outdoor Education and essentially consists of 2 weekend trips to hike, navigate, and climb through the bush of Australia to practice compass, map, teamwork, risk management, and other skills we learn in the class.

Our first trip was a 3-day excursion near the beginning of the semester to Camp Bornhoffen where we got to know each classmate a bit better, learned the basics of navigation, and even got to rappel down a cliff! During that trip, I stepped outside of my comfort zone just enough and came back fairly content with the outcome.

Fast forward 11 weeks later and we arrive to this moment, just days following a 4-day trip to Camp Girraween, a trip that made me take giant strides outside my comfort zone and left me with a new sense of accomplishment and contentment, much greater than before.

Our first day of the adventure began with a hike up Mt. Norman, a steep, slanted rock that looks nearly impossible to climb, but somehow, we still managed. Midway up, we entered a few rock formations and climbed around, squeezing into stomach-tightening, small spaces. I’ll go on to say that while I don’t suffer from extreme claustrophobia, I am still not a fan of tight spaces and can easily get worked up when there’s no immediate escape. Here, I had to listen to the comfort of my group members’ encouraging words as I stood “stuck” in between two rocks, waiting for those ahead of me to keep moving to the exit. I felt good as we headed out of the rocks, glad to be done, and happy I did something I’m not entirely used to.

Upon reaching the top of Mt. Norman, the 12 of us witnessed an incredible view of the park and sat in utter silence as we soaked in the moment. Not even a gust of wind, singing bird, or blowing leaves could be heard….The silence was short-lived as our guide announced she had another (and smaller) set of caves for us to explore. Her words were, “if you are claustrophobic, you can do this…maybe just go to the back of the group if you want to turn around…”

In my head, I was thinking “oh great, I don’t know if I can handle this”, yet for some reason, the words that came out of my mouth were “I’ll go first!”

I always tell myself to step outside of my comfort zone and experience new things, and perhaps this was my body’s way of finally taking on that challenge. Little did I know, this would be my biggest challenge of my entire study abroad experience…

We entered the caves, this time with our headtorches (aka headlamps), and were given instructions on how to get through them. All I remember our guide, Holly, saying was “go right, you can get out that way.” So I proceeded into the dark tunnel that twisted back and forth a few meters, followed by the other group members. Within a couple of minutes, I came upon a larger area that looked as though there were two directions to choose from. Of course, I went right as instructed.

What do I see? Pitch black. No escape. No indication that the exit was nearby. Panic began to set in as I hollered back to my group telling them we couldn’t get out this way.

What was I going to do? There were people behind me. I couldn’t get out either way!

I was reassured by the others that there was no other way out and that I must continue going until I see light. With a bit of hesitation, I convinced myself to “go for it” and trust these newfound friends of mine. And of course, what do I see? The light! Hallelujah, the end is in sight!…or so I thought…

At this point, the tunnel began to get increasingly smaller and smaller, forcing me to army crawl on the rocks and dirt below me, and ducking my head from the rocky surface above. Two roots were growing out of the tunnel, one on top, one on bottom, making the tunnel even smaller and trickier to get through. My mind at this point is yelling at me, telling me to panic, to cry, to give up, but amazingly, my body kept going, squeezing tighter and tighter to fit through the small space.

At last, my face can feel the light coming through the end, but it doesn’t stop there. No, this so called “escape” was about the size of a loaf of bread! Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but honestly, it wasn’t much bigger! How in the world was my body supposed to fit through that?

I knew others before me had succeeded in exiting the tunnel, so why couldn’t I? I stretched my arms out of the hole, grabbed onto rocks that were secured outside, and pulled. My feet were pretty useless at this point, because one, there was little to push off of in the cave, and two, they kind of just felt like jelly. My arms did the trick though, and guess what?! I made it out alive in once piece! Sure, blood may have been trickling down my arms and legs from all the scrapes I managed, but hey, I feel pretty good!

As I watched the others pull themselves out of the tunnel, we cheered and laughed sighs of relief. To be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more proud and pleased of myself than in that moment. It was one for the books, that’s for sure! Unfortunately, it would have been a bit difficult to capture pictures at this time, so you’ll have to imagine it.

The trip continued over the next few days with 26 miles of hiking, wild kangaroo sighting, mountain scrambling, and lots of singing (mainly courtesy of me and my good friend, Eunice). We hiked up gigantic hills and saw the most incredible views, nearly touching the clouds. We formed bonds with some Australians and other international students, and stayed up late sharing goofy stories.

The trip ended in high spirits and in wet shoes, and I couldn’t be happier with my choice to take part in this class and excursion. Looking back to 5 years ago, I never would have thought I would be the hiking, camping, getting down and dirty, kind of girl, but turns out, I love it!

This trip taught me that surrounding yourself with good people and having a positive attitude, no matter the circumstance, can get you just about anywhere. Actually, Australia in general has taught me this. I’ve also learned that you can be happy with very little if you just take the time to see the good in every situation.

My return to the US is officially less than one month away now, and although I will bring home so much more than I left with, in the sense of knowledge and personal growth, there is also so much I will be leaving behind. These friends have become lifelong friends. These streets have become home to me. This life has become the life I want to return to one day.

There’s still so much to see and so little time, so I better get going! Next exciting adventure? Studying for finals…

 

 

 

 

 

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