“Although studying abroad can be a little scary at first, it is so worth it. Without this opportunity, I wouldn’t know what Australia was like, let alone what it would be like to swim with some of the most fascinating animals in the ocean.”
As she strapped on her snorkeling gear and dove into the water, Kari Inch felt a combination of nerves and excitement. She had never swum with a whale shark before. Once she plunged into the water and swam alongside the 27-foot whale shark, she felt something she didn’t expect—a sense of peace.
Since childhood, Inch has been fascinated by two things: the ocean and Australia. Her love for the ocean and the animals that live in it led her to marine biology. “Not many people think about how even the simplest of actions can have the most detrimental effects on marine life,” Inch reflects. “I want to find a way to make people more aware of their actions so marine life can preserve and thrive.”
At Saint Martin’s, Inch took her passion for marine biology to a new level. “I chose Saint Martin's primarily because they had a strong biology program, and class sizes were small,” she says. “I wouldn't just be a number.” Inch pursued her marine biology dreams from the get-go, but it wasn’t until her junior year that she realized her study abroad dreams could come true. “I often thought of Australia as a trip I would eventually take in my future, but I began to realize that it would always be that ‘eventual trip’ unless I made it a reality.”
When Inch began her search for the right study abroad program, Study Abroad Director Brenda Burns was there to assist her. “The past four years at SMU has really taught me the meaning behind hard work, dedication, and perseverance,” Inch recalls. “I realized that even if I didn't always have the confidence in myself, someone else did.” Burns helped Inch to explore her study abroad options, apply for the CIEE Marine Biology program and arrange to earn Saint Martin’s credit for her study abroad courses. In addition, Burns encouraged Inch to apply for the SMU International Experience Award, a $500-$1000 award that funds Saints’ study abroad experiences.
Through studying abroad, Inch turned her marine biology and Australia dreams into a reality. Snorkeling with whale sharks was just one of many adventures in her five-week program. She also swam with manta rays, petted kangaroos and took scuba diving lessons that led to an Open Water Diver certification. She took marine ecology classes at Murdoch University in Perth, visited the nearby town of Fremantle and researched the giant clams of Ningaloo Reef.
Studying abroad surprised Inch in more ways than one. It offered not only the chance to study marine life of Australia, but also a sense of community and camaraderie, with both American students and local Australians. “You would pass someone on the street and they would stop and asked how you were,” Inch recounts. “You actually had a conversation with the person instead of saying something in passing.”
She still laughs about the first day of scuba diving: “Everyone had their gear on and we were about to go underwater in the pool we were training in and everyone was looking from one person to another with the same look on their face like, ‘you go under first!’ It was terrifying but so much fun at the same time!”
For Inch, Australia was a chance to discover a new culture and experience her passion for marine biology in a new way. When she returned to the U.S., she returned with an even stronger desire to learn about other cultures and to make a difference in the world as a future marine biologist. “Although it can be a little scary at first, as it was for me, it is so worth it,” she recalls. “Without this opportunity, I wouldn’t know what Australia was like, let alone what it would be like to swim with some of the most fascinating animals in the ocean.”