Beyond the Classroom: Experiential Learning at James Cook University

By Carley Frea, ISA Senior Site Specialist, Australia

Ever dreamed of swimming with sea turtles on the Great Barrier Reef or sharing the courtyard outside your dorm room with kangaroos? Are you dreading snow and cooler days ahead while longing for sunshine and the ocean? Looking for an enriching experience before graduation? Want to take learning beyond the four walls of a traditional classroom? If you responded with a YES to any of these questions, studying at James Cook University in North Queensland, Australia may be “just what the doctor ordered” for one of your 2018 semesters.

James Cook University and North Queensland; a perfect pairing

Tropical, wild and rugged is what one will find in the north of Queensland, the Australian state located in the northeast part of the country. Though geographically small, the region contains the richest pocket of biodiversity in Australia, if not the world. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park offers spectacular reefs, and the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area contains ancient rainforest and pristine, white-sand beaches. It’s the only region in the world where to World Heritage locations exist side-by-side. Pair the remarkable ecosystems with Queensland’s second oldest University, James Cook University (JCU), a university who is world renowned for its research and instruction focused on the tropics, and you are sure to have rewarding educational experiences throughout your semester abroad.

Photo by ISA Alum, Sage Kelner

Experiential Learning; Go Beyond the Classroom

With two main campuses, Cairns and Townsville, located in the unique North Queensland region, James Cook University not only provides students with unique study locations, but also with numerous experiential learning opportunities to go beyond the classroom and into the ecosystems of the region through courses containing field components. Several disciplines—Biology (Ecology, Zoology, Evolution and Marine Biology), Earth Science, Environmental Science, etc.—offer such courses, many of have been popular among ISA participants.  A few examples include:

Subject Field Component Examples (Subject to Change) Campus & Terms Offered
Linking Indigenousness (IA1007) Cross-cultural experience led by Indigenous Australians Townsville & Cairns
Spring & Fall
Biodiversity of Tropical Australia (BZ2450) Cairns: Flecker Botanic Gardens, Atherton Tablelands, Undara Caves, Bushfoods tutorial at local restaurant


Townsville: day trips to wetlands, rainforests and tropical shores

Townsville & Cairns

Spring (Cairns)

Fall (Townsville)

Functional Biology of Marine Organisms (MB2050) Field work at Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island and in Three-mile Creek in Townsville Townsville


Australian Landscape Processes and Evolution (EV2401) Field work on campus, and a 2.5 days of field work in diverse landscapes west of Cairns or Townsville Townsville & Cairns
Coral Reef Ecology (MB3190) Three day trip to JCU’s Orpheus Island Research Station Townsville



Additional examples of courses containing field components can be found on the ISA website




Photo by ISA Alum, Christina Jacko

Firsthand insight; what our JCU Alumni have said about their experiences

I loved my experience abroad in Australia.  The smells, sites, and people I have met really opened my eyes and allowed me to gain many new perspectives.  I have really been pushed out of my comfort zone, but that has really benefited me.  I am now more confident I can adapt to any situation I am faced.  The people I have met and the experiences I have had have been amazing and indescribable.  They will forever shape me in the direction I choose to take into the future.—Samantha Poratti, University of Maine – Orono

I never knew I could fall in love with a place. Australia was beautiful and the people were welcoming and friendly. I felt academically challenged at the uni and strove to pass all of my classes the same as I would at home. The hardest part of leaving home was leaving my friends and family. I didn’t realize I would have to do it all over again when leaving Cairns. I wish I could stay but I’ll settle with coming back to visit. Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My only regret is not staying longer.—Sarah Barry, Grand Valley State University

Studying abroad has proved to be one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences I’ve had. I learned so much about myself not only from being independent in a different country, but also because of the people and opportunities I had a chance to immerse myself in. I would do it all over again a million times if I could!—Austyn Thalmann, University of San Diego

New from ISA in 2018; the Great Barrier Reef excursion

ISA is excited to announce that beginning in 2018 participants in both Townsville and Cairns will spend the day sailing and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, included within the cost of their ISA program. The Great Barrier Reef spans nearly 134,000 square miles and is home to the world’s largest collection of corals, over 1,500 species of tropical fish, more than 200 types of birds and much more. It is the only living thing visible from space, and it’s no wonder that this natural inspiration is penned as “Australia’s greatest natural wonder” and is recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World! Students will have the opportunity to see an abundance of fish including parrotfish, Maori wrasse, clown fish, angelfish and sea turtles, not to mention the spectacular array of coral outcrops. The full day trip will include both snorkeling and wetsuit gear, and also morning and afternoon tea and light lunch aboard the boat.

What’s next?; get started on YOUR journey to JCU today

Contact ISA Australia Site Specialist, Carley Frea, today to learn more about James Cook University, Cairns and Townsville, course offerings, scholarship opportunities and more!

James Cook University CRICOS Code: 00117J


Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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