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Mike DiDonna

Mike DiDonna, a music and photography major at Hampshire College, wanted to see the wilds of Australia through a camera lens. "I just really wanted to take pictures," he says of his 1999 NOLS spring semester in Australia. "I was also so anxious to be out in the middle of nowhere for awhile, and I knew it would be good for me to be out in the sun, the heat, and the elements. I could sense the feelings of accomplishment I would come away with even before the course began."

A native of Long Island, N. Y., Mike always felt a calling to go to Australia, and a NOLS semester offered the perfect route to take him there. Because of the logistics of the course, Mike had to leave most of his camera equipment behind, taking instead a smaller camera that would survive the canoe journey down the Drysdale River, and the backpacking section through the Australian wilderness. He still managed to snap more than 700 negatives, a collection he plans on exhibiting at Hampshire College.

Drysdale River in Australia
The Drysdale River in Australia
© Mike DiDonna
Even without these images, Mike's NOLS course remains vivid in his memory. "It was hot and humid in the beginning," he recalls. "But it's a gorgeous and very diverse landscape. When you hike away from the water, everything changes. It's a whole different world--a tropical setting with birds and even palm trees when you're near the water, and an arid desert climate as you hike away."

Mike enjoyed the region's isolation more than anything else--the knowledge that he was exploring places where only a handful of human beings had been before him. "We were walking through areas where nobody had ever been before," he says. "You start to realize this as you venture away from the river and know that you're one of the few people in the world to have seen this place."

Back at Hampshire College, where Mike plays jazz piano and pursues his interest in photography, this remoteness is long gone, but he still thinks about his NOLS course almost everyday. And he has some advice for anyone considering a NOLS semester in Australia. "Be prepared to push yourself and go beyond your limits," Mike advises. "On the course, our motto was 'Go beyond' because it's under the harshest conditions that everyday life seems almost mundane. You've gone down this rapid on some remote Australian river and now you can go out and do anything."

Mike DiDonna in Australia

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