Eric Kazyak is a student at the University of Maryland and a TEAN Featured Blogger. Eric is currently studying abroad with TEAN in Townsville, Australia.

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SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, and breathing underwater is awesome, especially here on the Great Barrier Reef. Being so close to the set of Finding Nemo, I couldn’t miss all its majesty, but I didn’t know getting certified would be so cool.

With a friend who is also studying abroad here, I set out on the 20 minute ferry across to the island on Good Friday, ready for 4 days out there. It was a beautiful day on the water, and we sat up top with the wind blowing, sun shining.

After a brief mix-up with my reservation, we were checked into our accommodation. The place was pretty much what you picture when you think of paradise. Palm trees, sandy beach, turquoise water, hammocks, flowers, an open air bar, a pool, you get the picture…not a bad place to be for a couple days of reading and then a couple days of pool skills and dives in the ocean. I opted not to do the bookwork online, and I am glad I did since the setting was so great.

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In the middle of the first night, I woke up to periodic crashes as things from other people’s bunks in my room fell to the floor. Just as I realized what must be happening, I heard a high-pitched scream from the girl in the next bunk over. An opossum had made its way into the room through an open window. We ushered him out and went to bed. We later found out this wasn’t unusual, as the next night a group of 3 of them made there way in to scare a new group of girls, one of which climbed up onto my bed in fear.

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The next day, we had about 2 hours of videos, reading, and instruction before being set free to hang out by the pool, sleep in the hammocks, and relax for the rest of the day…not bad. I really enjoy photography, so my mornings were spent enjoying the wonderful, warm morning light during the incredible sunrises.

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There were 4 of us in the class, Nathan and I, a girl that just graduated from oxford and a Canadian girl. Our instructor was a British girl who promptly labeled Nathan and I Americans #1 and #2. I was #1, for the record. The book stuff is pretty straight forward, nothing to worry about if you are thinking of taking the course.

The second day after some bookwork, we used the gear in the pool. It was cool to breathe under water even just in the pool! We performed a few sets of skills to show that we could react appropriately in case something went wrong. On the third day, we finished the pool skills and got in the ocean for the first time! We saw corals, lots of fish, even a giant clam! Nathan and I went for a hike in the afternoon and overlooked gorgeous Nelly Bay (below). Getting certified here is not only affordable, but it is an all-around great experience that I highly recommend!

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P.S. – This past weekend, I put that certification to use and dove the GBR! I was in awe. I have long dreamed of the moment, and it is a big reason I chose to come here, and it exceeded my expectations!