As Kayla Henniger ’19 approached graduation last year, she was torn between starting a career or choosing a graduate school. Little did she know, a surprise invitation from her mother would change her life.
“When my mother got a new job and said I could accompany her to Australia, I was thrilled,” Henniger said. “I revel in the chance to live in and experience a new place, and I’ve also wanted to visit Australia since I was little.”
So she put grad school on hold to experience a “real life” education in Northern Territory, Australia.
Since she arrived in the Outback, Henniger has worked as a pharmacy technician for Priceline Pharmacy. She also became a certified first aid volunteer with the St. John Ambulance Brigade, which has incorporated many of the skills she learned as a biology major at Randolph, including casualty simulation (moulage) and forensic facial reconstruction. Not only have her adventures provided unique experiences, they helped cement her decision to enter the medical profession.
“As an undergraduate, I worked on several projects with the Natural History Collections, including forensic facial reconstructions, genetic analysis, and organizing bones in the biology department,” Henniger said. “Those projects and Randolph’s academic programs were key to my life choices and job prospects here in Australia, and, with the life experiences I’m having now, will make a difference when I apply to medical schools.”
Adjusting to a new job can be difficult, but for Henniger, doing so in a new country has been even more eye opening. The hot climate and remote community have both been challenging.
“Growing up in Northern Virginia, attending college in Lynchburg, and studying abroad, I was used to travel accessibility and the convenience to get to other cities and towns quickly and cheaply,” Henniger said. “Now in Alice Springs, which has a population of 25,000, the closest cities are Darwin to the north and Adelaide to the south, and both are a minimum 15-hour car drive away. It’s pretty isolated, and I vividly recall questioning ‘What have I gotten myself into’ while flying in from Sydney.”
Despite the adjustments, Henniger has made time for plenty of adventures, including attending motor vehicle races like the Red Centre Nats and Finke Desert Race, as well as the annual Camel Cup. One of the biggest highlights, though, was a family trip to the Australia Zoo and the Crocseum, which is dedicated to Steve Irwin, also known as “The Crocodile Hunter.”
“Like many kids, Steve Irwin was one of my childhood idols, and I had always envisioned visiting Australia and meeting him,” Henniger said. “I was heartbroken when he passed away, and I never thought I would be able to visit the Australia Zoo. I was like a child at Christmas, taking pictures of everything.”
Though her time in Australia wasn’t part of her original life plan, Henniger is positive her decision to follow her adventurous spirit after graduation was the right choice.
“It has really been a huge change and adjustment, but I’ve surrounded myself with some pretty great people and am doing some pretty amazing things, too,” Henniger said. “My plan is to stay at least one more year to continue working and volunteering, but the clock is ticking as I need to focus on my academics, whether that keeps me here, back in the United States, or even England. Time and opportunity will tell. Until then, I am going to enjoy the Australian sand and sun!”