Australia visit

Catonsville resident Casey Morsberger, in back center, digs a hole to plant a tree with her International Student Volunteeers group at Upper Ross River Landcare site in Australia. (Photo courtesy of Casey Morsberger / July 13, 2011)

While many in the area are planning to get out of town in the coming weeks, one Catonsville resident has just returned from a recent trip to Australia that featured adventure and lessons in environmental conservation.

During her month-long stay in the land Down Under, Casey Morsberger, 19, worked to protect the Great Barrier Reef, scuba dived with sting rays and survived an unsettling experience while skydiving.

"One of my goals was just to push myself to every limit that I've ever had," said the rising junior and marine biology student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington June 26, two days after returning home.

"And I definitely did that," she said. "I pushed myself to every limit and I pretty much exceeded it all.

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"I'm scared of heights, but I went bungee jumping three times," she said.

"I went sky diving. I went rappelling in the Blue Mountains. I jumped off rocks into the Tully River when we were white water rafting."

As part of a program called International Student Volunteers, Morsberger spent two weeks planting trees, pulling weeds and doing other physical labor, before embarking on a two-week adventure trip along the country's eastern coast.

Through the nonprofit organization, more than 4,000 students from over 800 universities worldwide travel to places such as Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, eastern Europe, Ecuador, South Africa and Thailand, according to the group's website.

Morsberger, a 2009 graduate of Seton Keough High School, the all-girls Catholic high school on Caton Avenue in southwest Baltimore, filled out an application for the program after hearing about it in a college biology lecture.

When she learned that she had been accepted, her parents, Shirley and Jeff Morsberger, and donations from close family friends to help pay for airfare and the $3,500 program cost.

Nervous and excited, Morsberger left Baltimore early on the morning of May 26 — flying first to Los Angeles, where she spent the day in the airport, before embarking on the 14-hour flight to Brisbane, Australia, late that evening.

She had traveled outside the United States several times before, going on family cruises to the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands.

But this was her first by herself.

"I wasn't sure what to expect," she said.

Morsberger said she had never been on a plane for so long.

"They had a little screen in front of you and I watched five movies on the way over there," she said."I was so excited, I could barely sleep."

Because their flight had been delayed in Los Angeles, Morsberger and the six other American girls she would be working with found themselves waiting five hours in the Brisbane airport, having missed their connecting flight to Townsville, the coastal town where they would be staying.

"By then, we were just done," Morsberger recalled. "We were so tired."

Over the next couple weeks, the girls shared a house and worked to help the town recover from a February cyclone that had demolished trees and habitat for wildlife.

They replanted trees along the nearby Ross River and cleared up debris in the Ross River Bush Garden.