Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Australia - Great Barrier Reef

This is the fourth in a series of blogs from our intern Kali who is a student at UW-Madison. She has been studying abroad during the spring semester on the eastern coast of Australia and has composed several blogs about her experiences there...

 Australia - SCUBA diving the Great Barrier Reef

My trip to Cairns was my absolute favorite yet.  I became a certified scuba diver in the Great Barrier Reef and it was the most incredible experience of my life so far.  If I had to suggest any experience for another person to have at some point in their life, it would be to dive at the Reef or another place like it.  I cannot express how amazing it was to swim with sea turtles, sharks and so many colorful and beautiful sights.  The photos do not come close to doing it justice.

The week long trip started with a cheap flight to Cairns, and a day on a boat seeing the sights and searching for crocodiles. I do regret not making it out to the rain forest, but the trip was an overall success. We booked a trip cruising around the water searching for crocodiles, then later visiting a crocodile farm where they breed and raise crocodiles to protect them from the difficulties of surviving in the wild. I will say now, I am not a fan of crocodiles. I don't like anything that can eat you both on land AND water. That is to scary for me. However it was fun actually seeing a live crocodile. If you are into that you should go check it out, they are huge animals; some guys were jumping my the fence at the farm and the crock ran at them, bit the fence, and bent it. They are scary!

On the crocodile cruise we ran into the same German friends we had met at a campsite in Byron Bay! They had been travelling around Australia and we had no idea they would be in Cairns at this time; we were amazed to be on the same cruise as them a month after camping with them in Byron. Meeting backpackers from around the world is an absolute blast. You learn so much about others and who knows you may even see them again in your travels! We went out for drinks with them later that night, and they told us all about diving the reef which they had just finished doing.

I stayed in a hostel with my friend Jordan, and we decided on a female only room. The hostel was great for the most part, 15 dollars a night, a free delicious breakfast and dinner every day, free internet, and nearly clean rooms. The only problem was on the last day when I had been gone for half of a day, came back, and my things were gone, bed made, and none of my clothes or belongings were to be found. I went to the front desk and asked them about it, and they came back with good and bad news. The good news was they found my things, bad news it was in the trash.  For some reason they thought I had checked out, and decided it would be a good idea to throw away all of my belongings. So be careful when staying in a hostel; luckily my important things were with Lukasz and Laura in their hotel. The workers dug my things out of the trash and paid for laundry and a new tooth brush, but wouldn't refund us for the night. I was not too happy, but the excitement of beginning our first dive in the ocean kept my ecstatic.

The dive program we signed up for is called Pro-Dive, and I highly suggest doing the 5 day program with them. This trip was a perfect experience, with great instructors, amazing food on the boat, and fun people. I do not have a single complaint about the program. I couldn't believe how amazing the whole thing was. It began with two days of classroom and pool training in Cairns. Cairns by the way is a small area, and everything is in walking distance and easy to navigate. The Pro-Dive people do pick you up from your accommodation and drop you off each day, and the training is fun and essential. I never realized how much work goes into diving until I began my training. The classroom is easy, and the instructor gives you the answers on the exams and goes over everything so you understand, and the training in the pool consists of putting on gear, practicing emergency situation, getting used to being underwater, using your equipment, and diving 4 meters under. Some of the tasks were a little intense, and anyone who easily panics, especially under water, should maybe not try diving. Many of us had a few moments of minor panic at one point in this trip. For my friend Laura and I, we had trouble with mask clearing. You had to take off your mask under water and put it back on, blowing the water out of it. Both of us are unable to be underwater without plugging our nose, so we ended up choking on water and coming up for air the first few times. This was an important skill to learn and we would have to be practicing it 10 meters under water in the ocean at one point, so it was learn or don't dive.

Other skills were ones like floating and breathing, taking off your gear underwater and reassembling it, learning how to communicate under water, and practicing sharing air in case one person runs out. These are all practiced in both the pool and the ocean to make sure you are ready for any situation. After a few long days of training, we were finally ready to jump on the boat and begin our training dives in the ocean. They picked us up nice and early, and we joined the group of 30 divers on the boat. 

I have never thought I would be someone to get seasick, and I would like to stress this to any person planning on doing this trip, please don't be cocky like me and just take some sea sick pills 30 minutes before the boat leaves. I was sure I would be fine, but these boats are made for shallow waters and rock so much and so far, I was ill the entire 3 hour drive to the outer reef. It was not a fun boat ride, and I was fine the next time when I decided to take some pills. Luckily as soon as we were in the water the sickness went away and I was ready to dive. We had two training dives the first day, and we practiced equalizing our ears, and the other skills at around 10 meters under water. This first dive was where it all became real. I put on my heavy gear, stood on the edge of the boat, and thought "Oh god, this is it, I'm going to die". When you jump in and take your first breath, it feels so unnatural and a little scary, but you keep breathing and you are alright. I swam to the rope and began my decent to the bottom. Although I was nervous, I couldn't help but be amazed by the sights of the Reef. There are so many colors and the craziest looking fish, I didn't know fish could look like that.

The dives were good, but the real fun happened when we finished our four open water training dives. We had finally become certified divers, and we were ready for our five fun dives. We lived on the boat for three days and two nights, and our days were nonstop dive, eat, sleep. We were up by 5:30, in the water by 6:30, out and eating breakfast, in the water again, out and eating snacks, in the water, dinner and a nap, dive, then snack and bed. Although it was a couple of busy and early days and we were absolutely exhausted, I was loving every minute of it. The dives weren't the only thing that made the trip amazing; the people were fun and the food was incredible. We were provided meals every day, and these were delicious and huge meals. There was an amazing chef on board, and we had enough food for huge plates of seconds and thirds for each person. The instructors were a blast as well; we played trivia games one night and had a great time diving with them. I couldn't have asked for anything to be better. I've never been so satisfied with any kind of program before like I had been at this one. It was just perfect.

Our first fun dive as newly certified divers was one of my favorites. There was a group of five of us, and we were free to swim around and check out anything we wanted to down to 18 meters under water. We were starting to get used to moving around and controlling our breathing, making up our own dive lingo under water, and having more fun every dive. We swam around the beautiful corals and fish, and finally, a giant sea turtle swam out from behind the reef. This was my favorite thing to see. The turtle was giant, bigger than any of us, and was so majestic. It was too good to be true. It flew through the water in slow motion, and swam around with us, checking us out and gliding over the reefs. Eventually a baby turtle joined in the fun and swam around with us. It was an incredible experience and I am so happy to have seen a turtle.

We had four dives on our second day, and our last dive was a night dive, and this was an interesting dive. The instructors threw some food off the boat for fish to eat, then turned on the spotlight. You could see the fins of sharks circle our boat as they searched for fish to eat. The instructors then said to us, "Ok, jump in!" Excuse me? Jump in? With the sharks? One thing you must know, sharks are scared of divers! We are big and noisy with our bubbles and look nothing like their food. We jumped in with the sharks and they swam away immediately, circling from a much further distance. It was amazing! There were some pretty decent sized sharks below us, and we had a great time. We followed a guide on this one and used our flashlights to check out the night life of the sea critters. It was difficult to see much, but there were sharks, and a huge brittle star fish.

The last day on the boat was amazing. We had our last three fun dives, and we had such a great time. We were finally comfortable in the water and exploring the reef, taking photos, and having a blast. We saw clams, sharks, more turtles, fish, cuttlefish, most of the fish from Finding Nemo, we saw Nemo, sea cucumbers (who poop a lot by the way, it looks like clumps of sand and is fun for throwing at people), and so many other incredible things.
I also gained a nick name on this trip, our instructor Steffen Binke, who is an award winning German photographer, gave me the name "pocket rocket" because I'm too tiny to sink. Every time I got to around 5 meters to the surface I would just pop right up to the surface. People had to hold me down until I could stay under again, which was somewhat hilarious, but also dangerous. If you go up to quickly you can get decompression sickness, which could paralyze you for life, or kill you. Not good! Luckily I had my dive buddies to help me out when I started floating to quickly to the top.

The diving had ended, and we were exhausted but did not want it to ever end. The trip was too amazing, and I wish I could be back there diving right now. The weather was beautiful and tropical (unlike in Sydney where it is now getting colder), the people were great, and the sights were beautiful. This is definitely something I will continue to do throughout my life. The last night we met up with the group from the boat for dinner and drinks. We said our goodbyes to our new friends, and headed back to the hotel and to Sydney a day later. I feel like everything I have said can't do this trip justice, and I think everyone should experience it at some point; it is the trip of a life time. It was also completely worth the fact that I am nearly broke now. I give it 11 out of 10 on the incredible scale.



Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Australia Part Three

This is the third in a series of blogs from our intern Kali who is a student at UW-Madison. She has been studying abroad during the spring semester on the eastern coast of Australia and has composed several blogs about her experiences there...

 Australia Part Three

I am now in my sixth week in Sydney and let me say first, I am loving every minute of this trip, and I still have so much to do and learn. One thing I realized while reading through my previous blogs was that I haven’t said anything about the college I am attending! I am studying at Macquarie University in Marsfield, and it is an absolutely beautiful campus. I am having a great time at this university and the courses are interesting, professors are laid back and funny, and the hours dedicated to school work still give me just enough time to spend traveling and relaxing at the beaches on weekends. I have yet to learn what the grading system is like here, but I feel like I am learning so much more at this university than I have at any other. Another bit of exciting news, this university is great at helping you find internships, which I have two of! I am a psychology major, and I am working with one program to help design games for a program working with people with schizophrenia and helping them improve their social skills and their cognitive skills in social situations. I also help with the research involved. The other is a program that does research with children and aims to learn more about their reading and learning skills and to figure out more effective ways of improving these skills for children. I am beyond excited about these opportunities and I am learning so much. This university also offers a broad range of marketing internships, and a few others.

Another thing I realized while looking over my previous blogs is that you know nothing about the actual person writing this and telling you all of these amazing things that you really should do! To show you a little bit about who I am and to make reading this much more interesting, I posted a picture of myself above! Yes, I am a short, 20 year old, female leprechaun. Well I was on that day, which was a twenty dollar open bar cruise for international students with the theme of “HATS HATS HATS!” So about me; I am student working on a psychology degree at the University of Madison Wisconsin, and studying abroad at Macquarie for one semester. This is the first time I have traveled anywhere but America and Canada, and I absolutely love traveling and experiencing new and different places. I have a wonderful family and boyfriend back home, as well as an adorable but cranky pet hedgehog. My favorite color is blue, I am horrible at cooking, and I like to do pencil drawings and shading.

Now on to the fun, and some of my favorite things I have done so far; snorkeling, surfing, and a trip to the Taronga Zoo. A few weekends ago I took a trip to Manly beach and was able to take some free surf lessons! It was a hilarious sight for everyone else watching me bail over and over off my surf board. Before I had done this I was pretty afraid of the ocean waves, but I had to try surfing and so I forced myself out into the water and jumped on my board and went for it. It was a ton of fun. I rode on the knees for a few waves, did a few nose dives but got back up again, and was not able to stand up on the board until about fifteen tries later, but when I finally stood up I was hooked. I love surfing. It is a blast and it is a must do at some time in every person’s life. I will need to practice some more and move on from the baby waves to the real waves.

Let me tell you, I have been conquering fear after fear while in Australia, and it feels great. My fear of the ocean was further conquered when I went snorkeling around Shelly and Manly beach! These beaches are fun for snorkeling; however there are others that are far more beautiful (which I will be scuba diving at in a month or so). Snorkeling is great and cheap. I went with a friend, bought a mask and a snorkel, and we swam out on our own to see the underwater plant and animal life. We saw some bright neon looking fish, as well as an enormous fish that was almost my own size (I am 5 foot 1 and 110 pounds). It was huge! I also saw an eel hiding between some rocks which was exciting but also scary. I had a blast snorkeling and I am so excited to go scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef in May.

Another place that is a must see is the Taronga Zoo. It is about 44 Australian dollars for adults, but completely worth it. They have numerous exotic and fun animals that live are in great living conditions and are so different from any animals I have seen at the zoos in America. Of course I saw the kangaroos, finally my first one! You are able to walk into the area where the wallabies are kept and pet them if they are willing, there is also a giant emu hanging around with them. One of my favorites was the koala; they are so incredibly adorable I could not contain myself. This zoo has so many animals, including some of the deadliest spiders, snakes and others, along with monkeys, giraffes, crocodiles, wombats, a giant komodo dragon, a snow leopard, lions, tigers, elephants, leopard seals, penguins and so many others. They also have giant spiders hanging in their webs above the paths; not something I enjoyed much at all considering they were not behind glass or anything at all!

There are a few new Australian cuisines I have discovered while roaming the vibrant streets of Sydney; one is a MUST DO: Pancakes on the Rocks. The entire area is called the rocks and this specific restaurant has the absolute best pancakes I have ever tasted; and I am a huge pancake fan. These pancakes are served with delicious toppings and of course, ice cream. Every aussie I’ve met on my campus loves the place and it is tradition for us to go eat there every few weeks or so.  Another interesting place I went to was a “secret bar”; you have to actually know about the place to find it, and it is behind a door that looks like a wall. The place is very nice and looks as if it were set in the 1930’s. Drinks are expensive with the cheapest being 16 dollars, but it is a fun atmosphere and I loved watching the bartenders make these extremely fancy drinks.

Now onto the not so great food tasting experience I had; marinated octopus. I do not regret trying it, I believe it is always good to try new and different things, but that was absolutely disgusting. The taste was fine, but I could not handle that texture. Just look at the picture above and you will understand. I do suggest that people try it though, because you may like it! I am glad I did it; and next I will have to try some vegemite and kangaroo meat.

These are all fun things that you can do right in Sydney, and there is so much more. I am eagerly awaiting my weeks of travel to other areas of Australia, including Byron Bay in Brisbane and the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns. I have been here in Sydney for over a month, and I am starting to get very used to the aussie lifestyle. At times it can feel like I am at home and I start wanting more adventure and more fun and different experiences. However I do have a limited amount of money I cannot do all of the things I would love to do here or anywhere around Australia. One thing I would highly suggest to anyone traveling to Australia; bring a decent amount of money and overestimate the costs of everything! Cost of living is high and don’t think that you can get away with what you spend on things back in the states; it won’t work. Also, bring money for traveling and travel cheap and smart. Stay in hostels and be organized and careful with your spending. The less you spend doing one thing, the more you can travel and do other things. Coming to Australia from America you lose a large chunk of money converting it to the Australian dollar, and you spend more on almost everything you do and buy. Traveling around Australia is worth every penny. The area is absolutely beautiful and full of wildlife, fun activities, and friendly people. I am having a wonderful time and am looking forward to another three months down under.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

5 Common Misconceptions About Incentive Programs

Maybe so, but when it comes to engagement, cash is the court jester. Research proves that non-cash incentives are far more effective. People will gush about a trip or item they earned, but cash lacks the same trophy value. They will forget how they spent the money, but they never forget an experience. Plus, once people get used to cash, they don’t see it as recognition– they usually feel its “owed to them” often negating the whole purpose behind a bonus or incentive award.

Disengaged employees are far more expensive! CTS (Center for Talent Solutions) studies show that fully engaged employees are on average about 22% more productive than “normally engaged” employees. “Somewhat engaged” employees are about 75% as productive as normally engaged personnel. Furthermore, “disengaged employees” perform at only about 50% the value of normally engaged employees.* What are your disengaged people costing you now and what will they cost you later when the economy is back in full swing? Any professional worth their salt can help you design a program that has a positive ROI and should be able to demonstrate how an effective program is self-liquidating.


We’d all like to think so, but how loyal you are to a store or brand? Everyone wants to be true to their local shop, but at some point most people go to the big box. You can’t count on loyalty unless people feel they are getting something in return.


I am sure whatever business you are in you are an expert! If you are a plumber, I would come to you before I would try to fix my own pipes. So you have done a little research and you understand that this is an issue you should tackle, but if you are going to make a significant change and investment in your organization, why leave it to chance? I know a little bit about plumbing from remodeling my 100 year old house, but I am not willing to risk it. If I drywall over a pipe I put in myself, it might burst, and then whatever I “saved” just cost me a whole lot more!


Not necessarily. A one-time event may give you a short term “boost”, but like an energy drink, it can fizzle out quickly. A good incentive program is actually a business formula by which you encourage desired behavior. Frequent flyer programs have been an excellent example of how airlines have maintained loyalty through the worst of times. Remember, incentives must be woven into your long term business strategies to be TRULY effective.

To find out more, visit our website or call us at 1-855-551-FIRE(3473)!
Sandra Daniel
FLG President and CEO

*The economics of Engagement, Allan Schweyer, Human Capitol Institute, June 2009

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Australia Part Two

This is the second in a series of blogs from our intern Kali who is a student at UW-Madison. She has been studying abroad during the spring semester on the eastern coast of Australia and has composed several blogs about her experiences there...

Australia Part Two

My first few weeks down under have been a great experience. I have already learned so much about Australian life, and I know I am going to continue to learn about things I had never dreamed of. The Aussies are friendly, laid back, and from my experience, they love to drink. My second night in Sydney; which did not consist of recovering from jetlag and sleeping like my first day; I decided to take up my roommates offer to join the Aussies on a “pub crawl”. Going into this I had no idea what a pub crawl was, but it sounded like a good first night out on the town. It turned out that pub crawl was basically going to multiple pubs (or as we call them bars) “crawling” to the next more intoxicated each time. I fortunately did not attempt to keep up with their drinking and did not end up having to crawl my way home. It really was a good time, and Australian pubs are full of fun-loving and very musical people. At one point the entire pub burst out in a synchronized song and cheer.

Being a huge nature buff, I have been absolutely loving Sydney for its green surroundings and beautiful scenery. Everywhere I look there are giant tropical trees and plants, including in the main city. Every morning I wake up to numerous exotic birds right outside my window. One morning I was sitting in my bedroom thinking and I swore I heard monkeys in the tree outside. I was so confused until I realized they were birds. Others make baby and goat noises. They are hilarious sounding, some very annoying and loud. The birds are the same big expensive bird you find in exotic pet stores back home, and here I see them outside of my campus buildings and on people’s porches.

Another animal that is common is the lizard. We have had a small lizard living in our house for a couple weeks now, we are thinking of naming him. You see them everywhere, especially when you are walking down sidewalks and they are scurrying away from your feet. I was able to see a large lizard out by some cliffs near campus that looked similar to a very large bearded dragon, which is a pet I have back at home.

Spiders are the one thing to watch out for in your homes in Sydney. One of the deadliest is the funnel-web spider, which hides out in dark cool places, like your shoes. One of the first things I saw walking through the Sydney airport was a sign warning visitors to watch out for these spiders. They can kill you within 15 minutes to an hour from what I have heard. Also I hear to watch out for red-back spiders, which are also deadly. One Aussie told me to kill every spider you see just to be safe, which I did as soon as I found a giant spider hanging out in my bathroom! In case you are wondering how to kill giant spiders, I used hairspray and a shoe. For larger spiders I suggest larger weapons and possibly the help of a friendly Aussie neighbor.

On a lighter note, if there is one place any traveler should go while in Sydney, it is of course the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House. During my first week I attended a party rock themed cruise around the harbor, which was an absolutely beautiful sight. The sun set over the ocean and the city and Opera House lit up to give a view I have not experienced anywhere in America. Sydney is beautiful and the harbor is a must see. There is also the option to climb the bridge and walk on the very top which I have heard is a beautiful view, and I was told; for you thrill seekers; you can grab a harness and actually climb the bridge to the top.

For those of you who loved the movie Finding Nemo and like me had the idea to jump on a train to Sydney to find P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way Sydney, I have sad news. It does not exist! However that does not mean that you should not venture through the city to see the numerous shops and cuisine that Sydney has to offer. I have gone to the city once now during the day to visit the Mardi Gras gay pride parade, and I do suggest visiting during this time if you would like to see the colorful and lively Mardi Gras goers of Sydney. The city is full of beautiful buildings and artwork, along with endless shops, cuisine, and pubs to suit any person’s needs.

My most recent adventure was ferry ride to Manly beach, one of the most popular to the Australians living in my area. There are multiple beaches that I have been told to visit, and will visit eventually. Manly beach was an incredible sight, and my camera could not capture the beauty of the scenery. The ocean is so clear you can be five feet deep in the water and still see the nearly white sand on your feet.

Not all Aussies are surfers, but the water is filled with more surfers than swimmers. I was unable to surf due to strong winds and large difficult waves, and the current was so strong I could barely stand in one place when swimming. An important thing that the lifeguards constantly stress when in the water is to stay inside the red and yellow flags. The ocean can be dangerous and the current can pull you out too far if you are not careful, and I have heard stories of people getting pulled out to sea and drowning. Listen to the lifeguards and if you are not a strong swimmer, swim with someone who is! If you are careful and stay in the safe zone you will have a great time.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Australia - First Blush

This is the first in a series of blogs from our intern Kali who is a student at UW-Madison. She has been studying abroad during the spring semester on the eastern coast of Australia and has composed several blogs about her experiences there. We will be posting many of them over the next few weeks...

Week One (end of February)

My first thought as I walked outside of the Sydney airport, was “Holy crap this is beautiful, and where are my shorts; it is hot!” The culture shock hadn’t hit me yet, instead I was gawking at how green and sunny the area was. The suburbs of Sydney, unlike what I am used to in the States, are completely green and flowing with plant life and trees. Not to mention the numerous exotic looking birds you see sitting on porches and hanging out in yards and trees.

On my way to my apartment in Marsfield; a suburb of Sydney, I attempted to become accustomed to the rules of the road. The driver is on the right side of the car and drives on the left side of the road. These were both opposite of the way I am used to driving in America, and I was relieved to know I wouldn’t have to attempt to drive while visiting Australia. Trains and buses run all around Sydney and other areas of Australia, and there is a great transportation system right outside of Macquarie University where I would be studying.

Another thing I noticed right away is that there is a huge Asian influence on Australian culture. Asian cuisine can be found in numerous parts of Sydney and many citizens of Asia come to Australia to study or live in the area. I have yet to check out the different cuisines native to Australia, however I have seen a few interesting foods around campus. Aussies eat kangaroo meat, which I will try when I get the chance. Another is vegemite, which was given to a couple of volunteers at the international students’ orientation to eat as a challenge. It is spread onto bread and by the look on their faces it is a taste that only the Aussies have acquired a liking to.

There are so many differences I have noticed within the first week of living in Australia, most being Australian slang and the different names they call things similar to those in America. For example in America we have the Rice Krispies cereal, which is called Rice Bubblers in Australia. Also our trunk of a car is called a boot, our hood called a bonnet, and many more differences in the names of things. I have had to ask the Aussies questions about what they are referring to numerous times, and they are constantly correcting my use of the language. The citizens of Australia also abbreviate as many words as possible, such as calling the university the “uni”. They do not however say “croike” or “shrimp on the barbe”, sorry Steve Irwin fans.

There is so much that I have learned already in my first week here, and I have much more to check out in Sydney, such as the city, beaches, mountains, and cuisine. Life as an Australian citizen is so far heaps of fun (another common Australian saying!) and a one of a kind experience.