Whalesong staff writer shares her experience and other exchange students’ experiences in Juneau
By GABRIELLE ABREU
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
Back in January I switched out my Timberlands for a pair of octopus “Xtratuffs’” and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Over the course of the past four months nine other students and I have been lucky to find a home away from home here at UAS as part of the National Student Exchange. Coming from New York City I knew Juneau would be stunning, but the second I stepped out of the airport I was in love.
Alaska was quite a contrast from my familiar concrete jungle to a Sitka spruce forest, but I welcomed the change .
Juneau greeted me on my first day with a never ending supply of snow, and the earliest sunset I have ever experienced. The view from a lookout found “out the road” will be ingrained in my heart.
UAS Academic Exchange and Study Abroad coordinator Marsha Squires, provided an unforgettable orientation at the Mendenhall Glacier. It was without a doubt the perfect way to start this adventure.
While all the National Exchange students came from different parts of the country, each state different from the next it came as no surprise that we have all found a family within each other. Considering, we all ended up right next to each other at the Eagle apartments in upper housing.
Be it luck or fate finding each other might have been the best part of the trip. The hikes and the views in Juneau are amazing, but they are even better when you have people to enjoy it with.
While most of the exchange students this semester came in January, Gabriela Hernandez arrived in the Fall of 2017 and decided to extend her stay for another semester.
As a marine biology major, Gabriela came to Juneau for the notorious marine biology program and for the chance to see a new environment. “I really wanted to see snow and whales, they’re such beautiful majestic creatures,” said Gabriela. “For orientation (in the Fall) we got to go whale watching with Marsha, that’s where I got to see my first whale.”
For Hernandez the fresh air and new people were the perfect combination to help bring her out of her comfort zone. As she prepares for the end of her Alaskan adventure she weighed the pros and cons of staying,“I’m going to miss everything, I just don’t like not having my family and not having a car. I want to stay I really like it, but, I’m still deciding,”said Hernandez.
Previous to coming to Alaska most my time in the outdoors had been spent wrestling with the elements, less so now, especially after trekking to the John Muir cabin. John Muir was my first ever hike, and it was a baptism by fire.
I was convinced that I was going to pass out and die right on the trail, but with the motivation from fellow exchange students, Carly Storbeck, Courtney Arliss, Allie Ott and Sydney Weldon, I somehow managed to make it to the top.
The John Muir trail ranked number two on Storbeck’s top hikes, with the number one being the views at Salmon Creek. As a fish and wildlife major at North Dakota State University Storbeck decided on studying at UAS to learn more about marine biology and to experience the landscape of southeast Alaska.
Storbeck accomplished experiencing the southeast landscape with a backpacking class that she took in mid January up to Thunder Mountain along with Weldon, Ott and Arliss. Although Storbeck has been hiking since she was a girl Thunder Mountain took the cake for the hardest hike, “I’d say the hardest part was that the ground was covered in a layer of ice,” but it doesnt change the fact that she would do it again she said.
Weldon, a self proclaimed corn connoisseur, slid into Skagway for an ice climbing class that took her way out of her comfort zone. “It was rough, I hate heights and the cold, so naturally I chose ice climbing. But, when else am I gonna do something like that we don’t have ice climbing in Iowa,” she said.
Weldon spent two weekends in a row scaling up waterfalls, “It was cold, I had no idea what was going on, and I complained insistently but it was a cool experience. I might do it again but it would definitely be for a shorter period of time.”
Coming from Iowa State a campus with roughly 36,000 people it was a nice change of pace coming to UAS where you can see a genuinely friendly face everywhere you go. As a biology major with a concentration in botany Juneau has been full of newdiscoveries. “I’m really enjoying the little stuff here! It’s so fun identifying all the liverworts, mosses, and lichens. Now that spring is here all the ephemerals are appearing- spotting skunk cabbage is one of my favorite activity right now,” said Weldon.
From jumping into the freezing Pacific Ocean to seeing the Northern Lights while standing on a frozen lake exchange students have had an amazing range of experiences both shared and individually.
Ott, on exchange from Wisconsin, was able to take an avalanche course that at home would have been no more than a lecture but here at UAS was a thrilling experience. “We dug snowpits to analyze the snowpack, determine its stability, and make safe traveling decisions. We also learned how to rescue individuals or parties in case we were ever in that scenario. WIth the right tools I could absolutely rescue someone trapped by an avalanche,” said Ott.
Arliss who attends school in Stony Brook, Long Island has taken full advantage of the amazing classes offered to marine biology majors. From inspecting invertebrates to assisting in a harbor seal necropsy it’s no surprise that she is considering coming back to Juneau for an internship next summer.
I think back on the glowing pink sunset cascading over the mountains as I puffed my way up the last half mile on the John Muir trail, card games and good stories it’s a night I will reminisce on once I return to the underground world that is the subway. Exchange students come from different places and have different experiences, but I know I have loved every second here and will miss Juneau along with the friends I made an inderscribable amount.