Exchange students enjoy Alaskan experiences
By KORTNEY STEVENS
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
Getting squished between reindeer was not what I had expected when coming to Alaska, but that was one of a multitude of adventures I’ve had as an exchange student at UAS.
In early March, five friends and I went to Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
We arrived in downtown Anchorage at the crack of dawn in the freezing cold so we wouldn’t miss a single musher. We searched up and down the street for the best place to see the start among hundreds of other people. Those on top of the buildings probably had the best view. As we walked down the street, we gathered all sorts of tourist merchandise like dog foam ears and dog face masks.
We also met former musher Rod Perry, one of the few men still alive who raced in the first Iditarod in 1973. It was inspiring to talk to someone involved ar the start of the annual race and to hear how it has changed. Perry said back then the race was a life-threatening event.
A big Iditarod banner marked the ceremonial start line. Behind the line the mushers were preparing their dogs for the race. All you could hear was loud barking in anticipation. As each musher came to the starting line, the announcer would count down from ten and the dogs would charge off to the cheers of the crowd. Every two minutes another musher took off. Everyone was taking pictures and videos and trying to find the best view.
After all 53 mushers raced down the street, the 12th annual reindeer run got underway. The costume race featured one couple dressed as a salmon and a bear. Another group was a Chinese dragon. Since we didn’t know about the costumes, we just wore the dog face masks we’d gathered.
At the count of ten the racers took off. About a minute later, 15 reindeer were let loose. I looked behind me and saw three reindeer charging right toward me. I just prayed that I wasn’t going to get trampled. Instead the three of them ran right past me on both sides and I almost got squished like a sandwich. It was a thrilling experience and my favorite part of the Iditarod.
The next day was the real start of the Iditarod in Willow. We joined hundreds of people standing out on a frozen lake to send off the mushers. The screaming and jumping dogs were ready to start running. As every team left the start, they raced between the crowd of people, across the lake and eventually into the trees where we could no longer see them on their way to Nome.
After that was over our group went back to Anchorage and searched for moose. Sadly, we saw no moose but it was nice to see another part of Alaska.
I am one of 15 exchange students at the University of Alaska Southeast this year, three of which are on an international exchange. I came from Utah Valley University where I study biology. I have done so many great things while in Alaska and feel that this exchange has changed my life. I am grateful for the opportunity to come here.
Alyson Mierswa, a social work major from the University of New Hampshire, said she has also had great experiences.
“Exchange definitely broadened my horizons. The people here are way more diverse than they are in New Hampshire so there’s a lot of interactions and learning new things,” Mierswa said, “and all this new information that I wouldn’t be exposed to if I didn’t come here.”
Jacqueline Caisley is a senior from New Zealand where she studies animal behavior at the University of Waikato. She is at UAS through the International Student Exchange Program. She said she chose Alaska because it was English speaking, has snow, is exotic and is abundant in nature and wildlife. Caisley had the opportunity to visit Anchorage over spring break, and said she kissed a tame moose at a reindeer farm in Palmer.
“I went up to Anchorage for spring break with my roommate and a friend. I really enjoyed being able to experience another part of Alaska. We went dog sledding which was an amazing experience and I got to kiss a moose which was really fun!” Caisley said.
Ashley Foulk is a junior from South Carolina, where she is a marine science major at the University of South Carolina Columbia. She also went to Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod.
“My favorite things in Alaska include the environment, the polar plunge and the Iditarod. It has all been so much fun,” Foulk said.
Caisley said she has met amazing people here, including other exchange students, and now has “so many life-long friends that I’m going to want to stay connected with for the rest of my life. It has opened my eyes to a whole other world that I had no idea even existed.”
Foulk also said the exchange has changed her.
“It has helped me grow because I am so far away from my friends and family, but it has helped me go out of my comfort zone, become more independent and figure out who I really am,” Foulk said.
The National Student Exchange program offers students the opportunity to study for up to one year at another accredited institution while obtaining UAS credit. The program is affordable, allowing students to pay in-state resident tuition at the host institution, or 15 credits and fees at UAS with the option to take up to 18 credits for no additional cost.
Marsha Squires is UAS coordinator for academic exchange and study abroad programs. To learn more about exchange opportunities, appointments with Squires can be made by calling the Student Resource Center at 907-796-6000, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.