Through their eyes

Transfer students share their stories

Mike Flunker, Staff Writer

Alaska is huge, twice the size of Texas. Alaska spans multiple time zones and even has its own. With all of that space and a population oab about 734,000, living is Alaska is understandably different from anywhere else in the United States. Living here presents unique challenges, from long hours of both darkness and light to geographic isolation. 

The Mendenhall Glacier as seen from West Glacier Trail.
PHOTO BY MIKE FLUNKER

Challenges like these have always been a fact of life to those who live here. But what about those who didn’t grow up in Alaska and are here now? For some, Alaska presents unique and unknown challenges, quite unlike living anywhere else. 

Sadie Inman, 20, left her home in North Carolina in 2018 to come to the University of Alaska Southeast to study Natural Resources. 

“I originally came to Alaska as an escape from the lower 48, and I think that’s why a lot of people come here,” Inman said. 

Inman described adjusting to living in Juneau, as opposed to the city of Raleigh.

“Being able to go to the grocery store and not run into someone? That’s a luxury,” she said. 

Aside from the number of people in Alaska, Inman was surprised with who she has met. Before she came to Alaska, she expected the people to be more rugged, like everyone was a lumberjack or logger. 

“Everyone is very very in their feelings, and I think that’s a weird stereotype to put on all of Alaska,” she said. Inman thinks depression and mental illness, brought on by lack of sunlight in the late fall and winter, is more important to people up here. She believes there’s more effort put into raising awareness here but the darkness still bothers her.

“It’s really hard to adjust to, especially living in such a sunny state. It’s a hard thing, waking up when it’s dark, coming home and it’s still dark,” she said.

Despite the challenges and adjustments, Inman said she’s had success living in Juneau.  

“My biggest success is not coming home, I’ve made Alaska my home. And I think making a home far away from everyone you know is a big accomplishment,” she said.

Inman has her Alaska driver’s license, and is registered to vote here, but she still doesn’t consider herself Alaskan, and doesn’t think she ever will. 

“I’m seen as a white girl who left the lower 48 looking for adventure,” she said.

She sees this as an accurate assessment, in part. 

“I think anyone who comes up from the lower 48 is looking for adventure. Why else would anyone come to a place so sparsely populated but still has so many natural wonders? But putting me in that category, I think, takes away from all the other individual reasons I came up here,” Inman said. 

She is still on the fence on whether or not she wants to stay in Alaska for the time being. 

“I want fresh produce,” she said, describing the kind of environment she preferred. 

For Jonathan Calleja, 19, moving to Alaska from Arizona has been a damp experience.

“We don’t get a lot of snow, and it’s definitely a lot brighter,” he said. “My biggest adjustment would be the weather, and adjusting my sleep schedule so I’m awake in the morning.” 

Calleja has also found success here at UAS, working with prospective students as a student ambassador. 

“My biggest success would probably be becoming a student ambassador and getting people actually excited to come here,” he said.

But on top of student jobs and advanced classes, Calleja is aware that he stands out.

“People can definitely tell I’m not from around here,” he said, commenting on his fashion choices, his lack of a winter coat and no rain boots.  

Calleja, like Inman, doesn’t consider himself Alaskan, but felt that he could if he became more involved in the community. He also plans to return to Arizona between school semesters.

A bear sits in a meadow in Southeast Alaska.
PHOTO BY MIKE FLUNKER

Before coming here, he had only seen Alaska in pictures. Since living here, he has appreciated his surroundings even more. 

“The environment is so incredibly rich up here, just like any place in Arizona. It’s a different environment, but it’s so easy to immerse yourself here,” Calleja said.

Taylor Ranney, 22, also came to UAS to study Marine Biology in 2019. She came from Chicago, Illinois, and found that she adjusted very well to life in Alaska.

“Being able to look around and see all this beautiful mountainside and all this snow and this gorgeous landscape, it’s probably the best adjustment,” she said, “But I’ve only seen one bear since I moved here.”

 Ranney said she found success in the fact that she found a home so far away from home. Like Calleja and Inman, her struggles were in her schoolwork and adjusting to new people and environments. 

 Ranney feels like she blends in.

“I have the XTRATUFs, I don’t think you would know I’m not from Alaska,” she said. 

She also thinks that people who have always lived in Alaska don’t appreciate its beauty compared to other places in the world. Ranney won’t ever consider herself Alaskan either. 

“Chicago, born and raised,” she said.

But she wants to become an Alaskan resident, if only for the benefits of paying in-state tuition. She also wanted to register to vote.

“I am pretty political, since I am here I want to take part and vote,” she said.

Ranney, like Inman, also saw Alaska as this place filled with rugged lumberjacks. The truth doesn’t upset her though.

“I really like it here, it’s cozy, like I’m living in a novel,” she said.

These three students, despite coming from all over the country, have all found something in Alaska, and all of them have made a sort of home here. 

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