For some, Juneau is home. For others it’s a destination.
By Margaret Everson, Staff Writer

Imagine boarding the Long Island Railroad for the commute to class at Stony Brook University in New York, or putting your French language skills to the test at Université de Montreal in Canada. Maybe the University of Hawaii at Hilo, which has been voted the most ethnically diverse campus in the United States, is more your style. All of these experiences are possible through the National Student Exchange program.

According to the NSE website, the program was created in 1968 when the University of Alabama, University of Montana, and Illinois State University began exchanging students with one another. Since then, NSE has facilitated the exchange of more than 123,000 U.S. students. About 1,800 students go on a national exchange every year.

The Juneau campus of University of Alaska Southeast joined the NSE network in 1999. UAS Juneau sends and receives approximately 30 students each year through the program. UAS students have experienced programs offered by campuses around the U.S. and its territories, and parts of Canada, while students from other parts of the U.S. have come to Juneau to study. 

There are a variety of reasons that a student might choose a national exchange over an international exchange.

“The whole point of exchange is to be exposed to different perspectives,” said Dashiell Hillgartner, UAS Academic Exchange and Study Away Coordinator. “What we like about it [exchange] at UAS is that we bring in diverse students, and that enriches the classroom.” 

A national exchange can provide numerous opportunities and benefits for students. Access to different educational opportunities, internships, and professional and academic connections serve as major components in the decision to go on an exchange.

Hillgartner said exchanges also result in improved academic performance. “When you’re in a new place, all your senses are constantly going. Everything is exciting and new, and interesting. That leads to more engagement, and that’s what school is all about,” he said.

UAS student Erin Wallace is currently studying at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado.

“One of the big reasons I decided to go on exchange was I knew I wanted to get out of Alaska, to go somewhere and experience something different,” Wallace said, “I want to pursue more outdoor education stuff with psychology and do wilderness therapy.”

University of Hawaii student Alexandra Gorbacheva is in Juneau this fall after a New Zealand exchange fell through. 

“UAS just felt like the perfect fit. It was a small school, I enjoy that one-on-one connection with my professors and knowing most of the students at the school,” said Gorbacheva. She has also been taking advantage of Outdoor Studies classes offered at UAS.

“I feel like I’ve grown a lot, learned a lot about myself and other people,” Gorbacheva said. “It was initially a culture shock, but I adapted pretty well. I feel like everybody needs to step outside of their comfort zone.”

On a more personal note, I am also an exchange student. I came to UAS on exchange from the Colorado Springs campus of the University of Colorado. I was born and raised in Colorado and was ready to get as far away from my hometown as possible. I had always wanted to visit Alaska, so my choice was clear. 

I originally planned to exchange to UAF; however, after talking to classmates who had been stationed with the military in Fairbanks, I decided it wouldn’t be a good fit. Anchorage was out; I didn’t want to make the most obvious choice when it came to moving to Alaska. That left me with Juneau. 

I’ve taken all kinds of courses that are unique to UAS, including special topics in psychology and Outdoor Studies classes. I’ve also been able to work at the UAS Recreation Center and with the UAS Whalesong. Overall, my NSE experience has been incredibly positive, and I highly recommend taking the opportunity to go on an exchange. 

Hillgartner’s advice for students who are interested in an exchange is simple: “Talk with me. If you’re reading this article, you can never start planning too early. The sooner you start having that conversation with me, and with your academic advisor, the easier it is in the long run.”
UAS students who are interested in a national exchange can schedule a meeting with Hillgartner by calling the Student Resource Center at (907) 796-6000. NSE application information is at https://uas.alaska.edu/exchanges/outgoing/programs/nse.html. All application materials and supplemental documents must be submitted by Feb. 19, 2022.