Name: Maria Romfoe
Major: Environmental Policy and Planning with an Emphasis in Planning
Minors: Philosophy, Environmental Science
Certificates: Environmental and Business Institutions, Outdoor Studies
Program: National Student Exchange with the University of Alaska Southeast
Why did I choose Juneau, Alaska for my exchange?
I decided to participate in the National Student Exchange because I wanted to experience something new. NSE provides an awesome opportunity to travel somewhere new and actually get to know the area rather than just the face value as often is the case when traveling around. I chose Alaska for my exchange for a couple of reasons:
- I wanted to go somewhere very different from Wisconsin
- I just kind of had a gut feeling that Alaska was the place for me
- I love the outdoors, and I wanted to travel somewhere beautiful –The University of Alaska Southeast campus is located between the ocean, mountains, and the Mendenhall Glacier
- I wanted to have easy access to outdoor recreation activities –UAS has an amazing Outdoor Studied Program where I was able to get credit for kayaking, rock climbing, and backpacking
What did I do while on my exchange?
- Rock climbed at the Juneau Sea Cliffs and in Skagway for five days
- Kayaked in Bristol Bay for a weekend where I saw whales and kayaked beside a couple of super playful seals
- Backpacked to the Grandchild Peaks Ridge and Granite Creek Trail
- Navigated in the backcountry using a compass and topographic map
- Summited Mt. Jumbo, Thunder Mountain, and Mt. Troy
- Received my Leave No Trace Certificate
- Went whale watching
- Hiked around the Mendenhall Glacier
- Jumped into Auke Lake
- Went sledding
- Had a lot of snowball fights
- Saw black tail deer, porcupines, bears, eagles, jellyfish, salmon, seals, sea lions, whales
- Met new friends from all over the US and the world
- Watched a lot of ski films
- Ate a lot of free food with my friends
- Attended get-togethers—ice skating, dinners, cookie decorating–for exchange students
- Visited an old gold mine
- Went to the Gathering of the Drums where I listened to tradition Tlingit drumming and ate fry bread
- Went blueberry, salmonberry, huckleberry, and highbush cranberry picking
- Became an active member in the Sustainability Club
- Worked as a journalist for the Whalesong Newspaper and the Student Alumni Association
What were some differences I had to get used to?
- UAS is an extremely casual university: you call all of your professors by their first name, Xtra Tuff rain boots are worn at every occasion, and people bring their dogs literally everywhere.
- Literally everybody knows each other. With a campus of 3,000 students (most of them completing their studies online), you learn everyone’s first name even if you don’t talk to them.
- A “large” class has thirty people in it. My largest class had twenty people in it, and my smallest class had four people including me.
- It rains a lot in Juneau—it’s a rainforest. It is always very cloudy, so everyone has a holiday when the sun comes out.
- Even though Juneau is in Alaska, it is a lot colder in Wisconsin. Cold in Juneau terms is fifteen degrees Fahrenheit, while in Green Bay it gets down below zero.
- You can be ten miles into the backcountry and run into someone you know.
- Half of downtown closes down in late September, after tourist season is over.
- Living on a boat is completely normal.
- Juneau is isolated from the rest of Alaska because of the Juneau Ice Fields, ocean, and protected wilderness areas, so if you want to go to any other city you have to travel either by ferry or plane.
- Almost everyone fishes in the summer and loves to eat salmon.
- Seeing deer, bears, porcupines, and eagles on campus is pretty normal, and if you walk five minutes down to the harbor you can see seals, sea lions, and jellyfish.
- Fresh produce is crazy expensive but not as expensive as the grocery stores in rural inland Alaska. I thought paying three dollars of a pineapple at Aldi was expensive, but in Juneau a pineapple costs eight dollars, and once you get up to villages like Barrow they can cost more than twenty dollars.
What did I gain from my experience?
I had the most amazing experience that I could ask for. My classes and professors were phenomenal. I made strong friendships with people all over the world that I would have never met if I didn’t go on exchange. I learned a lot and gained experience in multiple outdoor recreation activities with classmates I became very close to very quickly. I climbed mountains, kayaked beside whales and seals, learned how to build personal anchor systems, learned rock climbing rescue procedures, learned basic avalanche rescue techniques, learned how to travel and navigate the backcountry, and how to plan and pack for excursions. I had such a great time with my Outdoor Studies courses that I will be returning to UAS for another exchange to finish the Outdoor Studies Certificate program. Juneau it truly a magical place, and I can’t wait to return.