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Lacie's Big Adventure

I remember the sunshine that day was obnoxiously bright. The fall wind was cold and made goose bumps on my arms. I had just walked out of the National Student Exchange office in Gunnison Colorado after handing in my last form.

Lacie picking wild strawberriesI remember saying goodbye to friends and family as I embarked on what my dad had honorably dubbed as "Lacie’s Big Adventure". Some called me crazy since I had packed two suitcases, bought a one way ticket to Alaska in the middle of January, and never looked back. Later they confirmed this craziness as insanity when within the first few weeks I had gone sea kayaking twice, snow shoed into a cabin at night, started an English club, met Sarah Palin, went ice fishing with a chainsaw, tried snowmobiling, watched the ocean while skiing, and learned to tie flies with a professor Ron Hulstein. Little did I know this was not untypical for the life of a Juneauite.

It wasn't long before the friendly atmosphere at UAS welcomed me in as one of their own. I felt like I had been there all long. Like my old life in Colorado had never existed. Soon as the spring semester neared an end I was faced with a choice; do I go back to Western State or extend my stay?

That same day Professor Kevin Maier required us to snowshoe into John Muir Cabin 3.5 miles for our Environment and Literature class and discuss our final. My decision was made, there was absolutely no way I could leave just yet.

The Beatnik Open Mic club, my co-founder Kayleigh Lambert and I had started, had grown in numbers of attendance and was an incredible success. Because of our club I was able to give back to those who had so lovingly welcomed me into their worlds. I watched students become inspired by watching their professors read their own work on stage. I watched professors see a whole new side of their students when they shared their work. I watched the popularity of the English Department grow and saw the housing and campus community create a connection stronger than ever before. I have witnessed fellow students, who were shy in class stand up on stage in an encouraging positive atmosphere and bloom with confidence.

Snaggin' salmon from the beachBecause I started my exchange in the spring and extended into the fall I was able to experience summer in the area. And with this non-academic time, I was able to break away from the school and integrate within the community. I found some of the most amazing people I had ever met in my life.

My Juneau family, as I like to call them, welcomed me into their home, offered me a place to live, and helped me when I struggled. Amongst those family members was Claudius, who taught me the ways of the salmon and the land, Erica, who was my guide to a new way of life, and Sharon, who taught me that a friend is not a feller who is taken by sham, a friend is one who knows our faults and doesn’t give a damn!

Now, if you would have told me that I was going to be a deckhand on a charter boat, a whale watching guide and get paid, I’d have told you, you were crazy. But lugging up salmon all summer has left me with that metallic smell etched in my nose, and watching fifteen humpbacks bubble feed for a month straight made me realize just how insignificant I really am in the big picture.

Fall semester Ron Hulstein welcomed me into his fly-fishing class with ready fly rods and trips planned through September. I feel so lucky for getting the “Hulstein Experience.” I had never met a more encouraging, patient, and enthusiastic teacher.

Cabin camping in SE AlaksaBut among all the people I was lucky enough to have touched my life; none of it would have been possible if it weren't for Marsha Squires of the UAS Exchange Office. From the second I reached Juneau she was there, the exchange mom, who made my stay as positive as possible, giving me encouragement and providing me with an endless amount of opportunities.

Landing in Denver on December 21st with tear streaks smearing the plane window and a sense of surreal setting over me I thought, had I dreamed this Alaskan adventure of mine? If I had perhaps, written out a perfect story of the way my trip to Alaska could have gone back in September of 2008, nothing I could have ever imagined would have matched up. Because of the school, the teachers, the students, the community, I would not be the person I am today. All of this was made possible by the National Student Exchange.

The ability to pay in-state tuition was the only way I was able to afford to go to a place I had always dreamed of. I remember when I first landed in Juneau in January, it was dark and there was five feet of snow everywhere; I took a deep breath and let the fat flakes fall on my face and had a sense of ease not fear. I grasped at Juneau like I was starving. I twisted it like a mop wringing from it as many opportunity as possible. And from my experience the opportunities are endless; all you have to be is willing.

As for my plans after I graduate in May 2010 with an English degree and an emphasis in Creative Writing, I have absolutely no idea. But this is ok because my college experience provided me with the tools necessary for success, whatever I decide to do with my life. After thrusting myself into a place I had no clue about, I know I can tackle just about anything, as long as it doesn’t have sharp pointy teeth and wants to eat me. As for now I plan on going up to Aniak, Alaska and being a fly-fishing guide because that’s what I am most passionate about right now. Thank you to everyone at UAS and in the community. You all have forever changed my life!

Lacie Richardson is a recipient of the Bette Worley NSE Student Achievement Award. The award recognizes a student annually who demonstrates the best use of their participation in the National Student Exchange. Lacie was selected from among the nearly 3000 students who participated in NSE for the 2007-2008 exchange year.

 
 

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