All of the choices and opportunities college presents to you can seem daunting and overwhelming at times. I always wanted to do more traveling, and college provides ample opportunities to pursue this passion. However, when I saw the price tag associated with studying abroad and general “have-it-togetherness” required to leave the continent, I felt this goal was out of reach. Then one of the many mass emails sent to me by Iowa State University caught my eye. This particular email advertised a program known as National Student Exchange. This program allowed students in participating schools throughout the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to spend a semester or year studying at a different school. The program even allowed you to pay your visiting school’s in-state tuition if it was cheaper than the tuition you already paid at your home school!
I quickly scheduled a meeting to learn more and received a booklet of all the exciting places I could go. For the real adventurous types, you could spend a fall, spring and summer semester in the program, each time at a different school or university. I looked for a school that was still in the U.S. and about as opposite of Iowa as I could get. Another factor my advisor had to counsel me on was the acceptance rate at each school; some colleges chose to take as few as two students a semester. With this in mind, I settled on my top choice, Florida International University (FIU) in Miami. This school seemed light years away from Iowa climate and culture, not to mention there was a chapter of my sorority there.
Each participating school sends an advisor to a conference where students are placed based on their list of top three choices. I was fortunate to receive my top choice and couldn’t believe that the following spring semester I would be enjoying the balmy Miami climate while everyone else suffered through snow and bitter cold.
However, the climate was not the most shocking change I experienced during my time at FIU. Never in my life had I been a minority, nor experienced a world filled with a language I did not speak. My randomly assigned roommate was originally from Jamaica and had a mother who lived in England. It was commonplace for her and her friends to visit Jamaica or spend a long weekend on a cruise to the Bahamas. Through the program, I made friends from Boston and Virginia and met sorority sisters from all over. Having grown up in a small rural Iowa community, this all seemed so exotic and enthralling. These new friends grew up in areas so different from my hometown and had unique world views which lead to many intense, insightful discussions on everything from politics to religion to social norms.
I highly recommend the program to anyone looking to expand their horizons and see how much our incredible country has to offer in friendship, culture, food and new experiences. Plus, it never hurts to spend winter somewhere with a low of sixty degrees.