A lifetime Long Islander, Josh Cohen ’20 was seeking an experience totally out of his comfort zone. Through the National Student Exchange (NSE) program, Cohen spent a semester at the University of Alaska in Juneau, where he experienced rugged wilderness, a mountain culture and a chance to take courses in back country navigation, rock climbing and sea kayaking. He also picked up credits in somewhat more conventional courses, such as Philosophy of Nature and Physiology of Gender Studies.
“After an entire semester surrounded by towering, snow-capped mountains, bright blue glaciers and soaring evergreen trees, nothing has impacted me more than the family I have come to make along the way,” Cohen wrote in an essay on his Alaskan sojourn. “The friendships that arose from my short time away are ones that are guaranteed to last a lifetime.”
NSE provides accessible collegiate study away to undergraduate students at member colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Founded in 1968, the program facilitates academic exchanges in order to help students understand identity, history and how differences fit into the idea of American culture.
“The reason I chose NSE is because I always knew I wanted to travel within the U.S. before I traveled abroad,” Cohen said. “While in Alaska, I was fortunate enough to take courses that lasted only a couple of weeks as well as core classes. This opened up my schedule and allowed me to have an abundance of free time.”
Josh and his roommates would create their own expeditions nearly every weekend until the end of November. Mountains, lakes and hiking trails were all close to the university as well. On trips downtown, he would regularly spot bald eagles and once came across a small bear sniffing around the door to his apartment. Josh also experienced a drum ceremony at orientation, giving him a taste of indigenous culture.
He enjoyed the experience so much that he will be finishing his Stony Brook degree at the University of Hawaii at Hilo this spring.
“Keep in mind that the people you meet are in the exact same boat as you are,” he said. “You have all decided to step outside of your comfort zones and into unfamiliar surroundings, searching for friendships to make and relationships that flourish. Taking a cruise or visiting for a couple of weeks could never come close to experiencing the authentic cultural life, nature and pure energy of Alaska.”
— Glenn Jochum