Andrea Swiedom, Staff Reporter
The National Student Exchange (NSE) provides UMF students with the unique opportunity to study at different campuses in the U.S. and surrounding territories, such as Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Canada for a semester or full year. Students choose their top three campuses from the list of participating institutions and are accepted based on placement availability.
What makes NSE alluring is the program’s affordability, as Lynne Eustis, Assistant Director of Global Education, explained in an email. “Students pay their normal tuition and fees to UMF, and do not pay tuition to the host school,” she said. “Room and board are paid directly to the host school. Financial aid can be used for this exchange program.”
UMF senior Darby Murnane studied for the Fall 2018 semester at the State Univeristy of New York at Potsdam (SUNY), and was able to apply all of her scholarships and grants towards the exchange tuition. The ability to apply her financial aid towards SUNY was integral to her decision to participate in the NSE program.
She had been considering transferring to another school, but her impressive financial aid package from UMF made her feel obligated to stay. “I started shopping around, and when I heard about the NSE program I thought it was a way to transfer without commitment,” Murnane said.
For senior Zoe Stonetree, NSE was a means to visit a place that has always intrigued her. “I got an email,” Stonetree said excitedly. “The title of the email read, ‘you can go to Alaska.’ I had already been thinking about Alaska, so I took it as a sign, as silly as that sounds.”
Stonetree spent the Fall 2018 semester at the University of Alaska Southeast, in the southeastern capital city of Juneau, Alaska. While there, she took an environmental science course with a lab that included a conference on marine mammalogy, to fulfill a general education requirement. She also took a creative writing course that counted towards her creative writing major, and some endemic courses like backpacking in Alaska.
“We had a bear safety course, learned how to use a compass and what kind of equipment is necessary, and we had a couple of overnight trips,” Stonetree said.
Over the years, Eustis has seen students use this exchange program for a variety of purposes. “Students participate in NSE for many different reasons. . . to take classes not available at UMF, broaden their education perspective, pursue research, field studies, internship opportunities, investigate graduate schools, and make connections in a new job market,” Eustis said.
Ultimately for Stonetree, experiencing all that Alaska had to offer was more important to her than the university, but for Murnane, the courses at SUNY were her main motivators for choosing NSE. “I had discovered that journalism was what I wanted to do,” Murnane said. “They just had more journalistic resources for me to test out.”
While at SUNY, Murnane took courses in magazine writing and mass media, and worked as a staff reporter for the school newspaper. She was very involved with her temporary campus during her time there, participating in swing dancing, mixed martial arts, the school’s radio station as well as working as a lifeguard and swim instructor. Murnane enjoyed SUNY’s vibrant campus life and a change in environment that even included an emphasis on healthy, fresh food.
“There were three places where I could get pasta sauteed to order! Oh my god, the tortellini,” Murnane said, waving her hand in the air. “They didn’t have a third-party food company; they cooked everything in-house. They even had salad greens growing under UV lights in the dining hall!”
Despite Murnane’s positive experience at SUNY and decadent dining, she realized that UMF was where she wanted to be, which is also what junior Megan Scheckells realized after her NSE year.
Scheckells originates from Kansas City, KS, and was attending Emporia State University when she applied to UMF for the 2018-2019 academic year through the NSE program. “I thought, I am just going to do this for a year to test the waters and try out life someplace new,” Scheckells said.
Much like Stonetree’s reason for choosing Alaska, Scheckells chose UMF because she had always felt drawn to Maine. “I feel like a lot of people just have that state that they want to go to, and they don’t have a specific reason why,” Scheckells said.
During Scheckells’ NSE year at UMF, she built unique and important bonds with people, which she attributed to NSE’s requirement that exchange students live on-campus. “I never intended to take the dorm option, but I think they want to create a community, ” Scheckells said. “In the long run, I think it was good.”
Stonetree also attributed the connections she made in Juneau to NSE’s dorm requirement, which inevitably puts students in touch with other NSE exchange students. “I did feel pretty comfortable pretty quickly,” Stonetree said. “There was a big group of NSE people, so it was pretty easy for me to fall into that group.”
While Scheckells spent her first year in Maine, she grew enamored with the close proximity to outdoor activities compared to Kansas, and she went on her first hike to Bald Mountain. “You’re just not surrounded by the woods and mountains [in Kansas] the same way you are here.”
Scheckells was also impressed by the discussion-based English courses offered at UMF, and as her exchange year came to an end, she felt very strongly about staying. “There was a lot to think about just with my family missing me and money-wise, because the flights to and from Kansas are a lot of money,” Scheckells said. “Quite frankly, the biggest reason for me moving to Maine was because I made a lot of genuine connections.”
NSE was also such a positive experience for Stonetree that she considered extending her semester into a year long exchange in Juneau, but was ultimately happy to return to Maine. “I noticed that once I came back from Juneau I was way more into Farmington. I had much more of a desire to be a part of the community,” Stonetree said, pausing to articulate herself. “I have more awareness in general about Maine and what it’s like as a place, because having lived nowhere else I didn’t really know what was particular about living in Maine.”
NSE brought a new perspective to all three students, allowing for a greater appreciation of Maine and UMF. Even so, they all confirmed that they would eventually move on to pursue opportunities in other places. Scheckells wants to go into publishing and plans on moving out of Maine for a job or internship in the future. Stonetree is still exploring her options after graduation. Murnane will be starting graduate school at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland in the fall of 2020.
If students are interested in participating in NSE for the Fall 2020 semester, Eustis urges students to contact her immediately as the application deadline is April 1. For more information, students can visit the NSE website (https://www.nse.org/) and request an advising session with Eustis (firstname.lastname@example.org) through the google form: (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdd8QrtU8xlPB1ls58vQWfc1hhjwUZtXuIodoHbJMHZTvIzdQ/viewform).