Off campus: Student recounts a semester in the Tropics

by Elise Runberg

Living in Fargo is great. It’s a beautiful area with nice people and beautiful summers. But when winter comes around, I’m the first to wish I lived in a tropical climate.

In the middle of the brutal winter of my freshman year, as I was walking back to my dorm with frozen tears streaming down my face, I made a decision.

I decided I was going to attend school somewhere tropical.  I looked into a few different options and came across National Student Exchange.

NSE allows students to choose any participating college in the United States and attend for either a semester or a year. The list of colleges is long, and I spent hours imagining myself in Guam, Puerto Rico and California.

After much consideration, I made the decision to attend the University of Hawaii at Hilo on the big island. I had a friend who was there on the same program when I made my decision.

I bombarded her with questions, like how long the plane ride was and if she spent every day at the beach. She had nothing but the best things to say about the university, community and culture.

In the months leading up to my departure, I researched as much as I could about Hawaii. After a summer of saving up, I was ready to take off on my adventure for fall semester of 2014.

When I stepped out of the plane, I was hit instantly by the warm ocean air. The airport had no walls because it didn’t need any. I, along with the other incoming NSE students, piled into the university van and rode to what would be our home for the next semester.

The University of Hawaii at Hilo has excellent programs in place to make NSE students feel welcome. Every weekend, the school offers free trips and all sorts of fun adventures around the island. Through the program, I was able to see amazing beaches, learn to sail on the ocean, go hiking, cliff jump, paddle board, visit the zoo, learn to scuba dive and make lifelong friends.

Through the university, I was able to complete my advanced scuba certification, go on 22 dives and swim with dolphins, manta rays, stingrays, sharks and so many beautiful fish.

Before this, I had never been to the ocean, and living in Hawaii helped me realize how much I love that environment. While my friends spent their time out of the water, lying on the beaches in the sun, I was snorkeling or diving.

My time in Hawaii helped me experience freedom and adventure. I grew up with family all around me, and being on an island away from them all was a humbling experience.

I think it’s important for students to understand the options they have. Those students who have always wanted to study abroad or study with NSE should look into it. Financially, it’s feasible. 

I encourage all students to have their own adventure. Now is the time to travel. Don’t regret turning down the experience of a lifetime.

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