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National Student Exchange shouldn't be overlooked

Illustration by Jennifer Kearney
By Ella Peterson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 21, 2005
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Studying abroad is all the rage these days, and for good reason. It can provide immersion in a different culture, exposure to new ideas, opportunity to learn about oneself in an unfamiliar context, a resulting invigorated sense of purpose, and of course, lots of cool pictures.

However, many students cannot logistically or financially manage such a trip across oceans and borders. This is where the frequently overlooked National Student Exchange can help. Living in a new place with a new culture, outside of familiar personal norms, is an essential experience for any college student, and for those who may not have the resources for studying abroad, NSE is an interesting parallel option.

Studying away from one's home institution is both necessary and beneficial, and can open up the diversity that exists within America and its neighbors. Despite the lack of Ivy League member schools, stepping away from the familiar is an experience every student should have.

NSE is a program spanning 180 institutions in all but two of the 50 states (those of you burning to go to Delaware or North Dakota for a semester are on your own), and despite its deceptively exclusive nomenclature, also offers host schools in Canada, Guam and Puerto Rico.

NSE allows students in its member institutions, like the UA, to attend another member university for a semester. Depending on the determination of each specific institution, the exchange student would either pay UA tuition or the in-state tuition of the school in question.

A sadly disconnected populace was revealed last month when Hurricane Katrina held an unfamiliar image of New Orleans up to the scrutiny of the American public. The surprised reactions to the reality of this mostly black, mostly poor city showed more clearly than anything how out of touch we are with sister citizens only a few states away.

America is bigger than the entirety of Western Europe, with more wide-open spaces, forests, deserts and mountain ranges than should conceivably exist within one nation.

The people vary by location, with vibrant cultures and changing pressures, and different ways of living, speaking, playing and mourning. A comparable educational institution and its surrounding city may be unrecognizable from one end of the country to the other.

However much the phrase "melting pot" is bandied about in reference to the ever-evolving cultural diversity within the U.S., in practice there is a disappointing level of understanding across regional barriers. In truth, learning about fellow Americans a world of experience apart from you can lead to insights just as vital as those felt by students who study overseas.

Universities across the nation have been experiencing a drop in enrollment numbers for the NSE program, and many attribute this to the rising popularity and demand for study abroad programs.

Ella Peterson

But again, those students who wouldn't otherwise have the ability to expand their worldview are enabled to attend a sister institution in places like Washington, Puerto Rico or Florida and pay only their familiar UA tuition costs.

Students may complain that the list of NSE member schools doesn't include many big-name, prestigious universities, but this is a circumstance unlikely to change. As an exchange program, financial compensation and incentive for the institution must be taken into account and understood.

If, hypothetically, Harvard were to exchange a student for a semester with the UA, both students would potentially be paying UA tuition for this experience. Harvard would spend a semester teaching a student for a fraction of the usual cost, and also giving credits to the returning student who paid the significantly lower UA tuition costs.

Incentives to entice high-price-tag universities to participate would be prohibitively large. The necessary NSE response to this economic imbalance would have to be to make it more expensive for students or universities to participate in the program. Considering that the biggest draw of the exchange is its accessibility to the regular student, this would be a regrettable development.

For those who can't afford to study in England or Germany, or who simply can't swing gallivanting across New Zealand or Russia, this program is an oft-unnoticed resource for finding a study abroad experience right in our own neighborhood, and has a swath of unique experiences to offer.

There is potential for NSE to grow and solidify into a staple, a sought-after experience in undergraduate life, and the quest for personal growth and understanding of the world.

Ella Peterson is a creative writing junior. She can be reached at

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