Fairbanks is really a lovely place. It is amazing to see the early morning sun lighting up the snowy peaks of the Alaska Range, or the sun shining through the birch and poplar trees. The aurora dancing in the night sky and the trails on campus are nothing short of spectacular.
With a short drive you can be in the beautiful White Mountains and the northernmost portion of the rockies, or the foothills of the Alaska range. Adventure isn’t something you have to look for.
There is always an opportunity, whether it’s a weekend of camping, a trip to a glacier, or just a walk through the woods on the way to class. The beauty of this place amazes me every day and the people here are warm, friendly and helpful. I am so grateful to be in Alaska.
When traveling I have learned not to create too many preconceived expectations, but there were some things about Fairbanks that I did not expect. Everywhere you travel there will always be some issues local to the area that might not be something you would consider back home. Rather than hindering my experience, they have opened my eyes.
In Alaska recycling is very expensive because it has to be shipped to the lower 48. It is not always common to see lots of places recycle like in the Northeast. People tend to be very resourceful and good at making things last as long as they can. It is common to see lots of older cars and trucks on the road.
When I thought of Alaska before, air pollution was not something I thought of. The air quality in Fairbanks is pretty poor, especially on cold days. However, this seems to make for spectacular sunsets.
Another surprising thing was that the water here is really bad. My first week here I was drinking the tap water and a friend told me that I shouldn’t be drinking the water without filtering it. I got really nervous about it, and thought I was going to get sick. The water in Fairbanks exceeds recommended levels of certain toxins, but you can’t get sick from it unless it is drank unfiltered for years on end. In the next town over though, the water is toxic because of a refinery. I now realize how lucky we are in Keene to have good drinking water and how lucky I am to be able to drink well water at home.
My first experience going off campus was taking the public bus to Fred Meyer. Fred’s is a huge department store like Walmart, but much larger and higher quality. It makes sense to have one place that sells almost everything you could need in a place where some people may have to drive a long ways just to get into town. After getting a few things,, I made it out and got on the bus. As it turned out, I got on the wrong bus. I ended up riding it all the way into downtown and had to wait at the bus station for the next bus back to campus. All in all I spent a couple hours just on the public busses, but I got a tour of Fairbanks, and learned how bus schedules work.
Riding the busses in Fairbanks is the best way to get around if you don’t have a car.
The city is rather spread out; it is about three miles to walk to downtown from campus. Luckily the busses are warm, comfortable, and free to students. The bus rides are also generally quite interesting. I have had people try to talk to me about where they like to have sex.
On another occasion I had an older gentleman say “God bless you, dear heart” out of nowhere which reminded me of my Grandma.
One morning on the way to Fred’s, I sat down next to an old lady. She kept mumbling next to me as if she was trying to start a conversation with me so I said hello.
This old lady started telling me about herself. She was an Inupiaq Native and had lived here her whole life. She was surprised to hear that I had come all the way to Fairbanks to go to school. This lady was also very drunk and on the way to the liquor store.
Unfortunately alcoholism is a common thing in Alaska. Alaska’s Division of Behavioral Health claims that Alaska’s rate of Alcoholism and Alcohol abuse is 14 percent which is twice the national average (1). It is noticeably more of an issue in Alaska than in the lower 48. Some of this seems to be because Alcohol is still relatively new to Natives and partly because they are losing their culture. However, alcoholism is not restricted to just them. I had a professor say that in Alaska you either drink or do outdoor activities, and from his experience, doing both doesn’t work out well.
Exchange is not just finding yourself, or learning about different people. I think it takes on a different meaning for everyone. For me, going to Alaska was originally about getting away. I was not sure if I felt like Keene could be my home, or a place where I could feel like I belonged. In the past couple months I have learned to be independant and accepting through small instances of misfortune and bad luck. I have learned to take life as it comes and appreciate everything that is great around you.
I now appreciate Keene State more than I would have if I had not gone on exchange. I miss the sense of community at Keene State that students are so active in making it. Through going away I have found a place in my heart for both Keene and Fairbanks.
Katie Woltner can be contacted at katie.Woltner@ksc.keene.edu