The National Student Exchange

Michaela WoodwardStaff Writer

For many Gustavus students, studying away is an essential part of their college experience. However, few students know that studying away does not necessarily mean studying overseas.

Gustavus is a member of the National Student Exchange, an organization with over 300 participating colleges and universities throughout the United States, including U.S. territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as Canada. 

While there are many advantages to doing a domestic study away, one is that this program can be extremely affordable, as it is comparable to what students pay at Gustavus.

Study Away Program Coordinator Matthew Hirman is well acquainted with the benefits and flexibility that the National Student Exchange can offer to students. 

“It allows students to do a semester or year-long exchange where you pay your home tuition. You go to the site and you pay them for housing and the meal plan which is usually comparable to a Gustavus plan. It’s a really exciting program that way and students don’t know that much about it,” Hirman said. 

As well as being financially beneficial, it can also provide a rich cultural experience. 

“We’ve had a number of students who have used it to go to a HBCU, a historically Black college or university, and so it’s an opportunity for students to get a different experience that way than they would here at Gustavus,” Hirman said. 

The National Student Exchange can provide a study away opportunity for students who may not have the chance otherwise. 

“For students who maybe don’t have travel documentation, whether they’re a DACA student or they have refugee status or something like that where they might not have an actual passport that they can travel on, NSE can be a great option for those students too. International students who are here studying can also use this to study abroad in different parts of the US,” Hirman said. 

Scholarships are also available to make this program accessible to all students. 

A big benefit of this program is the unique academic experiences students are offered by studying at a different institution. 

“There’s a lot of schools that have special programs that students can enroll in. The University of Northern Arizona has a Grand Canyon semester, so students spend most of their time studying the Grand Canyon. I think the University of Montana has one where they’re backpacking in the mountains. The U.S. Virgin Islands has marine biology. [There are] environmental studies programs in Alaska where they can get some marine biology or some forestry management experience that we just don’t offer here on campus,” Hirman said. 

Senior Josie Kleckner took advantage of the unique environmental studies options in Alaska.

“NSE provided me with a chance to try out classes and opportunities that I wouldn’t have been able to do at Gustavus. I was able to pursue marine biology opportunities as well as partake in many outdoor recreation opportunities. I was able to participate in a seal necropsy, learn winter survival techniques, and assist with research on the Taku Glacier,” Klecker said.

The availability of programs is also what drew Sophomore Autumn Manus to looking towards Gustavus for course additives. A student from East Central University in Oklahoma, Manus participates in theater and music at Gustavus to supplement her major and minor at her home university. 

“[ESU is] a small public college where the theater department’s quality is declining and so are its members. Thankfully I was approached with an opportunity to go on an exchange program called National Student Exchange. When I was trying to decide on schools to attend, I was looking for schools with amazing music programs. On the list of options I had, Gustavus was the most well-known for its music program and had the highest ratings for the program as well,” Manus said. 

Manus is a member of the Lucia choir and has been preparing for Christmas in Christ Chapel, which has been an experience like no other.

“At ECU our choir is made up of only about 20 people. While rehearsing for CinCC I’ve been singing with more than 100 people,” Manus said.

Additionally, Manus has been able to explore different classes for her theater major. 

“I’ve also been able to take classes that are not offered at ECU such as beginning directing where I have written a play and I’m currently directing it. I’ve always been interested in directing and here I’m not only able to learn in a classroom about the art of directing but I’m also able to be fully immersed in the directing process,” Manus said. 

“I’m also taking beginning jazz, which has been so fun. ECU no longer offers a dance degree and as someone who wants to pursue musical theater, dance is a very important component in the goals I’ve set for myself. I also had a great experience [as an] assistant stage manager for the show Tragedy. I’ve gained so much knowledge about what it takes to produce a show and work in a professional environment,” Manus said. 

NSE has also opened Manus up to different worldviews and cultural experiences.

“I was also looking for very inclusive environments because ECU is a somewhat conservative school. Seeing the diversity at Gustavus within the people and experiences has been truly incredible. I feel as if it has opened my mind to what I want the world to look like and the kind of places I want to be,” Manus said. 

For students interested in NSE, the priority enrollment window is from December 1 until March 1. Students should meet with Hirman to discuss their interest and fill out an application, but direct enrollment after the deadline is also possible.