The National Student Exchange (NSE) program is hosting several informational sessions this January for all who are interested! In anticipation of these sessions, I had the pleasure of interviewing NSE coordinator Emmanuel Macías and Liam Birr, a NSE participant, about the wonderful opportunities made possible through the program.
NSE is a domestic collegiate study-away program, with access to 160 colleges and universities in North America, the Caribbean and Guam. WOU students can attend a member NSE campus for up to a year. Students research prospective schools between fall and early February. Applications are due by mid-February and students are placed by early March. During the spring term, students—in collaboration with the WOU NSE coordinator and their academic adviser—identify courses to enroll in. Courses taken while on exchange can satisfy a major, minor, general education or count as an elective. “We identify the WOU course equivalents for all desired courses too, ensuring that any approved course a student takes is an existing course at WOU” says Macías. The most popular term for exchange is fall term, given most NSE campuses are semester-based and a fall term exchange allows for WOU students to return and continue on to winter/spring term.
There is a wide variety of places a student could go in the NSE program. There are approximately 160 or so member campuses of varying institution types, (e.g., large research-based, small liberal arts, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, etc.) geographic locations, such as West/East Coast, Midwest, South, tropical Caribbean, mountain ranges (Alaska, Colorado, Montana, etc.) and many other factors.
Contrary to traditional study abroad programs, NSE campuses are primarily within the U.S. or U.S. Territory (U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam). NSE started with three campuses in the U.S. and has since grown to approximately 160 campuses.
In our interview, Macías listed five primary benefits to participating in the program:
- Academic benefits: Students continue taking courses that will satisfy their WOU degree requirements. Students broaden their course access; they can take courses that WOU may not offer but that will still be accepted and count towards their degree! They learn from new faculty and/or disciplines with a different concentration or mission, and students can investigate prospective graduate schools.
- Personal benefits: Students are immersed in a new environment and grow from the challenges that arise, and gain exposure and appreciation of new cultures, customs, and individuals from various lived experiences.
- Professional benefits: Students gain access to new network opportunities, internship prospects, and exposure to prospective employers or careers after WOU. The NSE experience is a good résumé builder!
- Close to home: The reality is COVID has reshaped the traditional study abroad/international programs. Thus, NSE is a perfect domestic alternative. NSE is WOU’s only accessible program for DACA/undocumented students who wish to be in an exchange program given the program operates within the U.S. or its territories.
- Affordability benefit: Most NSE campuses provide an option for students to pay tuition/fees at their home campus. This is called “Home Pay.” “Host Pay” means a student pays the tuition/fees at the host campus (no fees assessed at WOU). The benefit of a WOU student participating under Home Pay (most popular) is 1) they can utilize all applicable state, federal, or institutional financial aid awarded to them (e.g., Oregon Opportunity Grant, Pell Grant, loans, WOU remission grants/scholarships, private scholarships, etc.) and 2) WOU tuition/fees tend to be the most affordable across the NSE consortium, so their tuition/fees remain relatively the same.
There’s more than just these benefits, however. The act of traveling can be enriching in itself. Macías says that “There is so much to learn and take in from traveling. Oftentimes students make lifelong friendships and connections from their NSE experience. NSE is a unique program that fosters exploration and personal growth.”
This is certainly true for Liam Birr. Birr is a junior at WOU from Banks, Ore., majoring in Sustainability with a minor in Business. Through the NSE program, he studied for a semester at the University of the Virgin Islands in St Croix. When I asked him what the experience was like, he said, “It was absolutely life-changing. Being able to live the ‘Island Life’ was a very different experience, but one I will never forget. Everyone was very nice and welcoming there and I was able to meet and live with some people who I can now call my lifelong friends. I went to the beach about 5 or 6 times a week and spent my time relaxing in the water and on the sand, exploring some of the hidden gems like abandoned lighthouses, watching the colorful sunsets every night and catching some sunrises on hikes on the tallest hills, and taking naps/reading books in my special hammock spot on my favorite beach. I tried to take a stress-free approach and focused on getting more life experience and being happy rather than strictly focusing on classes, and it actually helped me more in my academics.”
Birr’s travels have greatly affected him. “I felt more empowered and independent than I have ever felt and it presented new opportunities for me. I was able to secure online classes for winter term at WOU, and I am now going to do some more traveling with friends I met on the island. Academically, this gave me more inspiration to continue my Sustainability degree because I joined the recycling club at their college, and it gave me a lot of insight into how much the world needs help.”
When I asked him what advice he would give to future NSE students, Birr said, “Focus on gaining more life experience than anything. I feel life is too short for someone to go to a new school and not spend a good amount of time trying to explore the new area and meet new people. Try to get the most out of your travels and get out of your comfort zone. I met some people doing NSE there that locked themselves in their room doing homework and when the term ended, they all regretted not getting out more. Of course, have some focus on school and getting good grades, but this could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to do amazing things and make memories that will last your lifetime.”
For anyone interested, the first thing to do is attend an upcoming NSE informational session (Jan. 11, 12, 13, 18, and 19, at 3 p.m., in the Rogue Room, Werner University Center) or schedule a one-on-one meeting with Emmanuel Macías. Students then research the institutions that they are interested in and then follow the application process by the priority application deadline. Here are details on the application process: https://wou.edu/student/national-student-exchange-nse/how-to-apply/.There is a $200 application fee due at the time of submission. Stop by the Student Affairs office—Werner University Center 203—or contact firstname.lastname@example.org / 503-838-8221 if you have any questions.