Lacie Richardson

Lacie’s Big Adventure

I remember the sunshine that day was obnoxiously bright and the fall wind was cold and made goose bumps on my arms. I had just walked out of the National Student Exchange office in Gunnison, Colorado, after handing in my last form. I remember saying goodbye to friends and family as I embarked on what my dad had honorably dubbed as “Lacie’s Big Adventure.” Some called me crazy since I had packed two suitcases, bought a one-way ticket to Alaska in the middle of January, and never looked back. Later they confirmed this craziness as insanity when within the first few weeks I had gone sea kayaking twice, snow-shoed into a cabin at night, started and revived an English club, met Sarah Palin, went ice fishing with a chainsaw, went snowmobiling, watched the ocean while skiing, and learned to tie flies with Ron Hulstein, the head of the business department and head of the fly tying club. Little did I know, this was the normal life of a Juneau resident.

It wasn’t long before University of Alaska’s friendly atmosphere welcomed me in as one of their own. I felt like I had been there all long. Soon as the spring semester neared an end I was faced with a choice; do I go back to Western State or extend my stay? That same day my Professor, Kevin Meyer, required us to snowshoe into John Muir Cabin 3.5 miles for my Environment and Literature class and discuss our final. My decision was made -- there was absolutely no way I could leave just yet. The Beatniks, which was an English club me and my co-founder Kayleigh Lambert were able to start, had grown in numbers of attendance to be an incredible success. Because of our club, I was able to give back to those who had so lovingly welcomed me into their worlds. I watched students at our open mic nights become inspired and realize that professors are humans too by watching them read their own work on stage. I watched professors see a whole new side of their students when they shared their work. I watched the popularity of the English Department grow and saw the housing and campus create a connection stronger than ever before. I witnessed fellow students who could barley read in class stand up on stage in an encouraging positive atmosphere and bloom with confidence.

Over the summer, I was able to break away from the school and integrate with the community more. There I found some of the most amazing people I had ever met in my life. My Juneau family, as I like to call them, welcomed me into their home, offered me a place to live and helped me when I struggled. Amongst those family members of mine was Claudius who taught me the ways of the salmon and the land, and Sharon who taught me that a friend is not a feller who is taken by sham. A friend is one who knows our faults and doesn’t give a damn! And Erica who was my guide to a new way of life. Now, if you would have told me that I was going to be a deckhand on a charter boat and a fishing and whale watching guide, I’d have told you, you were crazy. But lugging up salmon all summer has left me with that metallic smell etched in my nose, and watching 15 humpbacks bubble feed for a month straight made me realize just how insignificant I really am in the big picture.

Fall semester Ron Hulstein welcomed me into his fly-fishing class with ready fly rods and trips planned through September. Although he is retiring, I felt so lucky for getting the Hulstein experience. I had never met a more encouraging, patient and enthusiastic teacher much less one who will take me fishing every weekend for giant salmon. But, among all the people I was lucky enough to have touched my life in Juneau; none of it would have been possible if it weren’t for Marsha Squires, the NSE coordinator. From the second I reached Juneau, she was there. The exchange mom, who made my stay as positive as possible, provided me with encouragement and an endless amount of opportunities. She invited me over to dinner at her home and required that I visit her office for some of her homemade cookies.

I found myself landing in Denver on December 21 with tear streaks smearing the plane window and a sense of surreal setting in over me. Had I dreamed this Alaskan adventure of mine? Nothing I could have ever imagined would have matched up to what I experienced in Juneau. Because of the school, the teachers, the students, the community, I would not be the person I am today. All of this was made possible by the National Student Exchange. The ability to travel to another school and pay in-state tuition was the only way I was able to afford to go to a place I had always dreamed of. I remember when I first landed in Juneau, it was dark and there was five feet of snow everywhere in January. I took a deep breath and let the fat flakes fall on my face and had a sense of ease, not fear; a sense of home, not a foreign land. I grasped at Juneau like I was starving. I twisted it like a mop wringing from it as many opportunities as possible. And from my experience, the opportunities are endless; all you have to be is willing.