For many University of Georgia students, attending college in Georgia was never the goal, but out-of-state and private school prices just aren’t realistic for many students, making UGA the only cost effective option. It’s a great education for a great price, especially with Georgia’s in-state scholarships like HOPE and Zell Miller.
College today is equal parts education and experience. Students both expect and desire adventure, but, for those who find themselves in familiar terrain for their college years, this desire can remain un-satiated. However, they can find new experiences through the little-known National Student Exchange.
Living in Athens is pretty great. Whether you are an edgy music lover exploring downtown music venues, a whimsical debater spending Thursday nights at the Demosthenian Literary Society or a rabid sports fan bleeding red and black at every football game, Athens has a place for you.
But imagine growing up in that town. Saturday in Athens was just Saturday, with the added caveat that you probably shouldn’t leave the house. Milledge Avenue’s Greek Row wasn’t the place sister and brotherhoods were born, but the place where hordes of college students wearing oversized t-shirts blocked the entrance to your high school. Beyond that, UGA was the setting for every school field trip, prom picture, graduation and the like. It never occured to me that Athens would become the locale for my own college experience. I even walked defiantly through the Arch a couple dozen times. But when it came down to going to UGA or somewhere else, the price was unbeatable.
Going to school in the town where you grew up certainly has its bonuses. You never get lost, and whenever you’re sick, mom and dad are right around the corner with a gallon of Gatorade and some homemade chicken soup. Have a terrible roommate? Just go home and sleep in your non-standard-issue-twin-xl bed. Going home is easy because you’re already there.
On the other hand, being that close to home can be limiting. It’s difficult to grow into who you are as a person when the remnants of who you were are all around you. Memories compound. Late night walks are on the same streets you skipped down as a child. And you definitely can’t go anywhere without seeing without seeing any number of former teachers, coaches, tutors or familial acquaintances. People know you, which can be nice, but it also means that you don’t get the benefit of anonymity or the opportunity to define yourself how you choose.
For UGA students in this position or for those who simply want to experience something different, there is the opportunity to go elsewhere at a low cost. UGA is a member institution of the National Student Exchange, a program that allows students to attend another member institution for up to two semesters. There are member institutions across the United States and Canada. This program might be the University’s best-kept secret given that only two students, myself included, are participating this semester. For students craving something new but not necessarily abroad for a relatively cheap price, this is a great option.
I happened upon this program last spring and am now exchanging at the University of Montana in Missoula. I’ve learned to rock climb, made friends from different states and biked to class every day with the backdrop of mountains and evergreens. While Missoula is no Athens and the Grizzlies are certainly not Bulldogs, there’s nothing that quite compares to being somewhere new.