Killing Two Birds With One Stone

Posted by Bertrand

I have been in Fairbanks for 14 months now, meaning I have seen the weather all year long... I survived the winter, thumbs up. By the way, someone was joking about how Fairbanks does not have a climate; ‘it has weather instead,’ the reason being the frequent fluctuation in seasons: sometimes it will snow early in mid-September like this year (2013) other times it will not snow until November; Sometimes people will experience long Spring or Summer will break in somehow early. Either way, Fairbanks is exciting and those vacillations make it exceptional and beautiful.
Beautiful sunset around 2pm in Fairbanks December 2012 (courtesy of Bertrand)

People in Fairbanks are generally welcoming, and willing to meet new pew people. One of the frequent questions people get asked is ‘How did you end up in Alaska?’ Either born in Alaska or obviously from far away (like me: a black guy with a heavy accent in English), people will ask that question. I have heard a friend of mine being asked the same question, and guess what: he is an Eskimo.
When people ask me how I came all the way from Africa to end up in Alaska, I make it short and just say ‘adventure.’ However, I hope you will agree with me that there has to be a more convincing reason than that. I am originally from Rwanda, a country located in the heart of Africa, just 2 degrees below the Equator. The climate there is tropical and the temperature is always between 55 and 85 degrees within the city I come from, no snow no frost.
Here are the details of how I ended up in Alaska. I came in United States in 2008 to start my undergraduate studies in Electrical and Computer Engineering; it was in California at the time. During my stay in California I heard and learned a lot of things about Alaska: from the Alaska State Troopers TV show on National Geography Channel to different books that discuss Eskimo’s life. Many stories were too good to be true, I mean from my perspective:
-The northern lights that I hadn’t heard of before;
-The exciting facts about Alaska’s wild life: people mentioned seeing a bear crossing the road at day time or even seeing a moose in their own backyard;
-The big change in day light sometimes including the gain or loss up to 7 minutes of day light per day leading to a day of less than 4 hours of day light in winter versus an extended 22 hours of day light in summer and much more exciting facts…
I wanted to see those changes; I wanted to experience that life, I had heard that people keep normal life even at 50 degrees below zero; I did not believe it and I wanted to experience it. I had a long to-do list: from spending a night in an igloo, through riding a dog sled, up to standing relatively close to a wild grizzly (bear from the zoo did not count…, this is not a brilliant idea, do not try it). Briefly, to me Alaska was that kind of place you keep in your heart and you wish you could visit before you die, no matter what it takes.
Unfortunately, I did not have enough time and financial means that could allow me to experiences all those wonders as just a tourist.
On the other side, I always wanted to pursue my studies to a graduate level; I was flexible about the choice of school. However, school with accreditation where I could do research in things I enjoy the most, with fairly good student/faculty ration were a must. I could not believe my eyes when I found out about UAF; it was a perfect fit for me, and everything I wanted even beyond was there: from research topics, faculty and facilities accessibility including modernized laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment, twenty-four hour/seven day access to instructional laboratories and much more other opportunities. Additionally; as a graduate student, I applied and was offered a teaching assistantship. From then, the choice of a school became obvious; coming to UAF was like a dream coming true. I accepted the offer, and straight came to UAF, that’s how I ended up in Alaska.
University of Alaska Fairbanks, Campus (Courtesy of Bertrand)

Pursuing my studies from a reputable school while I enjoy Alaska’s wonders has been one of the best experiences I have had in my life; it feels like killing two birds with one stone.  Stay tuned, in my next blog, I will share my outdoor-adventurous experience so far: including dog sledding, moose sighting on campus, white water rafting and bear sighting and much more.

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