Life as an International Student in Alaska: 5 Reasons Why You Won't Feel Like a Stranger When Attending UAF

When I decided to leave Germany and move to Alaska to pursue my Master's degree in Economics I started to read books, articles and blogs about International Students in the U.S. No matter where those students were from, they all described some symptoms of a culture shock. Either they found it hard to make true friends and therefore felt lonely from time to time or they struggled adopting parts of the American culture and felt like the "odd one out".

There is no doubt that the U.S. will be different than your home country. And yes, I miss German bread, sparkling water and Käsespätzle and obviously I wish my friends and family were not as far away. But attending UAF will minimize the culture shock and you won't feel like a stranger. Here are 5 reasons why:

1. Life in Fairbanks is different for everyone! 
No matter if people grew up in Washington D.C.,Seattle, Hong Kong, France, Australia or even in Southern Alaska: Life in Fairbanks is different, no matter where you are from. Fairbanks is colder than most places in the world, including most towns in Alaska. With Denali (the highest Mountain in North America) nearby, the outdoors is quite impressive. Many people (especially students) decided to  live in dry cabin (cabins without running water and/or electricity). Unlike most American cities, there is no Forever21, H&M or Victoria's Secret in Fairbanks.  No matter where you are from, it will take some time to explore this new and unique environment. Life here is different - for everyone. It will take you just as much time to get around as it will take any new American student. Exploring your new home together is a great way to make friends.

2. There is no better place to make friends than UAF!
"American's only do superficial small talk but they are not really interested in how you are really doing." - Does this stereotype sound familiar to you? Yes, Americans are used to doing small talk. No, the cashier in Walmart is definitely not trying to find her new best buddy when asking her/his customer how their day is going. You might find this openness a little surprising first (especially if you are from a country like  Germany, Scandinavia or Japan), but you will start to love it after a few months. However, while the cashier simply just wants to be polite and maybe brighten up your (and maybe their own) day, when your fellow classmates ask you about your home country, your hobbies or your opinion, don't hold back. Random people might invite you to a weekend ski trip or their parent's house for Thanksgiving break. And if you say yes, you might eventually find your new best buddy (or future husband or wife? ;) )

3. UAF is a safe place, no matter who you are!
Even though some Alaskans appear to be rather conservative, UAF is pretty progressive. No matter if it's the introduction of gender neutral bathrooms or co-ed housing on campus, UAF does a great job in providing a safe environment for everyone. You might be surprised first to see a student in a Pokemon costume sitting next to a guy who just hunted a moose and still has some fur and blood on his pants in one of your classes. And after class those two will meet up with a girl who spent 4 hours in the morning curling her hair and wearing high heels all day and her best friend, a true Alaskan Outdoor chick who lives in a dry cabin, chopping her own wood and skiing to school every morning. Those four kids are as diverse as they could be and  they still became best friends. The only one missing to make this group complete is you, an International Student looking for the time of your life in Alaska.

4. Every Alaskan is convinced to have at least one ancestor from your country!
No matter where you are from the chances are extremely high that Alaskan's will get super excited as soon as they find out that you are from another country (so be proud of your accent, don't try to hide it ;) ). If you are from Europe, 9 out of 10 people will tell you that they are German, French, Danish, Norwegians, Scotch, Estonian...... themselves. If you start to speak to them in your native language, you will realize pretty quickly what they really meant is that their grandgrandgrand....father migrated from your Europe to the US centuries ago. However, that won't stop their excitement for your heritage. Common ground is always the start for great friendships!

If you are not from Europe, the excitement will be just the same because most likely your country will be on top of every Alaskan's "100 places I want to visit before I die" list. Be prepared for hundreds of questions.

5. Alaskan's are incredibly welcoming!
Not sure if its about the long and cold  winters or all the remote places, but Alaskan's are extremely welcoming. Maybe it's simply about the population size. Alaska's population is about the size of the population of Seattle. The state of Alaska however is the biggest state in the United States. That leads to a density of about 0.49 people per square kilometer. No surprise, that Alaskan's are excited to have guests in their state to show around. Take advantage of that and get to love Alaska and it's amazing people!

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