National Student Exchange offers new experiences abroad


Courtesy Leah Riese

Leah Riese studied at the University of Hawaii at Hilo her sophomore year after being obsessed with the state ever since she was little. 

Isabel Gebers

Students at Iowa State can immerse themselves into a new culture, try new foods and experience life in a new city all while getting a college education.

The National Student Exchange (NSE) is a program that gives undergraduate students a chance to study abroad at universities in the United States, U.S. territories or even Canada.

Students in NSE stay at a different university for one semester for the cost of in-state tuition for that school or the cost of a semester at Iowa State.

Allison Severson, coordinator for Iowa State’s NSE program, said NSE is an opportunity within reach that students don’t realize is an option.

“I don’t even remember being aware of NSE as an undergrad student,” Severson said. “So I’m really trying to change that and make sure all students know about the opportunity.”

Severson’s goal is to increase awareness by doing information sessions every day of the week at noon with student ambassadors as well as classroom presentations, flyer distribution and resource fairs including the study abroad fair.

An NSE booth at freshman orientation is what drew Leah Riese, senior in kinesiology and health, to studying abroad through NSE.

“I really wanted to study abroad, and I heard about NSE and I was like ‘This is something I want to do,’” Riese said. “And I wanted to go my freshman year, but apparently you have to have an Iowa State transcript, so I went my sophomore year.”

Deciding where to go was an easy decision for Riese, as she had been obsessed with the state of Hawaii ever since she was little. The only tricky part for her came down to picking which specific school to attend in Hawaii.

“I wanted a more cultural-based experience and Hilo was more rural, small town kind of thing,” Riese said. “So that’s why I choose that [school], and it was the best decision of my life.”

Riese said she was immersed in the culture and took every opportunity she could to get involved, which included night diving with manta rays, dancing in the Merrie Monarch Festival (the largest hula festival in the world) and participating in a week-long service project to clean up indigenous dry forest on the island of Lanai.

“I gained an appreciation for culture, because coming from a place where there wasn’t much diversity — especially being from such a small town — it really gave me a perspective about how people feel about especially indigenous cultures,” Riese said. “Honestly, it taught me to be way more open-minded and just be okay with anything and be aware that not everybody has the same views as me and that things mean different things to different people.”

Riese plans to return to Hawaii in the future and even admits some part of her felt missing after departing the state.

Katherine Day, sophomore in environmental science, felt something was missing from her college experience before studying abroad at the California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), where she currently studies.

Day said she felt California was a dream come true for someone from the Midwest wanting study oceanography. However, Day did admit there are some challenges to studying abroad.

“It is hard being this far away from home and making new friends is something that takes a lot of effort, but it’s not as scary as I once thought it was,” Day said.

Day is planning to make the full transfer to CSUMB either in the spring semester or next fall semester. For now, though, she’s taking in “a whole different way of life and perspective on lots of environmental issues” as well as all the state parks California has to offer.

Jacob Koutas, a senior in Mechanical Engineering, ended up going to the University of Hawaii at Manoa because his friend was planning on going.

“I wanted to study abroad, but no one was really going for it at the time and my friend [Matt Thompson] was really dedicated to [NSE], so I figured [I] might as well go for this as a perfect alternative,” Koutas said.

Koutas said he found his time in Hawaii not only to be an awesome experience where he had opportunities to surf, snorkel and learn in a new environment, but an eye opening exposure to the culture in Hawaii.

“I learned a lot about the state of Hawaii itself and the annexing of Hawaii and how it became a state,” Koutas said. 

Koutas, now a student ambassador for NSE, gets to share his experiences with students considering studying abroad through NSE. Koutas said it’s a job he loves that spares his friends from hearing his study abroad stories too many times.

When picking locations for studying abroad, Severson said Hawaii and Alaska are the most popular destinations for Iowa State students.

For Addie Nyman, a senior in Animal Ecology, deciding to attend the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau this semester was easy because she had friends that had gone in previous semesters.

For Nyman, studying abroad is about having new experiences that will help her grow and living outside of Iowa for the first time in her life.

“Moving to Juneau for the semester has given me more independence, which I think is an important aspect of life to have,” Nyman said. “Also, I have stuck with the same group of people since freshman year of college, so getting to meet a variety of new people has been a lot of fun and I know I have already made lifelong memories here.”

Nyman said she has been pursuing the outdoor adventures possible in Juneau as well as making connections with new people.

“My favorite part about this experience so far has been a hike up a mountain in Juneau called Thunder Mountain,” Nyman said. “It was an all day hike and it was very difficult, but the view at the top was worth it.”

She went on to describe eating wild blueberries as well as seeing black bears. Along with hiking, Nyman has gone outdoor rock climbing at the sea cliffs in Juneau, where she was able to see whales.

Nyman embraces the fact everything is different, and each day brings with it something new.

When reflecting on returning to Iowa State, Nyman said she believes she will be ready to come home, but will miss the lifestyle and friends she made in Alaska. She’s already making plans to return to Juneau for future vacations.

Geddy Colarossi, junior in chemistry, plans to go to the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the spring.

“I just want to explore the islands and really engulf myself in their culture, because it really is so different than what we’re used to here,” Colarossi said.

For Colarossi, a head teaching assistant at Iowa State, that specifically includes being in engulfed in new styles of teaching and experience-based learning.

“The big reason I wanted to go was to see how they teach there, what’s different and what they do the same as such a big school like Iowa State,” Colarossi said. “Hopefully, I can come back with new teaching styles that work for students.”

Above all else though, Colarossi said he is most excited to make new connections and study out of his comfort zone.

The National Student Exchange program has had an average of 50 to 75 students from Iowa State studying abroad as well as an average of 10 students coming to Iowa State for their own study abroad.

NSE is an affordable chance to travel, be immersed in a different culture, experience personal and professional growth and so much more. 

Every student’s experience is different, but it’s clear every student who participates is impacted for a lifetime.