Name: Iris
Animal Ecology
Option: Wildlife Care & Pre-Vet
National Student Exchange Location: Fort Lewis College, Durango Colorado






Where did you go? 

I have always loved the mountains, and going to Durango gave me a chance to spend an entire year surrounded by the San Juan range. The college offered so many things that I couldn't get at Iowa State, from outdoor courses to the experience of a small campus.


What did you learn?

I learned so much during my exchange, and most of it was about myself. This experience turned out to be very eye-opening for me. I learned about my interests (it was during this trip that I made the switch to NREM at Iowa State), as well as my capabilities and strengths. In addition, I got to learn about and appreciate the rich Native American culture that makes up so much of the Southwest.


What were your expectations?

To be honest, I went in with very few expectations. At the time, I wasn't so happy with my experience at ISU, and I was hoping for the exchange to provide me with the things I felt I was in need of at the time - a new surrounding, natural beauty and plenty of outdoor adventures, and a chance to get away from home for a while. These expectations were met, but what I hadn't expected was a new appreciation for home. In my time away, I found myself becoming very sentimental about Iowa. It turns out that the old saying really is true - distance makes the heart grow fonder. By the time I came back, I was actually excited to start another year at Iowa State, a huge turnaround from my attitude at the end of my Freshman year. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy my time away (I most certainly did), but it made me realize how much I do love where I come from.


What were the best parts of your adventure?

The best parts? Where do I even start? The skiing, backpacking, camping, or hiking? The friendships I formed or the experience of a small school? I suppose overall, the best part was simply the location. I got to do so many amazing things that I could never do in Iowa, simply because of where I was located and what was available to me. I tried so many new things!

Looking back on this experience, I think I became a stronger, more independent person from it. I grew so much in that year, and one of the biggest changes I can see in myself is my willingness to take risks. I feel more confident in taking on new challenges. I trust that whatever I decide to do or wherever I decide to go in life, I am capable of not only doing it, but also of making the most of it. A lot of things about this experience were very difficult. I actually had a lot of things go wrong. But I made it through and, in the end, had an amazing time.

My most memorable moment was when I went skiing for the first time while in Durango. I will always remember when I tried out one of the routes on my own the first time. There I was, at the top of the mountain, all alone and all I could see in the distance was more grand, snow-capped mountains. I felt so free, so powerful, and yet so humble at the same time. It is a moment I will replay again and again in my mind, and it never fails to make me smile.


How did this differ from your other experiences?

One thing that I liked about my National Student Exchange experience as opposed to my study abroad experience was that it forced me to immerse myself in new relationships and new social circles. On my short study abroad, I was with all ISU students. On the NSE trip, however, I was the only ISU student there that year. It was a great exercise in putting myself (a natural introvert) out there and forming new relationships.


What advice do you have for others considering an exchange program?

I would say stop thinking about it and do it! What's there to lose? If you are unsure, you can always choose to go for a single semester. Anyone can make it through 16 weeks, but chances are, you'll want to stay much longer!

In my opinion, everyone should travel, especially abroad. Traveling introduces you to new cultures, thoughts, ideas, and ways of living. It makes you appreciate things that you might otherwise take for granted, and helps you to understand those who aren't from your same background. In my opinion, traveling allows us to be better people. You can't travel and not be changed in some way.

If you choose Fort Lewis College, it will give you a sense of small community that you wouldn't find on bigger campuses. You get to have small classes and personal relationships with your professors. And if you are someone who likes the outdoors, GO TO DURANGO. You will never be bored, I can promise you that. In ever single season, there is something to do outside, and you can always find someone who is willing to accompany you on adventures.