By Alana Penny
Nickie Hayes, a fitness and wellness major with a minor in journalism, got a taste for travel as a young child when her parents started taking her on vacations across the East coast. Now, a junior, it’s all she wants to do.
“As an adult I want to make traveling an even bigger part of my life,” Hayes said.
This year she is studying 3,014 miles away at Western Oregon University. She had this opportunity through National Student Exchange, an exchange program through the Global Education Office (GEO). This program allows students to go on exchange anywhere in the United States, Canada and some territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands.
“It’s a great way for students to stay in the US if they want to or need to have an alternative to study abroad, and they’re able to take classes that fit their program,” Brooke Layhee, coordinator of study away, said.
Programs are typically semester based, allowing students to go for a semester or a full academic year, but some schools offer summer programs. SUNY Plattsburgh is one of 160 schools across the country that participates in the National Student Exchange.
Students have the option to pay what is called a “host payment,” meaning they pay tuition, fees, room and board directly to the institution they are attending. Any scholarships the student applies for would also be through the host institution. Students can also choose the “home payment” plan, meaning they pay tuition and fees to SUNY Plattsburgh. They still pay room and board to the host institution.
Hayes said she has been able to take courses she would have taken at Plattsburgh and courses Plattsburgh doesn’t offer, but are beneficial to her degree.
“They have an exercise science major here, which is super similar, but the one at Western is a little more science intensive,” Hayes said. “They had quite a few courses I needed to take at Plattsburgh, here. This semester I’m taking a kinesiology course, which I would have had to take at Plattsburgh, so that directly transfers.
Another thing that drew her to Western was its writing program.
“It’s not journalism specifically, but they have classes that can help me improve my craft so I was down for that,” Hayes said.
She is also the editor in chief for All Points Now, an online magazine produced by journalism students at SUNY Plattsburgh. She meets with her staff weekly over Zoom.
Hayes has also reconnected with an old passion, dance.
“I used to be a competitive dancer and a coworker was like ‘hey do you know how to dance? Do you want to be a part of my senior project?’ I was like ‘yeah, that sounds like a great plan,’” Hayes said. “It was really fun and a nice way to meet new people and we put on a show at the end of the semester. It made me nostalgic.”
Layhee said NSE has been less restrictive during COVID than study abroad programs, because they are evaluated for safety differently. They did pause the NSE program for one semester at the beginning of the pandemic, but have been operating normally, for the most part, since.
“While we’ve been operating during COVID, we’ve taken more precautions in the sense of monitoring the areas students are going to, collecting information on cases or vaccination rates and empowering students to be looking up that information as well,” Layhee said.
Hayes went to Oregon thinking she might want to move there later in life, but has found a new appreciation for New York.
“I’ve always wanted to try living in the pacific northwest because I’ve always thought it would be a good fit for me,” Hayes said. “Now coming out here I’ve grown an appreciation for New York and particularly the Hudson Valley where I’m from.”
She drove from New York to Oregon.
“I had the opportunity to drive across the county and see places I’ve never seen before so it’s been really fulfilling and if you want that kind of adventure go for it,” Hayes said. “It was a four day, three night trip. That was an experience in itself.”
Although she might not end up moving to the pacific northwest, she is enjoying her time there.
“I think I’m more of an East Coast person, but I’m glad I had this experience to be able to figure that out because I wouldn’t have had any other way of knowing,” Hayes said.