NSE offers opportunities for exploration
It’s been around since 1968, yet few people know about it. It is National Student Exchange, and it is one of the best kept secrets in higher education.
That is something Jimmie Gahagan wants to change.
As director of the University of South Carolina’s Office of Student Engagement, Gahagan oversees the university’s participation in NSE, a program that allows students to attend college for a semester, year or summer at one of nearly 200 universities in the United States, U.S. territories (Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico) and Canada.
“National Student Exchange is a wonderful and enriching opportunity available to students,” Gahagan says. “Many students say it is the best experience they have had during their time at Carolina.”
Gahagan says students choose NSE for various reasons. Some students want to have an out-of-state college experience, while others want to explore a different part of the country, be close to relatives or investigate options for internships, graduate school or a potential place to enter the workforce after college.
Damian Jones, a junior accounting and finance major from Bamberg, is studying management science this year at California State University at San Bernardino. He settled on California because of his ultimate goal: to be a CPA or a financial consultant for an entertainment company.
“I chose California State University at San Bernardino mostly for its location,” Jones says. “It seemed to be in the middle of everything, and it is one of the best schools for business in California.”
Jones says he is part of tight-knit group of 15 NSE students who have gone snowboarding and traveled to the Grand Canyon and San Francisco. While studying in the Golden State, Jones had his first internship, preparing tax returns at VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance).
It was listening to a fellow student talk about her NSE experience that led Jessica Taylor to study last fall at the University of Hawaii Manoa. Taylor, a senior hotel, restaurant and tourism management major from Columbia, lived in downtown Honolulu and took accounting and tourism classes, attended college football games and explored the beauty of the Hawaiian islands.
“My tourism classes were similar to my HRTM classes at Carolina, but they were geared more toward Hawaiian and the Asia-Pacific tourism,” Taylor says. “The beaches in Waikiki and Northshore and the hiking at Diamondhead were beyond my wildest dreams. It was absolutely beautiful.”
Taylor, who hopes to work in the hospitality industry on the coast near Charleston or Savannah after graduating, says more students should look into the possibilities that NSE offers.
“I would recommend the NSE program to anyone. It is a great way to live in another place and experience new things for a short time,” Taylor says. “Many times the tuition can be cheaper than their home school.”
Gahagan says there are several ways to pay for NSE, but the best option, which he calls the popular “Plan B,” is for students to pay the tuition and fees to the University of South Carolina as they normally would, and pay only room and board at the host school.
Senior Chris McCandlish, a Spanish major from Columbia, also found out about NSE and landed last fall at the University of New Hampshire.
“New Hampshire is pretty different than the Southeast. The school was lovely, and New England had a quaint, quiet feel to it. The attitudes were different and so were the accents,” McCandlish says. “It also was interesting to experience a brutal New England winter.”
The University of South Carolina has been part of the NSE consortium of universities since 1979. Gahagan says approximately 25 Carolina students participate each year, and 25 students from universities around the country choose Carolina for their NSE experience.
Emily Mattheisen, a fifth-year senior at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, chose to spend her final year of college at Carolina to study advanced Arabic studies. She plans to attend graduate school at American University in Cairo, Egypt.
She says the University of South Carolina is much bigger and more diverse than UW-EC.
“The weather here (South Carolina) is nice, and I went to all the football games. Gamecocks are diehard fans; they really get into it,” says Mattheisen, who feels at home with two roommates who are from her native Minnesota.
Mattheisen says she has enjoyed excursions to the Biltmore Estate, Atlanta and Charleston that were organized by Gahagan’s staff and hails her academic experiences.
“I’ve had several really good professors. I’m really enjoying my class, ‘African American Religious Experiences’ with Dr. Bobby Donaldson, and my class, ‘Visions of Apocalypse’ with Dr. Kevin Lewis. I took ‘Religion and Existentialism’ with Dr. Lewis last semester.”
Gahagan says Mattheisen and other NSE students enrich Carolina’s Columbia campus.
“It provides the university with the opportunity to add to its diversity by having students from other parts of the country come and study here. They get involved on campus and look at Carolina as a potential destination for graduate school. Some students like Carolina so much, they have transferred here,” Gahagan says.
So why don’t more people know about NSE?
Gahagan says one reason is the growing attention and interest in study abroad. While he’d like more students to learn about and pursue a NSE experience, he is quick to emphasize the value of a study abroad experience.
“Many students think of study abroad first, and those global opportunities are extremely important in today’s marketplace,” Gahagan says. “We want to encourage students to pursue study abroad, but we also want students to explore the diverse opportunities available to them by studying in a different part of our country. NSE provides a rich cultural experience. It also can be good preparation for a study abroad experience.”
Gahagan says students should begin looking into NSE their first or second year of college. A good first step is for students to discuss it with an academic advisor.
“National Student Exchange can be extremely cost effective, and a lot of the scholarships that students rely on can make it very affordable to study in a different part of the country,” Gahagan says. “It offers students the opportunity to have a fantastic and affordable travel study experience.”
“It was great because you save money and can get an out-of-state experience for in-state tuition. That’s the beauty of it,” he says.