UH exchanges paying off for students, coming and going
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer
Catrina Tamayo's friends back at Grambling University in Louisiana are all envious when she calls home to tell them how blue the ocean is, how beautiful the mountains are and how friendly the people.
Students participating in the University of Hawai'i program "Semester Almost Abroad," get a closeup look at local sea life from docent Joe O'Reilly.
"Everything has been smooth sailing," said Tamayo, one of more than 400 students who have come to the University of Hawai'i's Manoa and Hilo campuses this year as part of the National Student Exchange program.
Hawai'i's two large state campuses are the most popular in the country for the 32-year-old program that enables students to come as close as possible to a year abroad but without the high cost. Students gain by paying in-state tuition at colleges that participate in the exchange, with some saving as much as $9,000 a year.
What draws them are the oceanography and marine biology courses, Asian studies and international business, and the surf, sun and mild winter weather.
But the program also serves as an important halfway measure for Hawai'i students who want to experience life on the Mainland without committing to a full four years away. Their numbers continue to grow, with annual participation now topping 100.
With 177 universities and colleges from 49 states and three Canadian provinces participating, Manoa campus program coordinator Sandy Davis calls it "a poor man's study abroad" that offers students the chance to stretch their wings, experience another part of the country, and broaden themselves intellectually and emotionally.
Inspired by this program, a second one was launched four years ago this called "Semester Almost Abroad" to bring students from pricey private universities such as Swarthmore, Smith, Brown, Amherst, George Washington, Trinity and others for a UH semester to study specialized offerings such as Asian and Pacific culture, language and theater; Japanese and international business; and oceanography.
With 11 students this semester, the newer program is small in comparison, but growing.
"People are amazed at the number of courses on Asia and the Pacific," said director Anita Hodges, who is also the academic support specialist for arts and the humanities. Last week the new students got their feet wet, Hawai'i style, with an orientation visit to Coconut Island.
But UH students are equally interested in heading to the Mainland to "go domestic" for their junior year as part of the exchange program among state colleges. This year anywhere from 100 to 120 students are packing warm clothes and rice cookers for a year away from the familiar.
"One year I sent students to 37 schools in 18 states," said Davis, who is counselor, adviser, surrogate mom and all-around hand-holder for the exchange students going both ways. "This is a fabulous opportunity to get out of state at a cut rate for up to a year.
"It's one big reason Hawai'i was one of the earliest to join the consortium, back in 1970. It's a wonderful way of tapping the programs at UH and still have that developmental experience of getting away from home that every kid needs."
For 21-year-old senior Lauren Tomatani, taking part in the national exchange program at Portland State in Oregon last year has inspired her to be a more dedicated student, and given her a chance to assess the pressure-cooker pace she sees there.
"They'd tell us we're in for a culture shock, but you really don't understand it until you're there," said Tomatani. "I didn't realize how depressed you can get when you're not seeing the sun. ... It gets hard and lonely at times, but I knew I had to give it a chance. The exchange program is a year, and home will always be there."
Tamayo is the first exchange student at UH from Grambling, one of the country's 10 historically black colleges. UH is beginning to recruit more heavily at black schools to further broaden the diversity of students coming for an exchange year, even though one-third now are Hispanic, Caribbean, black, Native American and Asian American.
For many students, such as Jason Tesman, 21, of Sturgis, Mich., coming to Hawai'i for a year of school offered the opportunity to study marine biology, which wasn't available back home at Ferris State University.
"There's not too many oceans here," chuckled his dad, Donald Tesman, speaking from Sturgis. Jason Tesman has returned to UH for his senior year, and is now considering grad school here.
But the experience also offers growth in values and understanding. Kerry Trundle of Maryville, Tenn., saw a change in her daughter Heather after her junior year in Hawai'i last year, and watched her come back home with new understanding of the culture and history of Native Hawaiians.
"As a visitor over there I never really thought about all of that," she said from Maryville.
Heather Trundle signed up for Hawaiian studies, hula and chant, and on weekends hiked the trails of several islands. "I had never been away from home for school, and I wanted to get another perspective on another part of the U.S." said the 21-year-old senior, now back at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Schools participating in the exchange program consortium work out individual tuition agreements between themselves, offering their students either the exchange program at the same home-school tuition, or at the visiting school's tuition. Sometimes it works in a student's favor, sometimes it doesn't. They also work out agreements to allow students in both sophomore and senior years to make the exchange.
Tomatani was lucky: The tuition break was a good one. She paid UH tuition of around $3,300 a year in Portland, a huge difference from the $12,000 out-of-state students usually pay.
Catrina Tamayo was also lucky. She's saving about $1,200 a semester by being able to pay UH resident tuition of $1,674 rather than her $2,900 Grambling tuition.
"I had the choice," she said. "That was easy."
Reach Beverly Creamer at email@example.com or 525-8013.