The exchange of a lifetime

Like most USF students, junior marketing major Chelsea Duchene wants to get the most out of her college experience. But unlike other students, Duchene doesn’t get her books from the Phyllis P. Marshall Center and doesn’t fight parking at the business building; she hasn’t even stepped foot on campus this semester. The main reason: Duchene’s classrooms are more than 700 miles away.

Duchene is one of 51 students participating in the National Student Exchange program, which allow students – for up to one calendar year – to attend one of 181 member schools and take classes that count for USF credit. This semester, Duchene is on exchange at Louisiana State University. A native of Louisiana, Duchene said she always wanted to attend school there.

“It gives you a chance to go to a college that you didn’t go to, where you never got a chance to get a new experience,” Duchene said.

New experiences are what the program is all about, according to Joanne Pieri, coordinator of NSE at USF.

“We can just about put a student in any kind of situation they’re looking for. We can put a student in a small school in a big city, a big school in a small city. We can put a student in a rural area. We have students take dog sledding in Alaska – you can’t have those kinds of experiences here in Florida,” she said.

As the coordinator, Pieri runs the daily operations of the program, screening incoming and outgoing students to confirm their eligibility. To be eligible for NSE, a student must be attending school full time, have a GPA of 2.5 or greater and be in good standing with his or her university.

Pieri said the number of USF students who go out on exchange seems to be increasing every year. She made 51 placements last year and is hoping to double that this year.

“They say that your number should increase by 5 percent every year,” she said. “Hopefully a couple years down the road, I’ll be sending out 100 students. I think with a campus this size, we should be sending that many students on exchange,” she said.

There is no limit to how many students can be a part of the exchange program.

“It’s not that competitive of a program where I only have 50 spaces, so if I have 200 students walk through the door and they’re full time and their GPA is 2.5 or higher, I’ll send that many students. I can send anyone who wants to go, as long as they meet those eligibility requirements,” she said.

Pieri describes it as a win-win situation when students who wanted to go to another school before going to USF get to go to those schools.

“The other day I had a student who said ‘I want to go to the University of Georgia, but I couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition,'” Pieri said. “The student is still going there on exchange, so both parties benefit.”

Cost is another concern for students wishing to travel for their education, and because of that, NSE offers two payment plans for its services. Payment Plan A entails paying the host university’s tuition and fees as though they were a resident of that state. Plan B has students pay the tuition and fees charged by their home university. According to Pieri, most USF students choose Plan B.

“Bright Futures, Florida pre-paid, that all applies. It’s just as if (the students) were here at USF, only they’re not – they’re out of state, taking classes someplace else, but still being billed by USF,” she said.

Though students are able to choose which university’s tuition they would like to pay, Pieri said students who go out on exchange don’t have a choice when it comes to housing and meal plans.

“They have to pay the host campus. If they’re living at the host campus, they have to pay them for their living expenses,” she said.

The 180-plus member colleges in the NSE aren’t limited to just the United States.”(NSE is comprised of) three U.S. territories, Guam and Puerto Rico, and we’re now branching into five Canadian provinces,” Pieri said.

Only two states don’t have any member schools.

“We don’t have Delaware, and we don’t have North Dakota,” Pieri said.

She also thinks USF’s membership in the program gives it an edge over other Florida universities.

“University of Florida doesn’t have the program; they’re not a member. Florida State (is) not a member, and the University of Central Florida, they’re not a member, so I think for USF, (NSE is) a recruiting tool to get students to come to USF,” she said.

For students such as Devon Ericksen, going out on exchange is a way to explore a different climate.

Ericksen is no stranger to the cold; she’s a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and being on exchange at USF has proven a vacation of sorts. She wanted to spend time sightseeing and doing a lot of things she can’t in the Midwest.

“It’s nice to get away from the cold,” she said. “That’s one of the main reasons I came down here.”

According to Ericksen, River Falls is a very small school with approximately 5,500 students.

She recommended that for at least for one semester, students get out of Florida and see what else is out there.

Pieri has also spoken to students after their exchange experiences and said the students think NSE is a great program.

“They can’t say enough about it. Call a couple of them; they won’t stop talking,” she said.One of those students is Duchene, who said she is having fun at LSU.

“It’s been really good; I’m really glad that I did it. A lot of my friends are here. The basketball games are really fun,” she said.

Duchene said she is thinking of transferring next year.

“We will lose probably one or two students every year to their host campuses, but we feel that those students were the ones who were going to go anyway; they were going to transfer somewhere,” Pieri said.

Pieri said that while there are students transferring to other universities from USF, there are far more who transfer to USF from their host campuses.

“They find that USF is a pretty nice place to be,” she said.

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