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Culture Shock: Alaska

By Shannon Pandaliano, Features Copy Editor

Imagine growing up on an isolated island where only local businesses exist and fishing is the most common way of life. There are forty kids in your graduating high school class, and you know that most of you are going to travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to go to college. This is the reality for one Hofstra student, Haleigh Zueger, a junior Political Science and Global Studies major.

Haleigh is from Unalaska, Alaska, one of the larger Aleutian Islands in the southwestern corner of the state–over 5,000 miles away from Hofstra. Situated amidst windswept volcanic peaks and rigid green mountains, Unalaska is most commonly known for its appearance on "Deadliest Catch," a Discovery Channel series that narrates the dangerous job of the fishermen on the Bering Sea. While this exposure has made Dutch Harbor a popular place for tourists, Haleigh expressed that the area has a small-town feel where everyone knows each other. "It's like one big family," she said.

Haleigh always knew that she wanted to come to the east coast. Because of her interest in Political Science, she felt that an eastern United States perspective would widen her understanding of the American population; she hopes to one day represent people on a national or global level. Haleigh chose Hofstra University for a variety of reasons, including the proximity to both New York City and ocean beaches, and the appeal of a completely different culture from her own. "New York City is literally the exact opposite of Alaska," she stated.

Haleigh explained that she has traveled her life, and that the twelve-hour flight to New York had little bearing on her choice of college. In Unalaska, plane rides are necessary to go almost anywhere. Because of her involvement in athletic and academic competition in high school, traveling by plane to go to a game was a normal occurrence.

In Haleigh's eyes, there are many differences between her life at Hofstra and her home in Unalaska. There are absolutely no fast-food restaurants or chain businesses where she is from. "There are no malls. I wear the same clothes you do, but the difference is I had to order them online."

The biggest difference for Haleigh is the drastic change in scenery. "Here, you have to put in quite an effort to find nature. At home, you have to search for a strip of concrete." Haleigh misses the immediate access to nature she has at home. An avid hiker and outdoor runner, Haleigh misses being able to live an active lifestyle that is not confined to a treadmill.

Perhaps because she grew up in the exhilarating Alaskan terrain, Haleigh recognizes in herself a sense of adventure and the desire to explore things that she has never seen or done. She said she spends many of her weekends getting in her car and driving to someplace new. "I've learned so much more in my experiences outside of the classroom than I ever anticipated. If there's something I haven't already seen or done, rest assured it's next on my list." Aside from the convenience of things being so close, Haleigh also likes the "diversity of people, the access to the arts, and different cultures" within the Northeast.

Haleigh knows that her New York experience is not infinite, and that after four years she will probably go somewhere new. "Moving to the east has been an amazing experience so far, but I can't deny my inherent desire to explore somewhere new" said Haleigh. Whether it is back to Alaska, a different part of the United States or even another country, she knows that she will remain true to her love for adventure. "My exploratory nature largely defines who I am, my next challenge comes in finding a career that complements it."

Hofstra junior Haleigh Zueger enjoys exploring the natural environment around her home in Unalaska, AK. (Photo Courtesy Haleigh Zueger)

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