But, why Idaho?’ was always the question I would get after I told people my post-graduation plans.
Imagine this: 48 hours in America, you are sitting in the ’bleachers’, under a ’kibbi dome’ and watching a grand total of 30-odd cheerleaders and 50 walking brass players and a man dressed as a padded viking, who everyone is reassuring you is going to be your best friend, performing the Idaho chant.
Meet ’Joe Vandal’ , My student ID and email address also suggest that I am a ’vandal’.
You laugh awkwardly; ’why Idaho?’ is exactly what you are asking yourself.
Then, a week later, you know the chant and have started to respond to conversations with: ’That’s neat!’ or ’gosh darn’it’.
I am the 53rd student from the Isle of Man to attend the University of Idaho on an exchange programme.
I am here by the courtesy of Ella Olesen.
She was the daughter of a Manx mother and Dutch father who both moved to the United States.
And like any badass woman in the 19th century, she attended the University of Idaho, did not graduate, worked at the university until 1944 when she resigned, picked up her bags and travelled around the world only to come back to Idaho and give the sum of her life savings to a scholarship that would allow young women from the Isle of Man to experience an adventure on the other side of the Atlantic.
For the first few days the only thing I could respond to: ’How are you enjoying Idaho?’ was stuttering, unimaginatively: ’It’s just so American.’
The buildings are huge, everyone is extremely friendly, you’re surrounded by wheat fields and invitations to watch the rodeo.
As an exchange student, the opportunities are endless.
I was incredibly lucky to meet a group of like-minded internationals who have quickly become life-long friends.
We hiked the Sawtooth Mountains, went to Seattle (think London, but by the sea) for a weekend and spent the Thanksgiving break exploring Glacier National Park.
I was also welcomed into my friends’ home to spend actual Thanksgiving Day at a horse ranch nestled in the Rocky Mountains.
Also, because as an Ella Olesen scholar you are no longer tied to a single subject, you can literally choose whatever you want to study, from Chinese to Latin ballroom and physics to fashion.
Furthermore, classes are actually interesting.
There are many opportunities to extend your study and do something meaningful with your work.
Next semester I will be part of a student team that are working on improving the efficiency of an NGO run by my professor.
Additionally, in America, the classes are just as focused on practical training as well as the theory.
My friends studying biology or natural resources would often be off exploring the mountains every other weekend, tracking bison or measuring the height of glaciers.
An international relations class I attend organised a weekend visit to Portland in Oregon.
Next semester there is a trip to New York to visit the United Nations, all heavily subsidised by the university.
But, more than anything, the complete change of pace has allowed a brief moment to pause and re-consider what the next step may be.
I have changed my masters choice as a result of discovering a skill with obscure languages.
I have started to plan my life around how close we (the other international students who have found saying good bye to each other a little too hard) can live near one another.
I’m writing this on a flight to Los Angeles where me and my friends plan to spend a wonderful three weeks enjoying a sunny Christmas.
And all this I owe to Ella Olesen, the Isle of Man Government, taking a chance on something that I knew would challenge me and the small town of Moscow in ’but why?’ Idaho.
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