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Students reflect on life-changing “study away from home” experiences with National Student Exchange

Students reflect on life-changing “study away from home” experiences with National Student Exchange

April 3, 2024 at 4:30pm

Ever thought of leaving the sunny shores of Miami and leaping feet-first into an ice-covered river? The winter pastime, known as a "polar bear plunge” and usually done to raise money for charity, is a rite of passage for many daring northerners and a common way to celebrate New Year’s Day in Canada.

Taking the plunge was a highlight of junior Daniel Rey’s recent study-away-from-home experience at the University of Ottawa.

Rey, a Puerto Rico native who moved to Miami eight years ago, braved temperatures as low as -30° Celsius (yes, negative 30) to try out winter sports like snowboarding, which he remembers “felt like flying.”

This experience was made possible by the National Student Exchange, a program that allows students to spend up to one year studying at one of 175 participating colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada.

Rey’s time in Canada wasn’t just about having fun. The civil engineering major bunkered down in class and got to know his professors, who showed him the opportunities available in research as a future master’s student.

Now, he has a budding professional network of experts from not just FIU but Ottawa as well. 

NSE also gave him the chance to reconnect with close family friends he hadn’t seen in six years and with whom he lived with while he studied.

Rey says that because he participated in NSE, the idea of leaving home for a new city after graduation feels a little more manageable and a lot less daunting.

“I would encourage every student who can participate to do so because it will give you unforgettable experiences,” Rey said. “[NSE] helped me achieve an incredible amount of personal growth, for which I am immensely grateful.”


Daniel Rey in the snow
FIU student Daniel Rey takes a snowy hike in Ontario, Canada, during his National Student Exchange experience

On the flipside, Komal Patel traded a chilly Fall semester at her home school, Purdue University Fort Wayne in Indiana, for milder temps in Miami.

An outdoors enthusiast, Patel frequented FIU’s nature preserve during her down time, and it quickly became her favorite spot on campus. She also joined FIU’s Outdoor Club, and remembers a 15-mile biking tour of the Everglades as one of the highlights of her time in Florida.

Patel is a finance major with a minor in IT, and she aims to become a CPA after graduation. At FIU, she was able to explore her interest in the field and network with like-minded peers as a member of the Phoenician Investment Fund club.

Having been able to experience all this within an affordable budget (NSE participants pay either in-state tuition or little or no more than their home school’s tuition, depending on where they choose to study), Patel feels confident that her time at FIU was worthwhile. She even became an ambassador for the National Student Exchange program to encourage more students to take advantage of the opportunity to explore new cities and expand your worldview by studying away from home.

“Living at FIU was a great, life-changing experience. I got to meet people with different backgrounds, diverse personalities, and certainly all having an enthusiasm to do something for them and the people around them,” she said. “The lively culture of FIU encouraged me to work hard and take things easy, share your knowledge, and do what your intuition tells you to do.”

Students who are interested in participating in the National Student Exchange are encouraged to register for an upcoming information session, taking place via Zoom now through April 16. 

Komal Patel at the boatyard
Purdue student Komal Patel visits the marina at Miami Beach during her National Student Exchange experience at FIU