Exchange experience at UK priceless



Column by Timothy Kroboth

“Kentucky?” a friend asked in disbelief. “Why on earth would you want to go there?”

My classmates and friends at Winthrop University were skeptical last spring as I defended my decision to spend the 2009-2010 academic year at another university in the U.S. through the National Student Exchange program.

Although I would resume studying at Winthrop following my NSE experience, they could not believe that I had chosen to leave our beloved campus in Rock Hill, S.C., for an entire year.

“Tim hates us,” my Winthrop roommate semi-jokingly told all our mutual friends.

And if that wasn’t bad enough in their eyes, how could I choose UK over schools in Hawaii and the Caribbean? Didn’t I have better destination options than boring, old Kentucky?

But as this semester winds down, and I reflect on my time at UK, I realize I would change nothing even if I were offered a redo for the Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 semesters.

Honestly, I cannot imagine what my undergraduate college experience would have been like if I had not come to UK through NSE.

UK has enhanced my academic experience by allowing me to take courses that Winthrop does not regularly offer such as Arabic and the economics of health care.

Winthrop has no 200-level Arabic language classes, but at UK, I have been able to continue learning that vital language.

And the benefits from my year at UK are not limited to the realm of academics. As much as I have missed hanging out with my friends at Winthrop, I would not trade the memories and new friends I have made here at UK.

Obviously, the community dynamics at a large research university such as UK contrast sharply with the small-school atmosphere at Winthrop, where it seems as if I cannot go anywhere on campus without randomly running into at least one friend. Developing friendships at Winthrop is easy, because you see the same people everyday.

But I have found the people of Kentucky to be incredibly welcoming, and have discovered how to make UK feel small just like Winthrop: being regularly involved in several UK student organizations.

In organizations such as Reformed University Fellowship and the Arabic Club, I have met and shared experiences with many new wonderful individuals who have become great friends. I have never felt like an outsider at UK.

In addition to Arabic, I selected UK so I could experience Southeastern Conference sports as a student. And the Cats did not disappoint.

I went to every home basketball and football games possible and will always have fond memories of cheering with 70,000 fellow fans in Commonwealth Stadium and 24,000 of my closest friends in Rupp Arena.

How could I ever forget being in the eRUPPtion Zone when John Wall hit his buzzer-beating jumper to rescue UK from Miami of Ohio in his first official collegiate game?

After having attended a Big South Conference member institution where athletics are virtually irrelevant, being a student at UK during the year when the football team went to a bowl and both the men’s and women’s basketball teams reached the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight has been an extremely special experience.

Beyond sports, my UK memories have not been limited to the boundaries of campus. I will remember UK as my base camp for weekend trips to destinations such as the spectacular Red River Gorge, the highest waterfall in the eastern U.S. at Fall Creek Falls in Tennessee  and the amazingly authentic Arab American community of Dearborn, Mich.

I cannot wait to return to Winthrop, but my year abroad at UK has been a priceless experience.

Thanks UK, for being a wonderful NSE host. And go Big Blue.