Alaska Native culture

The State of Culture Shock of an Alaska Native

I attended the Rural Alaska Honors Institute (RAHI) in 1991 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.
I attended the Rural Alaska Honors Institute (RAHI) in 1991 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

The first time I went out of state to the Lower 48 was a high school trip to Close-Up in Washington, DC. My cousin, Michelle, experienced government in action. I had no idea what to expect in a huge city. I remember feeling so overwhelmed with how fast-paced everything was.

We flew from Bettles to Fairbanks (the biggest city I’ve ever been to before going out of state). I got jet lag from the trip across the country. I still felt like I was moving two days later. The hotel felt like it was moving. We visited the capitol, landmarks and learned about legislative processes.

I took a subway for the first time. I remember doing a lot of walking. I remember being shocked at a street with six lanes. Bettles has gravel roads. I remember running across the lanes like my life depended on it. The wind and rain didn’t help. As I ran across, my umbrella turned inside out and I ended up getting soaked.

The Close-Up program broadened my horizons on many levels. My only knowledge of subways and architectural buildings was from movies and books. The sheer number of people in the airport, buildings, cities was amazing.

Teacher Susie Luck taught us proper table manners at a restaurant in Fairbanks. L-R: Michelle, Miss Luck, Tanya and Gloria. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Teacher Susie Luck taught us proper table manners at a restaurant in Fairbanks. L-R: Michelle, Miss Luck, Tanya and Gloria. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

We had two teachers at the Bettles Field School. George Nicholson was a principal and teacher and taught the younger grades. Suzi Luck taught the upper grades. There were an average of 10 students in the whole school, kindergarten through 12 grade. On a trip to Fairbanks one year, Miss Luck brought a group of us to a restaurant. She taught us table manners and how to order food. We didn’t really have to opportunity to eat in a restaurant too often.

I respect teachers, like Mr. Nicholson and Miss Luck, who go above and beyond to help their students succeed. Teachers, counselors, mentors and coaches in rural Alaska are often instrumental in preparing students for higher education and beyond.

I later attended the Rural Alaska Honors Institute (RAHI) at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. RAHI is a six-week college preparatory program and takes place in the summer. I earned college credits and gained the confidence I needed to succeed in college.

After high school, I attended the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. Despite my experience of going through the programs, attending college was still a culture shock. I went from a small community of about 50 people to a college with over 4,000 students at that time. I was exposed to city life and to the Native American culture in Oklahoma. Like many other college students, I made lifelong friends and I still keep in touch with them today.

In my senior year, I traveled to Europe with an international business class. That is one thing I never imagined I would ever be able to do. I visited international businesses, see the sights and watched a play in a theater. I traveled by planes, trains, automobiles and ship during the whirlwind trip. We visited London, Birmingham, Brussels and Amsterdam.

I am grateful for the experiences of college and learning about life outside of Alaska. While I learned a lot about other people and communities, it made me appreciate where I am from and how I was raised. I’m forever grateful to parents and family who believed in me and supported me as I have pursued my dreams. Despite all my travels, experiences and living in the city, I am still a village girl at heart.