Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Hello all!


My name is Panav Hulsurkar and I am an international student and a Global Ambassador for International Programs and Initiatives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
I will be blogging about everything related to living and learning here at UAF and the United States of America, from the point of view of an “alien” :D
If you are a prospective international student or just a curious soul, you will find a few interesting things here!

My experience as a tropical dwelling creature, leaving the comfortable 25°C (77°F) weather in Pune, India to travel to the other side of the world to -37°C (-34.6°F) to Fairbanks, Alaska, temperature- wise, was shocking.

My first step out of the airport wasn’t a comfortable one…
It didn’t take me long to get used to it, though

I had never left my native India (apart from that one trip to Nepal when I was 8) and I knew it was going to be an exciting adventure for me. Thanks to the internet and the unwavering ripple of westernisation that has been traveling East, I already knew a lot about the USA, its culture and people. As my departure neared, an air of nervousness and doubt started to creep in with all my friends and family visiting me, giving me gifts and saying their goodbyes

I guess most of us go through this phase of uneasiness when we are about to start a new, a very different chapter in our lives. But when you persevere through that last crest, you rarely regret your decision. 

(L) I got a lot of stuff, including a loofah from a friend who wanted to remind me of them every time I took a shower

All the research and reading I did before I left for Fairbanks was not going to prepare me for its sheer beauty and all the amazing people I met here. This is one of those places where you can only truly experience when you actually are there. The climate, wildlife, the bizarre day- night cycles, the very welcoming people and of course, the best light show on Earth; The Aurora Borealis!

The Office of International Programs (OIP) is the usually the first official place you visit and file your immigration documents (documentation that says you are a legal alien in the US!). It sounds a little intimidating, but the staff at OIP makes the process anything but intimidating.
Sue Wolfe (L) and I at OIP. Sue was cheerful and very involved. She would always put a smile on your face

The International Programs and Initiatives staff
L- R: Jo, Donna, Joanna, Nicole, Carol and Reija

Everyone at the office is kind, helpful and welcoming. First impressions are very important and I am glad that the OIP was my first formal interaction with UAF!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Feature of the Month- October

"Full of Surprises!"


Junko Yanagida was born and raised in Japan, moved to Hawaii, lived in the lower 48 (the mainland US) for a few years before moving to Alaska in 2010 and to UAF as a graduate student in fine arts and native arts studio program. She lived here for two years after which she got married to Vitaly Lednev, a television and newspaper commercial designer, also an ice sculptor.

She came back to complete her degree in the spring of 2015. Her two week long thesis show, based on birch bark begins on March 19, 2016. 

Junko with one of her Birch Bark and Ceramic creations (L) and at work in the studio

Why UAF?

She is very interested in indigenous culture. She has been studying the Australian Aborigines, the native Hawaiians, The Navajo and Utah Indian.  Junko points “Alaska is home to indigenous people living under extreme weather conditions” UAF is the only university in the United States to offer a graduate program in native arts studio.

Junko’s Birch Bark Kimono Project.
This Kimono was the Jury’s first choice of exhibition for the 30th Annual, 64th Parallel Bear Gallery Art Show at the Fairbanks Art Community. The show runs all of October 2015

She added, “In the Japanese culture, viewing the northern lights as a child is considered to bring good luck and I wanted to experience the charming lights”, another reason Junko wanted to live in Alaska.

“Don’t forget the Alaskan Salmon!”, she chuckled in the end.

               The Northern Lights, seen by the author in the 
                                  Denali National Park

All these factors made her decide that UAF would be a terrific place to start her Alaskan journey.

First winter and summer experience

She loves the nature and says “UAF is the perfect place for me: situated in the interior, close to the wilderness, but civilized enough to be able to enjoy modern conveniences like going grocery shopping”
Her first winter in Alaska was tough. Even then, she went to the temperature display screen on campus when it was -40°C (-40°F) to take a photo next to it with as little clothes as she could with her friends, to be in the 40 below club. She says “Me and my friends took off our jackets and beanies and posed in the very popular Japanese peace signs!” She caught a cold the next day, but says it was totally worth it!
She loves the summer. She says, “Trees grow quick, faster and longer in the summer. It is beautiful. The contrast is amazing from no leaves at all in the winter to all of the trees exploding with color and life in the summer. It makes me feel like they are bustling with joy” It gives her a lot of inspiration and energy for her birch bark based art work.
(L) "The 40 below club" (From UAF ambassador's blog)

She likes both the extremes. But the transition in between isn’t as fun, she adds. “It is muddy and rainy and you have to wash your car after every drive!”

What do you miss about home?

“I miss food. Especially Miso soup. I even carry a pack on instant Miso soup in my pocket every day for security!” She misses a simple, comfortable meal like rice and Miso soup with family. She comes from a large family where communal meals are commonplace. Though the Japanese community sometimes gets together, having the workload of a graduate student, she has to settle for a lot of alone- meals…

Instant Miso Soup
(From Otakuisine's blog)

She also misses Onsen (Hot springs) “I have to drive an hour and a half to get to Chena hot springs- the closest hot springs to Fairbanks"

What Next?

“I hope to teach drawing/ art in the US for a little bit to students pursuing higher education during my OPT period” She doesn’t mind going to villages/ country sides and teaching drawing.

“You just need paper and pencil. And it is so much better than sitting in front of the computer!” she says. Helping her husband with his designs and ice sculptures is another thing she considers doing after she turns the final leaf in her UAF chapter.

(L) Junko with her student

UAF in a phrase.

Full of surprises!

She says there are countless little surprises hidden here. The weather, food, people, the occasional days off when students get to sleep in because the roads are too slippery, how people dress for up- winter weddings in boots and jackets and so on…

UAF is a very different and interesting place. She hopes many of international students have their first experience in the United States here at UAF.