Imagine a week in the big city — the hustle and bustle and all the amenities.
Did you picture Juneau? Probably not, but for students from the rural community of Buckland, located outside of Kotzebue, a week in Juneau was their introduction to urban living.
A group of seventh graders from Buckland had the opportunity to spend a week in the state capital, staying with host families and experiencing Juneau life with their Juneau counterparts, some of whom had the opportunity to visit Buckland for the rural experience.
Buckland’s population is just over 400; the vast majority are Inupiat. The landscape is tundra and they are about a two-hour drive from the ocean, said student Jacob Weber, who was visiting Juneau for his second time.
“We went to the top of the mountain. We saw the glacier. We went swimming,” Jacob said, describing his week.
For Joe Washington, this was his first trip to Juneau. He said the most interesting part of the trip was staying with the host families.
The goal of the exchange was to introduce rural students to urban life and vice versa, giving students the opportunity to reflect on the similarities and differences.
“We were shy at first,” Jacob said. “But then we opened up.”
The biggest differences Jacob and Joe noted were in the physical landscape and ecosystem, comparing Buckland’s flat tundra with Juneau’s mountains and glaciers, Juneau’s abundant wildlife with Buckland’s more limited variety.
Other differences were highlighted in the discussion of what students might do in Juneau or Buckland.
“There’s not really much to do in Buckland,” Joe said. But trip chaperone Lucia Ramirez prompted him to talk about hunting, which turned the conversation around.
“We could hunt, but there’s not glaciers or oceans,” he said.
Joe said back home they hunt caribou, bears, seals and whale.
Here in Juneau they went on a whale watching tour.
Likely one of the highlights when Juneau students visited Buckland was going dog mushing. Jacob said they also taught the city kids how to skin an animal and showed them muskox.
Ramirez said the students also spoke with culture-bearers and other community figures in Buckland and Juneau, including Tlingit elder David Katzeek, Thunder Mountain High School Vice Principal Rhonda Hickock, Ronalda Cadiente-Brown of the Preparing Indigenous Teachers & Administrators for Alaska Schools program, and a representative of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, who spoke with them about bears.
While these activities were important, equally as important were activities like sharing food — in Buckland that included beluga, muktuk and “Eskimo ice cream” — and doing normal activities like visiting the movie theatre in Juneau, going swimming in a pool and playing basketball.
The students who participated in the exchange worked hard to get here, Ramirez said. They wrote essays and did research on Juneau, comparing urban and rural life. The students returned to Buckland Friday, and once back will upload videos and create presentations about what they’ve learned and experienced.
All this fun had a very important goal, Ramirez said: “(To) close the gap between urban and rural and just expose everybody.”