December grad: Alejandra Buitrago prepares for two years in Africa

by Tracy Kalytiak  |   

Alejandra Buitrago graduates in 18 days and, 27 days after that, will board the first of a series of planes that will whisk the soon-to-be Peace Corps volunteer to the West African nation of Burkina Faso.

Alejandra Buitrago will graduate next month and then fly off to Burkina Faso for a two-year hitch in the Peace Corps. (Photo by Philip Hall/UAA)

Alejandra Buitrago will receive her UAA journalism degree next month and then fly off to Burkina Faso for a two-year hitch in the Peace Corps. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

"I'm just extremely busy, stressed with finals," said Buitrago, a UAA journalism major who manages KRUA-FM. "I want to leave the station with as clean a slate as I can. I'm packing my room, selling everything I own. Whatever I don't sell, I'm giving away. I want to have as minimal a number of boxes as possible."

Buitrago was a high school student taking some classes at UAA when she first arrived on campus. Now, she's managed a radio station, worked as UAA's student body president, engaged with a sorority, worked as a barista and endured statistics three times.

She didn't know what a "typical college experience" was when she got here. She has some thoughts about how students can create a college experience they can take and hold with them long after they've accepted their diplomas.

• Find one person to answer your questions: "When I decided I wanted to do journalism, I emailed the chair of the department, Paola Banchero."

• Use technology that's available: "When I first went to register, I took it into my own hands. My sophomore year, I discovered DegreeWorks-I took this, I still need to take that-and met with an advisor to make sure I registered for the right classes. It's important to have at least one person in your corner."

• Get involved in a club, extracurricular sport, study group, student job or some other activity on campus: "UAA has a lot of nice people, but a lot of people are not generally nice because they're busy with kids, families, a job," she said. "There's definitely something for everyone."

Buitrago says activities offer an outlet from studying and working, an easier venue to make friends, a resource for which classes to register for, professor tips, internship opportunities, scholarship opportunities, conferences to attend.

"They encourage you to continue, grow, improve, and are someone to go to when you're struggling," she said. "I have a home family and a school family. I've built close relationships. I started chitchatting with people and then know everything about them, babysit their kids. It makes you a better person when you struggle together-there's a gloom during finals week you can see on everyone's face and you know everyone feels that way."

Immersing yourself in a college experience you create will change your life, Buitrago says.

"Some people just don't care," she said. "The same friends they went to high school with are the same friends they're in college with. The same people, the same parties, the same niches-and that's going to be your college experience. I made the choice to throw myself into something."

Now, Buitrago is getting her vaccinations, figuring out how she'll get her banking and laundry done in Burkina Faso, listening to music.

"I don't know what the situation will be like there-am I going to be able to charge devices," she said. "I'm enjoying the things I don't feel I'll have there, like pizza. I'm wondering what to pack. I have to keep my shoulders and knees covered. Every time I look at the temperature there, it's 100 degrees. But I'm always cold, so maybe I'll really enjoy it."

Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement 

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