Home sweet home

Amanda Unger
Amanda Unger finds a place to call her own.

New England is known for its tight-knit communities, rooted by a sense of neighborly hospitality, community, and long-standing tradition. So it’s understandable that after growing up among the gentle hills and woods of Concord, New Hampshire, Amanda Unger expected her journey to Northern Arizona University – across the country in the wide-open American Southwest – to come with some culture shock.

However, Unger, a senior psychology major, would find the northern Arizona community was closer to home than she anticipated, and not just because of the generous winter snowfall.

“I got that home town feel of New Hampshire as soon as I arrived in Flagstaff,” Unger says. “I was expecting it to be less connected or friendly, but once I arrived, I saw it was nothing like that.”

Unger left much of her family in the process of moving out west. Having grown up as the youngest of four siblings with a single mother, her departure proved an initially intimidating decision.

“My entire family lives in New England,” Unger says. “I’m the only one in my family who left. People don’t get out of New England very much, so when somebody does, it’s scary.” 

Naturally, Unger struggled with the distance at first - a thousand mile gap separated her from her loved ones. Her free time was spent balancing coursework and Skyping with her mother and friends daily.

“The transition wasn’t always easy,” Unger says. “There definitely were some struggles along the way. But after my first semester, I started coming into my own.”

Unger cites her resident assistant in Wilson Hall as integral in getting her involved with clubs, organizations, and other on-campus happenings.

“I was honestly surprised by how nice everyone was and how much they wanted to help me,” Unger says. “I call this home now. My family had bets for when I would transfer back home, and I proved them wrong.” 

Staying active and engaged

As she continued to grow more comfortable at the university, Unger’s education began to flourish. In addition to her psychology major, Unger took on a minor in sociology to better round out her education. Within the department, she names Risa Garelick, a part-time instructor, as one of her most influential faculty members because of her ability to aid students with their goals.

“She was my favorite professor,” Unger says. “She makes the classroom very comfortable, and encouraged me to talk with her about attending graduate school, which was really helpful.”

Unger has also flourished outside the classroom as a web publisher for the Marketing Department. In her role, it is Unger’s responsibility to maintain numerous university websites. Venessa McCallie, Lead Publisher for University Marketing and Unger’s supervisor, explains what a valuable asset Unger has become to the team.

“Amanda is very knowledgeable about the technology we work with, and is quick to pick up new systems that we implement. We have a large role in supporting clients who maintain the sites that we build for them, and that’s where Amanda really shines. Her strength is guiding our clients in a way that they can understand.  She’s patient and thorough, whether it be on the phone, through e-mail, or in person.”

McCallie explains Unger has left an impression both on her coworkers and the clients she assists.

“Amanda has always been a favorite of our clients,” McCallie says.  “Many times, they call the help line and ask for her by name.  There is no greater endorsement than that on our team.  She’s irreplaceable.”

Unger says her co-workers, as well as her mentors, have combined to create a support system that rivals the one back in New Hampshire.

“I love it here,” Unger says. “It's really important when you move so far away to find people like I have here at this job to help you be comfortable and feel loved where you are,” Unger says. “If I didn't have these people, I may not have come out of my shell as much, or have learned about so much of the things around Arizona that I should check out."

Embracing a worldly view

Unger says arriving in Flagstaff helped her embrace a broader mindset through her interactions with different cultures.

“Honestly, we don’t see much diversity in the Northeast,” Unger says. “I can’t get enough of visiting new places now and talking to people about different views we have just because we grew up in different areas. I go home with new stories every time I visit.”

In her spare time, Unger enjoys exploring the northern Arizona community, including the Navajo Reservation, the Lava Tubes, and the red rocks of Sedona.

“With every new place, it’s always another culture shock,” Unger says. “I’ve made it a point to go to all those little landmarks so I can learn these aspects that make Flagstaff and Arizona unique.” 

Unger hopes to draw upon this worldly experience as she prepares to apply for the Peace Corps. and eventually graduate school. She hopes to become a behavioral therapist, a job she feels more than prepared for after carving her own identity at the university.

“Coming out here has taught me a lot about other cultures and other people’s points of views,” Unger says. “I’m way more outgoing, and you need to be that when you’re working with kids. I feel like I’m more confident; I’m a much different person than I was freshman year, and I’m really thankful for that."