by Katie Palof, current graduate student
Juneau is not what people expect when they think of Alaska. It is situated in a temperate rainforest and surrounded on three sides by water and the other by glacial ice fields. Living in Juneau is much like living on an island– the only way out is either by plane or ferry. Besides that Juneau is a typical town. We have modern conveniences but are definitely limited in choices. Living in Juneau definitely makes you experienced in Internet shopping! We have a Wal-Mart, Fred Meyers, Costco, and a couple grocery stores. In addition to all of the tourist’s shops downtown, we also have a few good restaurants, a movie theater, a couple gyms, etc. So, we have many of the stores and conveniences that people in the lower 48 have become accustomed to. In addition, Juneau has miles of beautiful, breathtaking trails that can be explored in the summer and winter (with snow shoes or skies), along with Eaglecrest ski area, which is open November through April for ski enthusiasts.
The cost of living in Juneau is thought to be high, primarily because of the increased shipping costs. However, this opinion varies from person to person. It all depends on your perspective. For example, the Juneau cost of living is slightly lower than that of Long Island, NY, but far higher than Charlottesville, VA. It is possible to live here, at varying levels of comfort, solely on a graduate stipend…if you budget your funds. Grocery bills vary, of course, from household to household, depending on what you eat and where you shop. In general, monthly grocery bills begin around $300. For a ball park idea of some prices: milk is about $3.00 a gallon, bread ranges from $2.00 to $5.00, and canned soup is around $1.00 to $4.00. Top Ramen Noodles can be purchased for 4/$1.00 usually. As far as other expenses go, gas prices are currently $4.26/gallon (but are climbing in accordance with the economy), movie tickets are $10.00, movie rentals are around $3.95, and dining out averages around $20.00.
Checks are accepted almost anywhere in Juneau (and in Alaska in general). Photo identification is required, usually a driver’s license (preferably Alaskan), and a phone number. Many local banks offer free checking accounts to students and do not require much of a minimum balance. For this reason, an account register is a must. Plan to switch your bank accounts to a local bank or credit union as soon as possible after you arrive. This will make banking a lot easier for you. We are finding that more and more businesses do not accept checks and many Juneau businesses do not accept all types of credit cards and some (including the movie theater) do not accept any credit cards. It’s a good idea to carry come cash with you just in case.
As you have probably noticed transportation to and from Alaska is expensive. Unfortunately, there is almost no way around this. Alaska Airlines is the ONLY airline that flies in and out of Juneau, and you can expect to pay at least $500 to get from Juneau to Seattle, WA. Tickets to the East Coast often range in the upper $800. You can get the best deal by purchasing your ticket about three to six months in advance, although at least one month in advance should produce a decent price. Also it’s a good plan to keep up with the sales available through Alaska Airlines (www.alaskaair.com) and to get a mileage plan number, because there are lots of ways to earn miles. If you plan on driving to Juneau you will need to take the Alaska Marine Highway (ferry system) to actually bring your vehicle into the city. You can catch a ferry to Juneau from the west coast in either Bellingham, Washington or Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Or you could take the scenic route through Canada and end up in either Skagway or Haines, AK. If driving is your plan consult the Alaska Marine Highway website (www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/) for schedules and remember that advanced reservations are needed for vehicles.
It is a good idea to have a place to stay when you first arrive in Juneau. Many new students get a room in the dorms at UAS (University of Alaska Southeast) or stay at their advisor’s house. If you get in touch with some of the current grad students before you arrive, we can arrange some bed/couch/floor space for you. Phone numbers or email addresses for grad students can be obtained from your advisor or Gabrielle Hazelton, our go to person here in Juneau. Your best plan is to get to know Gabrielle, as well as the other office workers, once you arrive here in Juneau to ensure that your stay here is well informed and stress-free.
Please take a moment to get in touch with us, so we can help you get set up. If you would rather stay in a hotel/motel, there are several in Juneau for you to choose from. If you arrive in the fall, you can expect a student orientation in the beginning of the semester, along with some type of welcoming get together. Make sure you check your new UAF e-mail account for updates on these events.
Now that you have an idea of what sort of place to expect, let’s discuss the weather. As you might know, Alaska is the “Land of the Midnight Sun”. However, in Juneau our daylight is not as extreme as northern Alaska, the number of daylight hours varies from about 18 hours in June to about 6.5 hours in December. Juneau is situated in a temperature rainforest and we joke that we have 2 seasons: winter (snow) and spring/summer/fall (rain). Winter can be long, but usually lasts from late November through March. Spring and summer are virtually non-existent, lasting only a couple of weeks, often in May and June. Fall always feels like the longest season, some years starting in August and continuing until December or so, depending on when we get snow.
Juneau has a fairly temperate climate, and most of the year temperatures range from 20°F is the cold winter months to high 60°’s during the daylight-filled summer months. However, the majority of the year (spring, summer, and fall) the temperature is Juneau is a comfortable 55°F. Juneau receives an annual average of 57 to 90 inches of rainfall and 98 inches of snow. Being situated between multiple tall mountains Juneau tends to be a rainy, foggy valley, so be prepared for many overcast days, but also be prepared to enjoy the sun when it shines. Investing in a good waterproof yet breathable raincoat is a MUST HAVE for getting by in Juneau.
Juneau does not face the extreme cold temperatures that you have in northern Alaska, therefore “winterizing” your vehicle is NOT necessary. Snow tires and/or 4-wheel drive are helpful for dealing with the snow and ice, as well as the large number of hills and steep driveways. The majority of your lower 48 cars will work out just fine up here, and if you decide you need snow tires Costco offers them at a fairly normal price.
If you do not have a car or truck, getting around Juneau can be hard. Bicycling is a very good possibility, with the proper gear and information and if you don’t mind riding in the rain most of the time. Keep in mind that cycling in the winter can be hazardous. Great care needs to be taken, especially when it’s dark and the roads are icy. We do have a public transportation system that covers most of the highly populated areas of Juneau. However, as of summer 2008 it does not run out to the SFOS building at Lena Point, which we are moving into fall of 2008. From the last bus stop to the Lena Point facility is about 5.5 miles, easily doable by bike, but a pretty far walk. To see the most current maps and bus routes, visit www.juneau.org/capitaltransit/index.php.
Finding a place to live in Juneau can be hard, but it isn’t impossible. You will want to make arrangements as soon as you can. Graduate students live in a variety of accommodations: a dorm room, a room in someone’s house, or an apartment. Most students try to live in the Auke Bay or Back Loop area, both of which are closer to the University, but any apartment in the “valley” area would be good. If you are looking at apartments in downtown Juneau or “West” Juneau (really Douglas island –definitely your furthest housing option) you will probably drive about 30 miles roundtrip to the University and back, however it will take you about 30 minutes one way to make this commute. Due to the tourist season many apartments are occupied until late September by seasonal employees, so if you don’t have much luck for an apartment at first you may want to find temporary housing and wait. Additionally, housing is difficult to fine from January to May due to the influx of all the legislature staffers. Landlords vary in whether or not they will allow pets, especially dogs. It can be a big gamble and severely limit your housing possibilities if you have a pet of any kind.
Newspaper ads (visit http://www.juneauempire.com), signs posted on campus, and word of mouth exchanges tend to dominate as advertisement. If you want to peruse a paper for housing before you get here, our local paper is the Juneau Empire. It would probably be easiest to have your advisor send you a copy or check out their WEB site: http://www.juneauempire.com. The listings in the classifieds may give you an idea of what you can expect in terms of housing and other things. Be forewarned! Good housing vacancies are filled extremely quickly, as is true at most universities. Generally, there are more vacancies in May than there are in September. Don’t get too discouraged. Just keep your eyes open and realize that one semester in a less than ideal location is merely an opportunity to seek out a prime spot. Rent varies according to proximity to the University, size, and quality. Check the housing information flyer you receive with other UAF propaganda for the cost of a dorm room. Renting a room in someone’s home is a fairly easy option, costing about $500 per month. Rent for a furnished, one bedroom apartment begins around $850 a month, plus utilities. Unfurnished and one room efficiency apartments are usually a little bit less.
The Juneau Center of the SFOS will be your home away from home during your time here as a student. As already mentioned, once you arrive in Juneau make contact with our office here. The staff will all be helpful and essential to settling you in to your Juneau-SFOS home. They are the ones you’ll see for access to buildings, labs, and offices as well as information on getting paid (an essential) and registering for classes. Also, please consult the office if you need to ship items to Juneau and do not yet have an address.