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Thread: Living in Southwestern Alaska

  1. #1
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    Default Living in Southwestern Alaska

    Hello everyone. I was wondering if anybody could enlighten me on the style of life a person has living in the southwestern part of Alaska. I know there arn't any major cities in this region like Anchorage or Fairbanks, however what is it like to live in towns like King Salmon or Bethel. I know this question is very vague, but I want it to be so I can get a bunch of different answers. I would really appreciate it because I am trying to figure out if I would enjoy living in this portion of the state if I could happen to find a teaching job there someday.

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    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    A simple answer would be raw, in the land, the people and the lack of civilization. Perhaps a good way of envisioning it is more along the lines of a mix between the wild west of old and an undeveloped foreign country. Teaching will be challenging both because you will be an outsider that will not be accepted, and the differences in the native culture to Western culture. Over time I've learned to have a great deal of respect and understanding for native culture, and to the complexity of social problems in bush Alaska.

    I think if you have the attitude that you are going there to learn just as much as to teach, then you should enjoy your experience. If you think you're there to change the world and produce rhodes scholars, you will likely be disapointed when the reality check hits you.
    Those that are successful in Alaska are those who are flexible, and allow the reality of life in Alaska to shape their dreams, vs. trying to force their dreams on the reality of Alaska.

    If you have a tenuous grasp of reality, Alaska is not for you.

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    Member AK Ray's Avatar
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    Right at this minute I am sitting in an office in King Salmon.

    Its bear season so the planes coming in have five to six "dudes" in their brand new camo and packs with not a spot of blood or dirt on them. Lots of frowns when they open up their cell phone to call back home and find "NO SIGNAL" on the screen. Yeah, you will need a GCI compatible GSM based cell phone there Dude. The fishing season is getting started as well, but the herring are late due to the cold water in the Bering slowing down the biomass concentration. Soon the salmon will be showing up and the place will be crazy with canery workers and tourists. You know you are in a strange town when the wall of calling cards at the AC store are mostly for calling outside the US. How is your spanish?

    The King Ko opened up last week. Good drinks and decent food if you have per diem to afford the bill.

    What is it like to live here? Hard. Its windy, cold, and when not cold it is thick with black flies. Tape your wrists and ankles thick with bugs. There are however a few billion fish to catch. Red salmon and rainbows. A good boat is needed to get to the fish on the Naknek or up at the lake. Lots of boats around town to share or buy. Hunting for ducks is awesome in the fall and spring (residents can do federal subsistance waterfowl). Moose are pretty far away due to the hunting pressure, and the caribou herd is a ghost of its former glory all over this region.

    People in King are friendly - you have to wave while driving down the road or you will be talked about at Eddies (the other bar).

    No teaching jobs in King Salmon, but down the road at Naknek there is a school within the Bristol Bay Borough school district.

    Now Bethel is a special place. Having spent four summers there I think to get me to spend the winter would break someones' bank. I don't think I could winter in Bethel for less than $300,000 a year on top of a free house and vehicle including fuel all included. However, there are many folks that love the place. For me it lost its charms after the second summer. Drunks passed out in the back of our truck every two weeks. The axle deep mud for a street. The constant grind of work for two months. The wind. The wind almost never stopped. Some of the people out there were pretty cool. What its like now I have no idea other than muddy in the spring and buggy winds in the summer. Its still growing in size though. You will need a really good snow machine for the trails in the winter. A good boat for the river to get any kind of meat from miles and miles away - there is no big game near Bethel due to no habitat suitable for moose or caribou. Good duck hunting in the spring and fall as well.

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    Member martentrapper's Avatar
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    If you feel you can be comfortable living in a rural environment, it is highly likely you will enjoy living in Bethel. Your posting on an outdoor forum so I assume you enjoy outdoor activities. Plenty of opportunity for that in Bethel. Some activities will be more enjoyable if you have motorized transportation, i.e. snowmobile, 4 wheeler, boat. At least one of those.
    If you are accustomed to the normal education environment found in lower 48 towns............it is highly likely you will not enjoy teaching in Bethel.
    Don't know much about KS.
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    Does the King Ko have waitress bikini night on Tuesdays?
    The darling lady who owns it told me that last year ( I sooooo hope she wasn't pulling my leg as the waitresses were cute
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    I've lived in Southwestern Alaska since I was 18... which isn't saying much considering I'm 20. But if you have a strong mind it can literally be one of the best places on earth. If you get into the Bethel or Nome region, way out west- you'll be surrounded by flat tundra. The landscape is nothing like the 'stereotypical Alaska' with mountains and glaciers everyone pictures. In fact it's quite the opposite. But I love it, and if you look hard enough I think you'll agree that our drab little landscape is a million times more fascniating than the Anchorage area.

    All I can say is come mentally prepared. You're giving up everything you know. And too many teachers come out here and turn around and leave the next year. Our schools are very very sad when it comes to statistics. And it kills me to see kids that I love get attached to a teacher only to have them run off the next year. Many of the kids have a severe disadvantage because they are so far removed and their education system is so unreliable. All I can ask is that if you do come out here as a teacher, make a commitment. The kids you are teaching deserve it and most certainly need it. People think it's some big great Alaskan adventure to come out here and teach, but that's not always the case. There's a huge culture shock and huge sacrifice that goes into coming to Southwestern Alaska as a teacher and it's your responsibility to care for kids who honestly need it. It's a great place and you can learn to love it if you really look for the beauty. But don't come with high expectations and don't turn around after your first year completely sucks. The second year gets better. And the third year is when you really start to become attachted to the landscape. I couldn't imagine ever leaving. I wish more teachers who came out here would look at this place the same way. It's different and often times really hard, but at the same time it is literally the most awe-inspiring place to be a part of.
    Lone Alaskan Gypsy
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    Supporting Member Amigo Will's Avatar
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    Concidering the young man is still in high school there may will be roads and wallmart by time he teaches there.I wish him well but at times Alaska changes fast good and bad
    Now left only to be a turd in the forrest and the circle will be complete.Use me as I have used you

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    I lived in Bethel from 92 to 97 and enjoyed it for the most part. Like was mentioned above, Bethel is better if you have transportation out of Bethel. Get a snowmachine, atv, boat or airplane, or make friends with folks who own some of the above. I had an airplane and enjoyed flying down the coast beachcombing, fishing and bird hunting. If you are stuck in town, there are a number of restaurants which are pretty decent, a bowling alley, a gym and a shooting range. You can't buy alcohol there but you can have it shipped in. It's been my experience that one gets to know people and makes friends quicker in bush communities than in the larger towns. House parties and barbeques are quite popular. Just get used to the fact that if you throw a party and invite a dozen friends half the town will probably show up before the night is over!

    Keep in mind that most entry level teaching positions don't happen in the larger communities such as King Salmon and Bethel, at least that was how it was when I was in Bethel. My wife was teaching in Chevak when I met her. I knew a few teachers who got hired in Bethel but only after teaching in places like Kwethluk, Nunapitchuk and Akiak for a year or so. Of course that's just what I saw and the experiences of others could vary. The small villages have much fewer amenities than Bethel. Few have much more to offer than a small store or two so pretty much all the entertainment happens in homes and most small villages are dry. Again, outdoor activities are where it's at out there.....Louis
    Louis Knapp

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    I lived there from 2004-2011 (Dillingham). It was the best and worst place I ever lived. Best is moose hunting and king salmon fishing. Not to mention all the gorgeous lakes north of Dillingham and all the rainbow fishing, camping, rafting etc. The weather isn't great, but nowhere in this state lets you off the hook on that. (I now live in Juneau and just suffer in a different way). Winters there are rather cold but not like Fairbanks at all, and have a fair amount of sunshine and plenty of snow and safe ice on the lakes. Summers are cool and wet but not like southeast at all. A fair amount of sunshine and 4 out of 7 days you can get on the water without getting your butt handed to you due to wind etc. A jetboat offers the greatest opportunities.

    Worst is the culture, it is a real eye opener if you are from a sane community and the nonchalance you will see about things like alcoholism, domestic and sexual and child abuse is nearly apalling. There are clutches of "normal" folks in these places but it is all overshadowed by the bush culture. Lots of folks with their hands out, but not a lot of those folks ever got to helping themselves. If you get there and ever get to thinking that you are insane because what makes sense to you as far as right or wrong is not reflected by many around you.....don't worry, you are not insane. Folks that make it there are often extremely tolerant of some serious BS, or somehow shut it out. I couldn't. I was there for more than seven years and it never felt like home. It makes me sad because I had opportunities and experiences out there that do not exist anywhere else in the world and are truly world class in every way.

    That place eats teachers for lunch, nobody expects them to stay and as such take little stock in them. You will see behaviors, disorders, and deficiencies in rates that will blow the mind. It's cool to be dumb and many aspiring students end up shut ins because they aren't doing the miscreant behaviors that their fellow pupils are. You will be surrounded by others young teachers that are up to their necks in issues like you, and then a handful of crusty old timers that have accepted how things are. Some are very good, some wouldn't be certified to teach anywhere in the road system. The administrations are largely made up of folks who were run out of other districts and end up in the bush (as is 30 percent of the general population). My wife taught out there and was subjected to the most ridiculous treatment by parents, kids and administration that she has ever seen in her 12 year career in 4 different states. We sold our furniture to a nice young couple out of Minn. who were to be teachers there. Super energetic, even had some peace corps experience, thought maybe they had a shot....they left after one school year.

    Things weren't always like that, buddies of mine out there that got to DLG in the 80's found a much more vibrant community, cheaper accomodations and groceries,gas, and more involved communal activities. This has lessened in many of the towns out there as folks started cycling through in shorter amounts of time to the point that there is a real division between the old salts and the wide-eyed newcomers.

    I never experienced racism until I got there (I'm white btw). When I hit that town I was all about learning about the culture, listening more than talking, and looking out for other people.....I was still that person when I left but what I learned, heard and what I got for putting the community first was more than I could bear to have as my backyard. The difficulties of the modern native culture cannot be ignored and that also makes me sad. I met many folks that were as true to their culture as you can be in the modern age, but they were the minority. Apathy and anger, bitterness and discrimination is more what you will find.

    I knew and accepted in many ways that there was little I could change, but I couldn't let that place change the core parts of me....so I left. I did my part and more while I was out there, but don't expect much reciprocation. Your rewards will be more personal.

    I realize this is quite the diatribe on this area of the state, but I'm about a year out of living there (and at the absolute best time to be there) and am glad I made the move I did. I am glad, lucky, and priveleged to have lived there, but that is not where my story will end.

  11. #11
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    Currently living in Bethel. Been here 3 years. Most of the above is accurate information. A lot of good, but also some "challenging" aspects of living out here as well.

    I work for the hospital, my wifes a teacher here. I have a boat and a snowmachine. We're pretty happy but won't be here forever.

    I considered writing A LOT more (deleted it all), but "Catch It" has it covered. That post is right on, 100%. If you're one of these liberal teachers, please, try to hang on to your faith in humanity while you're here. Your eyes are going to be forced open and all your worst fears are about to be realized.

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