By Stephen Fulham (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA)
I arrived in Chapel Hill just under three weeks ago and it’s safe to say it’s been one of the busiest, and most exciting, times in my life so far. Yesterday I represented Manchester at UNC’s study abroad fair (complete with my ‘pie boy’ beanie hat) and thought it might be a sensible time to reflect on how I’ve been settling in.
My flight from Heathrow to Raleigh-Durham was the longest one I’ve ever taken, and felt like it. But it already feels like so long ago. After Orientation on my first full day, I went for a wander around campus and was stunned: the football stadium here holds over 60,000 (more than most Premier League teams), and the numerous quads really do look amazing under the Carolina-blue sky. I still feel like I’m in a film or on a TV show when I walk down Franklin, it still feels like I’m on an extended holiday or something. When it reached almost 20°C on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this college town looked even better than usual.
Classes started with a bit of a shock to the system, an 8am the morning after my first night out here was a challenge . The weather didn’t help either: even with my thermals and big coat I still felt the force of -15°C, even if there was no snow or ice and not a cloud in the sky. My class sizes range from a dozen to just under twenty students, compared to several hundred at a time in Manchester. One of my professors has been teaching at UNC since 1976 and is the authority in his historical period which is very cool. Participation is an absolute must here.
Food in America has certainly lived up to the stereotype. I thought my meal plan of fourteen meals a week might not be enough, but some days it feels like too much! Bagels are nothing like what they are in England, and I certainly won’t tire of getting fresh ones on my way back from early morning classes when I’ve slept in instead of going to breakfast. Biscuits are also an entirely different thing: here they are a cross between a scone and a bread roll. I had my first one in Time Out (a restaurant featured on ‘Man vs. Food’, so inevitably accompanied by fried chicken) and wasn’t impressed, but have really changed my mind after going to other places.
I also seem to be a little infatuated with basketball. School pride at UNC is really big, everyone owns university-branded clothing and a lot of people wear it to class. The atmosphere at the basketball games I’ve been to so far has been pretty amazing. Yesterday evening I went to see the women’s team play Duke (UNC’s biggest rivalry). The stadium they play in holds 8,000 and it was pretty much full. The crowd was amazing, and we even managed to get moved (from the wrong seats, oops) to ones three rows away from the basket. UNC lost in overtime, alas, but it was still an awesome thing to see.
American sports, especially college sports, are incomparable to what we have back in the UK. In my first few days here I went to an ice hockey match in Raleigh, and have since been to UNC men’s basketball too. I’ve also taken up rugby again, having not played since sixth form, and have been getting used to playing on astroturf. Hopefully I make the team so that I can go on tour with them in a few weeks to South Carolina.