I never thought I was properly settled into Manchester until second year. Getting to know everything about the city, the best places to go and how to get from place to place took a little while, and so it also took a little while to realise how great the city was. Problem is that I’ve only got a year to live here in Chapel Hill, so settling in may have to be a little quicker. In comparison to when I wrote my first blog I certainly feel more settled. I am far more aware of the way the Americans do it, and the way that the Carolinians do it. But I also realise that the longer I spend here, and the more settled I feel and so the more I love this place and appreciate the opportunity I have been given to spend a year abroad.
I have now been to a couple home American football games, and have another coming up this weekend. This was a huge experience for me. A full stadium (and campus may I add) with 62,000 tar heels head to toe in Carolina blue, cheerleaders, dancers, mascots and marching bands. Tar heel fans were dressed up from 11am in the morning, arriving on a campus that would be reinvented for the day. Families and students tailgating until the game started – setting up camps, parking cars and day parties in the fraternity houses surrounding campus to enjoy food and prepare for the game ahead. A couple “soccer” games, hockey games, a volleyball game and even the last Durham Bulls baseball game of the season have showed me how important these sport games are to Americans. Not only are the players heroes whether they win or lose, the events are social and family orientated. These games bring together the communities that support them as well as the players on the field. The varsity players never hold back from wearing their kit around campus, the gear gives them an identity, and one that they are extremely well respected for. This is a distinct difference to college sport in England, where representing your university for a sport is nothing acknowledgeable and doesn’t define you. Sports in the UK are far less elitist, high level or time consuming. They are less of a commitment and so playing does not earn you respect in the same way athletes gain respect here.
I’ve also had to adjust to the academic differences here at Chapel Hill. Since high school students Americans are used to regular tests, quizzes, mid-terms, assignments and homework every single week, and so are American college students. We are expected to keep on top of weekly deadlines including homework assignments, quizzes, tests and papers. The workload is undoubtedly greater than in the UK, however, the difficulty of the work can be easier depending on the classes undertaken. As most students often have multiple subjects which they major or minor in, some often take easier levels of subjects they have less experience in, whist in the UK the one course chosen at the beginning of a degree results in a steady advancement into the harder levels of the subject. I am aware of how early we are required to narrow down our academic interests, meaning we miss out on learning some invaluable skills gained from other subject areas. For example since studying here I have had the opportunity to get back into learning Spanish (which I was unable to do in Manchester) and do more maths based areas of geography. However, I also see the value in the UK system as we learn these subjects in greater depth and are able to spend more time looking at the academic literature throughout the subject.
Another huge difference here is that everyone who lives in dorms has a roommate, including myself of course. I have been lucky enough to have a really nice Australian girl as my roommate and we get on very well. However, if that had not been the case, adapting to life in a shared room would have been really difficult. Your daily schedule has an impact on someone else’s life, and you’ve got to get used to compromising. From agreeing on what time to turn the light off, and turn it back on in the morning, making noise and respecting when your roommate is asleep contribute to a maintaining a pleasant environment to live in day by day.
I have also learnt to settle into life as an international student, learning to make the most of every opportunity available. From joining the ski team, a lacrosse team and trying to get myself involved in university life as I was in Manchester. I have taken all other opportunities available, including two different hiking trips and a camping trip and attending all the sports games I can. Being here has taught me to embrace all opportunities thrown at me and be optimistic about how to get involved in things and get the most out of them.
I have admittedly polarised towards the other British people who are also on exchange here, due to the nature of our needs and interests being very similar, for example wanting to explore North Carolina. However, having been really lucky with a suite full of Americans, I have also become good friends with them as well. This has allowed me to learn more about American culture and customs. As an example, I was lucky enough to be invited to their houses for a fall break trip. Myself and five other UNC students, three of them from North Carolina and two others from Maryland and Virginia put me up for a 4 night break from university classes. First I stayed in Pittsboro, North Carolina with Carly, there I visited the North Carolina State Fair with Carly and her mum. It was a truly American experience from deep-fried Oreos to a Yesteryear Village, farm animal racing, corndogs, music performances and shaken lemonade. I carved my first pumpkin and then the following morning we set off to Maryland where four of us stayed with Kara and her family, and visited Annapolis, the home to the US Naval College and a quaint little town. The following day we arrived in Virginia and spent the day visiting Washington D.C. We managed to get around the city in one day, visiting The Monument, the Natural History Museum, the Archives (where the Declaration of Independence is displayed), the Museum of American History and then to the Lincoln Memorial (which we conveniently reached at sunset, making the experience even more enchanting). The following morning we were set off back to Chapel Hill, visiting Great Falls National Park on our way home.
The following week I witnessed my first American Halloween. Being an American college town, Chapel Hill was buzzing with people in costumes from Thursday to Monday (31st October) night, whilst campus was full of boxes of candy and Halloween decorations. May I add that our suite had been decorated for about 4 weeks prior to this weekend. With cobwebs in the hallways, orange fairy lights, skeletons and a pumpkin pot of candy! But nothing amazed me more than Monday night, when what appeared to be the entire student body of Carolina filled Franklin street. The road was closed and police lined the streets while costumed people paraded the street all night long. I have never seen a road so full of people.
But more so than this, the most fascinating thing about North Carolina in particular is the current American politics. This state is especially of interest because it is a so called ‘swing state’, meaning it could vote either red or blue and so is important for both candidates to try and win. This meant that there were a lot of rallies held in the state and that I have had the experience of meeting supporters of both presidential candidate. I was lucky enough to witness President Barack Obama speak twice, once in Greensboro and a second time when he actually came to campus at UNC for all the students to hear him. He was an inspiration, a powerful speaker and very amusing. I really enjoyed hearing him speak both times and am so lucky to have had this opportunity. Election night was like nothing else, when the votes started coming in at around 10pm it was becoming evident that Trump was getting ahead. By 11pm it was close but he was still remaining ahead of Hillary, and by 12pm it was pretty obvious that he was going to win because he was still so far ahead without many states left to reveal their results. I think its safe to say that whether you were a supporter or not, you didn’t expect for Trump to win. And the atmosphere on campus the next day really reflected this. Being a liberal school, with many diplomatic supporters, people were very angry about what had happened. The pride that Americans felt towards their country, something that English people just don’t tend to feel, seemed to have been stripped away from them. People were humiliated by the fact that there were more people in the country who supported this hateful man, than people who took pride in their country and wanted to continue making it a happier, safer and more peaceful place to live. A historically fascinating time to be living here and I am sure it will continue to be so for the next 6 months. But for now we will dodge the politics and focus on the fact that basketball season has started, a time treasured by all at Carolina.