Although a little delayed, it has taken me a while to appreciate and reflect on my time abroad. My second semester was packed with ceaseless moments of embracing the rest of my time abroad. I felt a sudden urgency to make the most of everything and every opportunity and as I result found myself buried in work in my free moments. The big difference with America is the constant stream of work which you receive from all classes you undertake, largely different to the few assignments each semester that my professors at Manchester would set. Therefore I, like many others at the university, would spent my entire evenings in the library!
I spent 10 days in spring break enjoying some free time to travel. I met a school friend in New York where we found ourselves in a white city and saw Central Park in the snow a couple infamous New York museums and of course went up the Rockafeller building to see the city from above. We had then planned to cross the Brooklyn Bridge the following day and explore Brooklyn before heading off to Chicago. However, that day we woke up to find our flights were on high alert to be cancelled due to a snow storm coming in, ready to hit New York. With advise from friends in North America we packed our things and immediately booked to coach tickets for a 24 hour coach journey to Chicago. Aware of the pain about to incur in the forthcoming 24 hours we hurried to the coach station to get out of the city before the storm hit and it went under total shutdown. By the time our flight (which never took off) would have landed in Chicago we were driving through Detroit and made it to Chicago for 3pm and checked in. Chicago exceeded all expectations and (in my opinion) beat New York! From the vast expanse of Lake Michigan to the beautiful views from above, reminiscent of Ferris Beuller’s Day Off – a favourite film of mine which you must watch if you have not already, especially if you go to Chicago. The city is incredibly walkable and the walk along the river and the Giant Bean are worth a visit!
Another real highlight of my time at UNC was the basketball experience. After the main matches finished we entered into the National Championship tournament or ‘March Madness’ as Americans like to call it which involved a new round each weekend – honestly it was mad. Excitement on campus increased week by week as we made the Final 16, the Final 8, the Final 4 and then the Final 2! Just a few weeks before we had beaten Duke, a North Carolinian private university which is our long-standing biggest rival. The result of the game meant we were lucky enough to witness a Chapel Hill phenomenon called ‘Rushing Franklin’ where all those watching the game run to Franklin Street. It was pretty amazing thing to witness, but when we won the National Championship it was something else! An estimated 55,000 people flooded the street, people were burning things to create bonfires and climbing lampposts to see the expanse of people filling the streets.
After a quick trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – allowing me to tick off yet another state on my journey – we began our exams and finished them just a day before a group of international students flew with my to Cuba. We landed in Havana and were taken in by a very hospitable local where we rented 3 rooms for the 9 of us and explored Havana. We then set up two drivers to drive us to Vinales, Playa Larga and Trinidad before returning to Havana where we flew to LA. A group of 6 of us then rented a car and drove up the coast to Santa Barbara and San Francisco. Two of our group said goodbye here and we spent a day buying the cheapest camping gear possible and food supplies for the following 6 nights. We packed up and drove to Yosemite the next day, then through Death Valley and then made a pit stop in a last minute hostel in Las Vegas after driving 12 hours that day. We then drove south to Sedona and then north to the Grand Canyon before returning to spend two nights in Vegas and then south to San Diego where we ended our trip.