By Madeleine Taylor (University of Maryland, USA).

I think one of the things most British exchanges are nervous about when studying in America is the prospect of having a roommate. I know I was worried when I arrived – what if we didn’t get along, what if they stayed up too late and were loud or messy? There are most definitely many things to worry over.

When I arrived at The University of Maryland, having received my room assignment maybe only a week before, my roommate wasn’t due to move back in for a few more days. I’d done the obligatory Facebook stalk and she seemed like she would be a nice girl. When I first walked into the room I was faced with a wall full of Doctor Who posters – ok, well at least she was into the British thing. I saw that she was a gymnast – so she would be out of the room for practice a lot. Things were looking great.

And then she arrived. I’m not going to use her real name, so we’re going to call her Amy. Lets just say that when Amy arrived most of my fears of having a roommate were realised. Every moment in the room together was awkward, every conversation seemed to stall, we had opposing sleeping habits (she got up at 4am to go on gymnastics demonstrations!), she disliked my late (midnight) nights on Saturdays – the list goes on. But, no big deal, I didn’t need to be her best friend and we could co-exist peacefully enough. Bigger but – I had no friends. So I set off into the rest of my dorm to make them. I left a note on my door saying that I was new and asking people to knock and say hello. No one ever did. I would try to strike up conversation when washing my face in the bathroom, but was mostly met with blank faces. I sat in the common areas and tried to mingle, but to no avail. Things just were not going well that first week. See, I had been put in the assigned Orthodox Jewish dorm, and had been told by many that they were not very welcoming to newcomers. No judgement, they like what they like, but it put me in a difficult situation.

Then I made the best decision I have all exchange. I asked for help! I went to the head of my dorm, explained my problems and he agreed to move me that week! Really, it was that simple. I’m not going to say it wasn’t a little awkward packing up my stuff with Amy in the room. I’m not going to say I didn’t lie about why I was ‘being forced to move’. But soon I was out and making the short move into my new dorm – Dorchester Hall.

I moved in with an Australian exchange I’d met that happened to have a room to herself and soon settled in. What a difference. My now roommate, Cinddy (I know she won’t mind me using her real name) is the kindest and most considerate roommate I could have hoped for. Sure, sometimes we go to sleep at different times, but we are always respectful and quiet if the other is sleeping, and that’s what sleep masks are made for (this is a must have item)! We are both equally a little messy and we both loathe mornings. She doesn’t get mad if I’m dying of hunger and I steal one of her tasty Australian cookies (TimTams) and I let her use the fridge my aunt Donna loaned me (Thanks Donna!). She is one of the greatest friends I have made here. And the dorm is much friendlier too. I’ve met some wonderful people (shout out to Annie, Kate, Natalie, Paulina and Jackie) in Dorchester and am so so happy I moved.

My roommate and I in New York City!

So the moral of the story? Yes, things weren’t great for me when I first arrived. But I wasn’t going to sit in my room all day with no friends and cry about it! I took action and ended up in an excellent situation. If on exchange you’re unhappy with anything, please go and speak to someone, ask how they can help make your situation better. We’re only here for a brief period of time, and thankfully I didn’t waste any more than two weeks of it being unhappy.

And now, with only a few weeks left of exchange, I’m actually quite sad to go back to my own room with no one there to moan about my day or to laugh with. I’m going to go now, before I start lamenting over my exchange coming to an end.

First, Second and Third Impressions

By Hanan L’Estrange-Snowden (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA).

So I have been here for a little while now, almost 2 months in fact! And I have done so much! I’ve been to Washington, Atlanta, the beach, watched American football, baseball, basketball, even soccer games, visited state fairs, written midterms, submitted papers, even taken the odd pop quiz, moved house, gained a room mate and eaten way too much food!

I have to say I finally feel like I have settled in. When I first arrived, I really felt as if I wouldn’t fit it in but now I really don’t want to leave. I’m even annoyed that I  pre-booked my flight home at Christmas, instead of going traveling over the holidays.

However, going back to the very beginning. I’m not too proud to admit that I was pretty homesick right at the very beginning, but hopefully waiting to post something will show everyone that you move past that feeling really quickly when you get swept up in the excitement of it all.

I arrived at Raleigh airport and was met by a lovely girl from UNC Ease (the international exchange support group) who took me to my new dorm in an area called Ram Village.

My old room in Ram Village: one private bedroom in a suite of 4 rooms with a kitchen and bathroom

The room really was lovely, and it was nice to have a private space, plus my suite had a real kitchen (well as real as any kitchen without a kettle and a toaster). However, Ram Village is at the very south of the campus and I think this may have been one of the reasons I felt slightly lonely at first. I arrived on the Saturday before term started on Tuesday, with a plan to get slightly orientated and settled in before work started. I had made loose plans to meet my mentor on either Sunday or Monday but otherwise I knew no-one. Unfortunately there was no Internet when I arrived, and without a working mobile phone I had no way of contacting the few people I had met over the Internet. The suite style rooms made it very difficult to meet people because when you knocked on people’s doors it was difficult for them to hear you. I tried living down in Ram Village for almost a month before moving to Cobb, which is right in the centre of campus.

This room seems a little more cramped but much more homely with two of us in it.
This room seems a little more cramped but much more homely with two of us in it.

I now have a lovely room mate who is also an exchange student. It is really nice to be paired with someone who is having a similar experience to yourself because there is always someone to talk to!

Cobb is nice, in dorm style as opposed to the suite style in Rams.
Cobb is nice, in dorm style as opposed to the suite style in Rams.

So I haven’t just spent my time moving halls, I’ve also really got stuck into campus life, and campus life at UNC means sport and team spirit. As a very unsporty person I have been surprised by how much I have enjoyed it. The crowd is always rowdy!

Go Tarheels: Team spirit often means painting yourself blue and buying the T-shirt.
Go Tarheels: Team spirit often means painting yourself blue and buying the T-shirt.

Chapel Hill is   a small town, with a lot of charm, and everyone/everything seems very focused on the University. Whenever there is a game the shop fronts are decked in blue and quite often there is a blackboard in the window saying the score. On Halloween an entire street was shut down so that students (and the odd local) could wander around looking at everyone else’s costumes!

Of course there is more to being in the US than just hanging around in Chapel Hill, although it is a lovely place. By complete accident I have actually managed to arrange my timetable very well, and I have every other Friday free to have a long weekend away!

I’m very lucky because I’m over 21 which makes renting cars very easy, (public transport in North Carolina is not great). This means that we can just hope in a car and head off for a few days. When I first arrived I thought everything seemed so far away but since our 8.5 hour drive to Atlanta anything seems possible!

Anyway I’m signing off now but I will leave you with some pictures of in and around campus to give you a sense of what I have been doing!

The infamous bell tower that rings every 15 mins!
The infamous bell tower that rings every 15 mins!
The outside of Cobb, my new home!
The outside of Cobb, my new home!
Stone Mountain is in a beautiful nature reserve near Atlanta
Stone Mountain is in a beautiful nature reserve near Atlanta
Just the White House...
Just the White House…
And finally... getting into the team spirit
And finally… getting into the team spirit!