My study abroad experience took place at the historic University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (UNC). As someone that is obsessed with American history, particularly the history of the South, UNC seemed like an obvious choice. Coupled with the fact that it is considered to be one of the best universities in the US and worldwide, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make it my home for nine months. To be quite honest, there were moments when I struggled—some of the politics are oppressive and discriminatory; some of the attitudes belonging to a bygone era. This is not to say that these attitudes do not exist in the North, because they do, but believe me when I say that they are far rifer in the Southern states. However, having said that, Southern hospitality is a very real thing. I couldn’t tell you how many times friends, or the family of friends, or even some strangers, would offer to have me over for a dinner of fried chicken, biscuits, and sausage gravy (if you go to the South and you do not eat this, you have not had the true American experience). The people of the South have been some of the kindest and accommodating people that I have ever met, and though at times it was a struggle, there will always be a part of me that lives south of the Mason-Dixon Line, where the tea is sweet and country music is more than Taylor Swift circa-2009.
Blue Ridge Mountains, NC
They say that studying abroad will present many opportunities for new and exciting experiences, and I can definitely say that my time in the states presented many of those. When studying at UNC I got to take some awesome classes with some great teachers. Whether they be classes related to topics such as film, religion, or British history, all of my teachers knew every inch of the topic that they were teaching. My favourite class was probably African Americans in Film in my first semester, with a lecturer who collected death certificates of black actors and actresses, from any time period, and stored them in a file that she carried everywhere. However morbid that may seem (although I thought it was great), she was a wonderful teacher. In November of my first semester it was announced that Barack Obama was speaking on my campus, literally a stone’s throw from my accommodation building. Naturally, I lined up for a ticket (free, of course), and saw Chapel Hill native James Taylor sing, followed by Obama himself, on the presidential campaign trail for Hillary Clinton. Obviously, there were Secret Service agents everywhere, and gun-toting Special Forces on the roof of every surrounding building. As I’m sure everyone knows though, she lost to Donald Trump, with North Carolina going red for the Republican Party. With UNC being a liberal hub in a sea of a very conservative North Carolina, there was a distinct gloom that hung over the UNC campus for several weeks after the election results were announced.
The White House, Washington D.C.
On another note, the friends that I made in North Carolina are some of the best, and even though every person that decides to study abroad has no doubt worried about not making friends, don’t. As soon as you start talking, particularly in the South, your accent will win most people over. You can’t leave your room without someone commenting on the way you talk or asking where you’re from, so not making friends will be pretty tricky. And lastly, one of the greatest opportunities that will present itself to you whilst studying abroad is no doubt the travel aspect: by the time I return home in July, I will have been to 12 different states, alongside Washington D.C. Some of these include South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Massachusetts, and New York. As a rock ’n roll fanatic, Memphis was my absolute favourite, shortly followed by Boston (the accents are a dream). Obviously, travel with friends that you are undeniably going to make—but also try to do a little travelling on your own. Next to taking the initial plunge to study abroad, travelling on my own for a little while was one of the greatest decisions I have ever made.
Sun Studio, Memphis, TN
Studying abroad was absolutely, totally, and entirely one of the best decisions that I have ever made. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not all plain sailing, and there will be times when you question why you chose to live in a different country for ten months. But then someone will knock on your door and ask if you want to go for dinner. Of course, you say yes—tip for studying abroad: unless it’s obviously a very stupid proposition, say yes to everything!—and by the time you’ve wandered down to Franklin, you’ve forgotten all about how much you want to be back home in England. The only advice I would give is to never wish it away, because it will be gone like a shot. Enjoy it, and write everything down. Keep a journal so that you can remember everything, and don’t let great opportunities pass without seizing them with both hands. In my induction meeting on the first day, the study abroad coordinator told us that everyone could now call themselves ‘Tar Heels’, a nickname for an attendant of UNC. At the time, I didn’t really think that spending nine months at a host university could truly make me a Tar Heel, but I guess I was pretty wrong about that. She then taught us all a chant, and it goes like this: “I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred, and when I die I’m a Tar Heel dead”. By the time I left North Carolina in May, I knew this chant to be true.
Lily Woods is studying American History at UEA and will start the final year of her degree in September 2017