Hey y’all! So, I have finally arrived and settled into life at UNC and I think now is the time to share my first impressions of the place and the process of getting here.
Before coming to UNC and the United States, there is a lot you must do. For me, the biggest headache was the Visa. Obtaining the Visa was a long process. It involved plenty of paperwork and applications to fill out as well as fees. UNC does help you along the way and is able to provide you with an I-20 form which is also needed to get the Visa. Once the application is complete, you are required to attend an interview at the US consulate in Auckland but don’t worry about it, the interviewer was friendly and literally only asked me a couple of questions. My biggest advice would be to get on board with the Visa application ASAP! I had to cancel my flights as my Visa would not have come through on time and it was quite costly. Booking flights early does save plenty of money but only do this if you are certain you will get your Visa before that date.
Since I received my Visa late, I pretty much booked flights a week before I was required to arrive (not ideal). Last minute flights are expensive so to get a decent deal, I ended up taking four different planes to get to Raleigh. I took two planes from Auckland to LA with a brief stopover in Tahiti. After landing in LA, I had to take a shuttle to another Airport in neighbouring Orange County where I would catch an overnight flight to New Jersey. Once in New Jersey, I would catch my final flight to Raleigh, North Carolina.
After a solid 30 hours of flying, I arrived at a hot and humid North Carolina day. I was picked up by a very helpful UNC student who used her time to help me get to the campus and essentially settle in. UNC has an organisation called EASE which helps ease us exchange students into life at UNC. One of the things they do is organise airport pickups which save us the hassle of organising transport to the campus from the airport. I found this extremely helpful. EASE also hosts many social events and is a great way to meet both American and other exchange students.
From the moment I arrived, I fell in love with the place. The University is supposedly the very first public University to open in the USA. It was founded in 1789 and has many old buildings with lots of character. The iconic feature is the old well where it is tradition to drink out of it on the first day of class to receive a 4.0 GPA.
UNC also has plenty of green spaces. There are so many areas on campus where you could take a nap outside and enjoy the sunshine (unless you’re prone to burning like myself).
The campus also has plenty of sports facilities. The University is mad when it comes to sports (especially basketball). They are known as the UNC Tar Heels, named after North Carolina troops who would put tar on the soles of their shoes. UNC is very successful when it comes to sports and has national championships in Lacrosse, Soccer, and Basketball. It wasn’t until I had visited the football stadium that I realised just how mad Americans are when it comes to sports. The stadium holds just over 60,000 people, which I have learned is quite an average size by American standards.
The town of Chapel Hill is a great place to be a student. Franklin Street is the main hub of activity with its abundance of good food and places to drink. There is also a Target Supermarket which has everything you need. It is a chill place and is literally right next door to the UNC campus!
The other thing I noticed was that Chapel Hill has a lot of trees. Coming from someone from New Zealand, this was probably the very first thing I noticed upon arriving here.
The campus is beautiful, the weather is great and the people are very friendly. There is a reason Chapel Hill is known as “The Southern Part of Heaven.”
I was invited to my first frat party literally on my first day, and it did not disappoint. Being the weekend before class, the parties were packed and the nightlife was buzzing. There were red cups, beer pong and even a mechanical bull in the garden. I don’t want to say it’s like the movies but it was certainly close. Even if you’re not particularly big on parties, I highly encourage you to at least check it out. Frats play a huge role in the social life of American universities since most undergraduates are too young to go into bars and clubs. Also, it’s a really good way to meet people. Americans will show a huge interest in you if you have a foreign accent and if you’re open, you will have no problem making new friends.
Prior to the first week of class, UNC hosts an event called FallFest. Pretty much, it’s like the club’s expo on steroids. It was held on one of the sports fields and had a countless number of tents, stall, and clubs encouraging us to join. More importantly, there was free stuff to gain. I snagged a free bag, t-shirt and completely stuffed myself with good food. FallFest was a great showcase of what life at UNC is like.
Following the weekend, all exchange students had to attend a mandatory orientation. The orientation ran through most of the day and comprised of informative speeches on UNC life and instructions on what we had to do regarding accommodation, meal plans, banking, visa, and health insurance. The day was broken up by a lunch break and even a solar eclipse. There was also an ice cream social following the orientation giving me a great opportunity to meet fellow exchange students and future travel buddies. This is an extremely important event to attend because as great as it is to be friends with Americans, exchange students will want to travel and do more things. The orientation will be the only time where all exchange students are packed in the same building so make sure you meet as many as possible!
UNC has been great so far and I am very glad that I’ve picked it. Getting to where I am now was a long and tricky process, but trust me, it will all be worth it! I am incredibly excited to see what will be in store for me in the future. I hope you guys enjoyed this post and took my advice on board. If you ever need more information or if you just want to ask me questions, feel free to comment on this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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