It truly is unbelievable just how quick 10 months can pass, my time in the USA really felt like a blur. Well I am back in Auckland and thought that for my last post I will pretty much write down my final thoughts and some of the highlights from my two semesters in Chapel Hill.
For me, the two semesters spent at Chapel Hill was one of the best times of my life and I would do anything to relive that experience again. For those thinking about going abroad, I say do it! You will not regret a thing.
The first thing I want to talk about is the southern culture. For me personally, I loved the culture in North Carolina. Being in the south, I experienced southern hospitality, BBQs, sweet tea, s’mores, country music, as well as a southern campus experience. On the off occasion, I would even catch myself saying “y’all” rather than “you all,” much to the delight of the Americans. The South is a region that many do not consider when looking to visit the US. I simply cannot recommend it enough, especially if it’s for an exchange. Compared to other regions in the US, the lifestyle is so laidback, and I often drew comparisons to the lifestyle in New Zealand. The weather is great, the people are very friendly and if you like the outdoors, there are mountains, beaches rivers and lakes to explore. Did I already mention that you won’t freeze your ass off in winter?
You’d think that most of the highlights from an exchange are the places you visit and travel to. However, many of the best memories I made were in Chapel Hill. From going out at least four times a week (my liver can thank me for that), to learning new skills in boxing, I was always trying to make the most out of my short time at UNC. Notable highlights included football games on Saturdays, the state fair, Halloween on Franklin Street, the snow week at UNC, Holi-Moli, Bar-Golf and the last day of class (LDOC), just to name a few.
I was very lucky to have covered so much of the USA. Being on exchange for two semesters meant that I had way more time to see this vast country and meant I did not need to spend every weekend away from Chapel Hill. From the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic coast, I experienced the best the state of North Carolina offered. From the chilly north east cities of Boston and New York City, to sunny Florida, I explored much of the eastern United States, including the windy city of Chicago in the mid-west. At the end of the second semester, myself and a few mates ventured out west in a van and experienced some incredible scenery, as well as visiting the cities of LA, San Francisco and San Diego. The good thing about the F-1 student visa is that it allows up to 60 days in the United States after your studies have finished, so definitely take advantage of that!
Being on the same boat as all the other exchange students, it was so easy to make international friends. EASE provides an orientation as well as various events for international students to meet up, so it is a great way to form friendships. Americans are also very friendly and easy to get along with, however I found that many already had their own social circles, and they were heaps more focused on their studies than we were. In the fall semester, we had formed a big international group (with some Americans) and did everything together, from hanging out to traveling. Travelling with a group of internationals is also so much fun. Some of my best memories came from hiring out massive Air Bnbs, be it in Asheville or Chicago, and just having an awesome time away. Many of the exchange students do leave after a semester, but this meant I became quite close to the one year-ers in the second semester. Having mates from all over the world is sound because I now have a place to stay and a couch to crash on in all corners of the world.
Firstly, I just want to say a huge thanks to 360 International, the University of Auckland and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for giving me this opportunity to study in the United States. I also want to say thanks to my family and friends back in New Zealand for supporting me every single step of the way, and for when times get tough (yes it isn’t all roses!). And finally, a massive thank you to all the incredible people I have met throughout my time at UNC Chapel Hill, both International and American. Without them, the experience would not have been the same for sure. That goes to say that no matter where you go in the world, in the end, the fondest memories are made with the people you are with. And no doubt you will meet a bunch of legends like I did when you go abroad. My time at UNC may be up, but I will forever be a Tar Heel. Cheers!