So, I arrived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina two weeks ago, and this is the first moment I’ve had a chance to sit down and write this first entry. Americans sure like to keep busy, which has been an adjustment from my usual sitting about my flat for days. Everything has actually been quite an adjustment, and I’ve been feeling decidedly Englishman in New York-y. Even though I’m not English, or in New York, or much of a fan of tea, but anyway. My first day here I went to have breakfast at a place called Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe (for realz), which is apparently a bit of a landmark here. First off, the waitress was SO friendly and attentive, which was a nice change from that thing some waiters do in Europe where they avoid eye contact with you for as long as they can get away with. Obviously the tipping culture is different here so that contributes to it, but in general everyone is really lovely and welcoming. Plus, you get free coffee refills. Like, for free? IS THIS WHAT FREEDOM TASTES LIKE? It got yet more surreal when I was asked if I wanted hash browns or grits with my eggs, and I had to admit that I was an uncultured swine. Southern stuff included, all the stereotypes are true. Don’t stereotype, kids, but really, it’s like a movie. There are pick-ups and SUVs everywhere. They drink out of red cups (I can confirm this first hand), and pretty much all of the houses, including fraternities and sororities of course, look vaguely and disconcertingly like southern plantations complete with wrap around porches and rocking chairs. Even my dorm has rocking chairs, which has made me realize my deep and abiding love for rocking chairs. But anyway, I’m going to quit my rambling and move on to the advice and “what I would have done differently” portion (i.e. I’ve messed up but in a way that you young Padawans can learn from).
First of all, for anyone concerned about struggling to find their way and make friends on this admittedly huge campus, DON’T. There are plenty of resources to help you out, and your landing is incredible cushioned, serious water-bed levels. There is an organization called EASE (don’t actually know what this stands for) who, you guessed, it serve to ease you into American college life. EASE will assign you a mentor before you arrive, who will come and pick you up at the airport if you request it, and give you any help or advice you might need. My mentor, who’s really lovely, has already helpfully given me a ride to AT&T to get a phone plan. Speaking of phone plans, if you’d like to avoid the hassle of getting the bus to Walmart or Target just after you’ve arrived, you can order things like bedding, towels and even a phone from EASE and they’ll be delivered to your dorm before you get there. EASE also puts on a full week of events during the ‘Week of Welcome’ (kind of like freshers’ week). I’d definitely recommend you go to these as they’ll give you the chance to meet other exchange students. When it comes time to go traveling, they’ll probably be your travel buddies. Admittedly I might have taken this a tad far, and now I’m concerned that I might lose my American accent in America and develop an Irish one.
Next, try to arrive as early as you can! International students are generally allowed to move in to dorms a few days early. Since there isn’t really a freshers week and you start classes right away, there won’t be much time to get settled in between studying and welcome events. Also, the workload is a lot heavier, and you’re actually expected to do reading?? Most odd. For some classes you can have up to eight text books, so my humble recommendation is that you go into the student book store and find out what books you need for your classes before you start, then order them on the cheap from Amazon.
Now for the really critical info: fashion advice. If you’re gonna go for the all-American look here are some pro-tips. Girls: stock up on oversized t-shirts, running shorts and trainers. Even if you haven’t worked out a day in your life and would probably die first in the zombie apocalypse it’s totally acceptable to wear laid-back work-out clothes all the time. Guys: you have two choices for the frat-boy look. For the casual day-to-day look you can wear a t-shirt with basketball shorts and trainers (with the socks pulled up obvs), and if you’re feeling particularly daring: a backwards baseball cap. Then for a more formal, yet strangely also day-to-day, look, you can wear chinos, a button down shirt, and loafers. I like to think of this as the “politician’s son with a couple of DUI’s under his belt” outfit. But erm please skip the drunk-driving, just to state the obvious.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org