Zoe Fitzgerald, 2013-2014 at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Top Ten Things

1. The people: As cliche as it sounds, I met people whilst I was away that I know I will be great friends with forever. From my suitemates, to people you see once walking to class, everybody is SO friendly and welcoming. Sharing a room and living with 7 other girls was really fun, and there was never a chance for you to feel homesick or lonely because there were always people about. Being British seems to make people even more friendly, as soon as they hear the accent they will not want you to stop talking. Also, people are eager to welcome you into their homes for holidays like Thanksgiving and their families are just as welcoming – Southern hospitality is definitely a thing at UNC. Travelling and experiencing everything with the friends you meet will make you really close. Making friends with so many people is great for holidays after you come back too – free accommodation all over the world

2. The campus: UNC is a completely different college experience than Kings. The campus is fairly small, you can walk across it in around half an hour. This makes a nice change from having to commute in, you can just get up and walk straight to your class. Campus is beautiful as well, there’s lots of green space and walking through campus on a sunny day is really nice. It also means that the dining hall, the gym, a coffee shop or the library are never far away so you can get everywhere easily. I loved being able to sit outside in the sun to do homework without being stuck in a library.

3. Being a tar heel: When I first got to UNC I thought it was crazy that everybody (literally everybody) was wearing a Carolina blue shirt or at least some form of UNC merch. School spirit is huge at UNC and it makes it feel like you’re in a big community. After a few weeks of going to sports games, and learning all the fight songs, I stopped feeling silly about wearing a baby blue UNC shirt a and suddenly felt quite normal. Everyone in Chapel Hill loves their college, so don’t be surprised when you get there!

4. Travelling: NC is a great place for travelling in the US, you have easy, cheap access to all of the East Coast. Overnight buses to New York, Florida, South Carolina, Atlanta etc. are really cheap and a fun experience. Travelling in NC is worthwhile too; the mountains are beautiful and the cities are really fun. You can also get to the Bahamas or go on cruise etc. for not too much money, so look around!
5. Food: This was one of the best and the worst things. North Carolinians like to deep fry things a lot. Don’t be surprised when you come across deep fried pork chops, deep fried broccoli, cauliflower, courgette, and every other vegetable possible, deep fried mac and cheese, deep fried pecan pie…pretty much anything is game. Aside from the deep fry, NC BBQ is famous around the US and traditional bbq is so good. Bear in mind you may come back a little bit heavier than when you left.

6. Basketball: Michael Jordan went to UNC so naturally basketball is huge there. Basketball season is incredible, the atmosphere at the games is amazing, and the players are treated like gods. Make sure you go to a basketball game even if you don’t think you like sport, and be prepared for the game against Duke University where the entire campus will literally go insane.
7. Teaching: My teachers were all great, they were all really friendly and helpful and some of them have even helped me out with my dissertation from home. I learnt so much from them, in class and in office hours. They made the classes really enjoyable and definitely made my experience worthwhile.

8. Country night: One of those nights out that is so bad its good. Basically, a basement bar that plays only country music, sells 25 cent beers, and is full of students in flannel shirts and cowboy boots. You’ll either go once and hate it, or go every week and love it.
9. Weather: Being in NC you get the best of both worlds. Arriving in August I got the 35 degree sunshine (and ridiculous humidity) for a few months, a beautiful fall, and then snow around Christmas time. Its like English seasons but way better. So if you’re going for the year, you’ll need every type of clothing.

10. The Yoghurt Pump: Known to everybody as “YoPo”, this is the favourite froyo place in Chapel Hill. It tastes like ice cream, they have the best flavours (think toasted marshmallow, red velvet cake and thin mint) AND a “small” cup is the equivalent of about £1. There is always a line but its always worth it.

Studying

Studying at UNC was a completely different experience to Kings. With more contact hours, and more regular assessment it felt more similar to being in sixth form. That said, it wasn’t a bad thing! There are a lot of differences to get used to though.

Selecting modules:

One of the best things about studying abroad was the freedom in your class choices. Although you may have to take some general classes for your degree, there is hundreds to choose from and you can pick things that you are really interested in. You will be given an enroll time on a specific day to join these classes. When you do this, make sure you do it as soon as your time opens up as there will be thousands of other students also trying to get into the class. This sounds a bit intense, but you are given full instructions and even if you can’t get into a class the study abroad staff there are great at helping you out and making sure you’re happy with your classes.

Teaching style:

Aside from the lower level classes, a lot of the classes will be a lot smaller than you might be used to at Kings. This does depend on your degree subject, but for my Geography classes they were around 20 people max. Having smaller classes is great, it allows you to get to know the professor and have more discussion. Discussion in lectures is something that doesn’t happen too often in Kings, but at UNC all the students are very keen to participate and part of your grade (around 10 or 15%) is often made up from “attendance and participation”.
One of the biggest differences was the assessment. There are constantly essays, homework and exams to do. Most classes will have both midterms and final exams, along with essays and problem sets to work on. This sounds awful, but it is nice to have less stress on one final exam. By the time you get to your finals you will have likely already passed the class on your other work! Although this means having to work consistently throughout the semester, once you get into a routine you won’t even notice.

Teaching style is also fairly different to Kings. The professors are very attentive and most classes also have a TA, so if you are struggling with homework or concepts you can go to their office hour and they will help you out. Textbooks are also a huge part of teaching, with some class texts costing upwards of $100. The libraries don’t tend to have most of the course textbooks, so websites like Amazon or Chegg will be your friends. You can rent books from both of these websites for a lot less than the in-store price.

Don’t stress:

Although it sounds like the workload is huge, it is very manageable and having lots of little things seems a lot less daunting than a 4,000 word essay that is worth 50% of your class. There is SO much help on offer to you if you are struggling in any way, be it through office hours, academic advising, or counselling. Also, the university does a lot to try and take the stress off during midterm and finals week. The dining halls have a late night breakfast with music so you have somewhere to eat if you’re studying late. As a tradition, at midnight on the night before the first day of exams students run naked through one library into the other with only a mask on – a great way to distract yourself from finals! UNC also brings in therapy dogs and cats so you can have a cuddle, and there is always free coffee or red bull around. This makes finals week weirdly enjoyable.

Accommodation

Most students live on campus in university accommodation. Unlike Kings, students normally stay on campus until their final year and even then not all of them move off campus.

Residence Halls

There are 32 different halls on campus, so lots to choose from! If you live in halls you will most likely have a double room, there are also triples and some singles but these are more expensive and competitive to get. A double room in residence halls will cost around $2,964 per semester, with single rooms costing around $3,513.The halls are either suite style or corridor style, suite style rooms tend to have 4 bedrooms and one bathroom, while corridors have a corridor of people sharing one or two bathrooms. The halls are then split into “communities”, which have a couple of halls in each. These communities have a team of staff who oversee the community and plan events.

I stayed in Avery dorm with looks over the baseball stadium and is a really nice location (right next to the dining hall!). One thing to note is that dorms will close during holidays, so you can’t stay unless you get special permission and pay extra – this is a good excuse to go travelling more!

Applying: When you apply, you can put your top choice of halls, and then fill in a profile to try and find a roommate that matches you. I found my roommate on here, and we exchanged emails before we got to UNC so we knew a bit about each other before moving in. This is a really good way to feel more at ease about sharing a room with somebody you don’t know.

Apartments

UNC also offers apartments, so you can still live on campus but have a kitchen and living room. These are more expensive, and are located a little bit further away from the main campus. For a single room, with shared kitchen and bathroom it costs around $3,662.

Off campus

There are also lots of options for living off campus, with loads of apartment complexes on offer. This may be a bit harder to organize, but it is still an option. There is a list of apartment complexes.

Granville Towers

Granville Towers are private halls that are just off North campus and they have their own dining hall and gym. Prices range from $4176 to $9688 per semester so are quite a bit more expensive than the UNC halls. They are quite popular though, room pictures etc can be found online.

Food

Most students at UNC have a meal plan to use in one of the two dining halls, there are quite a few options for meal plans ranging from Unlimited ($2,050 per semester), Value plans ($1,276 – $1,891), and Block plans ($1,269 – $1,818) http://dining2014.csit.unc.edu/MealPlans/2014-15MealPlans. You can also use “Dining Flex” which is money on your student card which can only be used in certain places on campus so you aren’t restricted to the dining halls. Off campus meal plans are also available if you don’t live in halls. There aren’t any grocery stores on campus, but Wal-Mart is a $2 bus ride away.

Weekend Activities

Activities on campus:

Being at a campus university means that there is always things going on to entertain you. There are loads of clubs and societies to join, EASE is the student society for incoming exchange students. They are great and have events throughout the year, a lot of these provide transport too so you can get to do some fun things for free or cheap. Sport is a huge thing at UNC, there are plenty of clubs to join with intramural teams if you don’t want to get too serious. You’ll find a society for whatever you’re interested in and everybody is really friendly and will love for you to get involved. Even just sitting in “the pit” (which is the central part of campus) is a good way to spend free time, there are always people dancing or singing here and free things to pick up. Watching UNC games is also a lot of fun, make sure you try and get to see a basketball game because the atmosphere is incredible, but football and all the other sports are worth watching too.

Travelling:

North Carolina is a great spot to be in to explore the East Coast. You can get to most states by the Greyhound or Megabus which are both cheap options. New York, Atlanta, Florida, and other places on the East Coast are only around a 12 hour bus ride, lots of them are overnight so it doesn’t feel like a long time. For spring break there are plenty of options like a cruise around the Bahamas, or Cancun if you’re brave. It also isn’t very far, or too expensive to travel over to the West Coast so you get to see it all. Don’t forget to travel in North Carolina, the mountains during fall are beautiful and Raleigh and Charlotte are nice cities. There’s also a theme park that borders NC and SC called Carowinds, and Biltomore house.
Going out:
If you are old enough, most students will go to Franklin Street in the evenings. There are quite a few different bars that are popular on different nights and it’s always a lot of fun. Getting back to your dorm is easy too because they have a shuttle bus that runs until 3am to make sure you get home safe. There is also a big frat scene at UNC so plenty of frat parties. If you’re under 21 it isn’t a big deal because there is still plenty to do without going out. Franklin Street is always busy during the day too, with students shopping or sitting in restaurants and cafes.

Shopping, food and films:

There is a mall a bus ride from campus called Southpoint Mall which is a nice place to spend a few hours. Aside from the shops there is a big cinema, and loads of nice restaurants. Franklin Street also has a cinema, but if you don’t want to pay there are really new movies on every month on campus for free so try to get a schedule for that. Even if you have a meal plan, make sure you try all the restaurants on Franklin and in Carrboro there are loads and some are amazing (some not so much).

Reflections

Returning from study abroad is really, really weird. Everybody who has studied abroad will tell you the same, as soon as you come back it’s like it never happened. It was probably one of the best years, or semesters of your life and then you come back to your normal life and it is such a strange feeling. That being said, it’s great coming back and seeing everybody and telling everybody what you did (even though they don’t always want to listen).

Coming back to Kings from studying abroad has definitely made me a better student. Being in an environment where you have work constantly, and way more contact hours has made me much more organised and doing work before a deadline comes doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea. Living in a different country for a year with a load of people I’d never met before also made me more confident and excited to meet new people.

Being abroad also gives you itchy feet. Within two weeks of being back home I was ready to go somewhere else because being away makes you realise how much more there is to see and how small home feels. I’m also more open to travelling to places I wouldn’t have thought about in the past, I would never have gone on holiday to North Carolina but it turns out it’s really nice there.

Overall, I am so happy I spent my year abroad, it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I got to pay less tuition to go and spend a year in a different country, and then come back to Kings with way more life experience. It all sounds very cringey and cliche but it is definitely a life changing experience and I can’t wait to go back.

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