Hey Y’all! Greetings from Chapel Hill!
My name is Madeline and I am a student studying English Law with American Legal Studies. After two years at King’s College London, I am now at UNC Chapel Hill in North Carolina. I will spend one academic year here as a ‘Tar Heel’ and return to King’s next September to finish my degree.
Goodbye London, Hello Chapel Thrill!
I am a time- optimist. This is an endearing way of saying that I am forever leaving things to the last minute. Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and my pre- departure tasks were no exception. After receiving my U.S. Visa and Immigration documents in the mail approximately one hour before leaving for Manchester Airport (and almost giving my mother a nervous breakdown in the process), I was off! *
Twenty- three hours of travel later, and I had arrived in Chapel Hill (or as the locals affectionately call it: Chapel Thrill!). After such a long journey, I can safely say that I was indeed thrilled to be here!
I had arranged for the UNC international student’s group E.A.S.E to pick me up from the airport – this was such a convenient service which I would definitely recommend. In addition to offering airport pick-ups for, E.A.S.E also organise social events and outings for incoming international students. But more on that later…
My roommate, Marta, and I arrived on the same night. After learning we would be living together, we connected on Facebook and got to know each other a little before our arrival. Marta is also a law student, but she is from Madrid. Despite our mutual jet lag, it was clear from the outset that we had lots in common – including our love for American junk food. On our first night we bonded over candy bars and twizzlers; and one month later I am so pleased to say that we have become the best of friends.
Marta and I are living in Baity Hill, a graduate housing development on the north side of the UNC Chapel Hill campus. This means that we are living with graduate students, rather than undergraduates. Most residents are older than us, however, Baity Hill is a lovely, calm and safe neighbourhood and I am so happy here!
Our apartment is modern with two separate bedrooms and a shared living space, kitchen and bathroom. My classes are held in the UNC School of Law, which is about a twenty minute walk from the apartment. The university also provides a complimentary shuttle bus service, running every fifteen minutes which takes you straight to the front doors of the law school. Generally, I have found that the short walk is a great way to wake up each morning before classes, however the bus can feel like a godsend for that occasional 8am start.
Needless to say, we are getting a lot more value for money here in Chapel Hill compared to London (even on Old Kent Road, my location last year – which you may be familiar with as the cheapest Monopoly property).
Studying law in America has been a big change. In contrast to the UK, American law students are graduates which means that they have already studied an undergraduate degree prior to their law degree. With this in mind, I am one of the youngest students here in the UNC School of Law. This difference has been challenging at times, however it also has its benefits. I have been able to choose 2L and 3L classes, rather than the foundational 1L courses (1L refers to first year law students in America and so on). With over twenty possible classes to choose from, the selection was not easy. However, after researching the classes through the UNC student portal, I made my choices.
This semester I am studying: Trademark Law, Professional Sports Law, First Amendment, Energy and Environmental Law with Economics, and the compulsory course for exchange students, Introduction to U.S. Law. The opportunity to tailor my studies to my particular interests has been great. Eventually, I would like to practice sports law as an in- house lawyer at a sporting governing body so to study Professional Sports Law is very relevant to my career goals.
The style of teaching and learning law in America is much different to the UK. Firstly, there are no tutorials or lectures here. Instead, we are in classes ranging from about twenty to one hundred students. The classes are most easily comparable to seminars at King’s.
I have three to four hours of classes for each subject every week. For each class, we are assigned readings and we are expected to discuss the readings as a group. Professors here use the socratic method of teaching. This style is probably quite alien to many European students (it was to me, anyways), but it basically means that all students are “on call” during class. The professor expects to have a discussion with the class, and may “call” on you at any moment to answer a question or give your opinion on a topic.
I realise that this sounds like a very daunting experience, and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. However, I can honestly say that I have come to enjoy this way of learning and our class discussions are always engaging and sometimes (dare I say) fun. So long as you are prepared for class, you’ll be fine.
One of the reasons I chose to attend UNC Chapel Hill was for the town itself. Chapel Hill is a quintessential college town, and the university is at its heart. As you can imagine, studying in this environment is very different from the hustle and bustle of south London. The sirens and chicken shops have been replaced by chirping crickets and BBQ joints, and I am certainly not complaining!
At the centre of the town is the college campus. This includes the main quad, a huge lawn surrounded by the undergraduate academic buildings, libraries and halls of residence. The quad is a truly beautiful place to relax with friends. There is always something going on here, whether it be students playing frisbee or the “pit preacher” exercising his first amendment right of free speech (pictured is a showdown between the “pit preacher” and “harmonica dude”, competing for the audience’s attention).
One of the highlights of my week is our hump-day picnic, where a group of friends and I lay out a blanket and some snacks and invite passing students to join our lunchtime gathering in the quad. This is such a simple way to meet new people, so far I’ve made friends from the men’s cheer team to the women’s marines squad. To live in a place with such diversity is wonderful.
Chapel Hill is a small place, the population is predominantly students, and there is just one main street. Franklin Street stretches from the east to west side of town. At one end lie the booming frat houses and the perfectly maintained sorority houses, which look just like something out of Animal House. And at the other end there are all of the shops, restaurants, and, of course, the student bars. My favourite eating spot so far is Al’s Burger Shack, a quaint little shack with a line that stretches far down the road, which looks like something straight out of Diners, Drive ins and Dives. Order the brown sugar sweet potato fries and, in the words of Guy Fieri, you’ll be on a one way trip to Flavour Town!
On a Wednesday night, head to He’s Not Here! for Pint Night. He’s Not is one of Chapel Hill’s most popular bars, and it’s easy to see why. There are over fifty beers to try, a super funky outdoor patio and never ending beer pong. The law school has a weekly social called “Bar Review” (the lawyer’s attempt at a pun), where law students get together at a different bar in Chapel Hill to have a good time. Our first Bar Review was held at He’s Not Here, and it was a great was to get to know my classmates in an informal setting.
Bring it On
September at UNC has gone by so quickly. Of course, at times I have missed my friends and family back home in England, and I can’t honestly say that there haven’t been moments when I’ve wished more than anything to be back in Shropshire, cuddling up to my chocolate labrador, King Harold.
However, overall I am loving my new life here in Chapel Hill. My classes are interesting and challenging, and I really feel as if I am being pushed outside of my academic comfort zone. The university campus is beautiful, and the people certainly have that famous “southern charm”.
This post has been summary of my time here so far, and in my future posts I plan to make the content a little more specific. But I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about life at UNC Chapel Hill. Feel free to email me at email@example.com to ask any questions. I’d also love to hear ideas you might have for future blog posts.
*Moral of the story: send off your visa application months, not days, in advance. I got lucky.