Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Shit! It's the Cops!"

September 2011

The week just gone has been a mix of various things going on, and I really can't remember whats happened when! As usual though Ive finished the week knackered, and then recovered for a day and had a knackering weekend doing this that and the other. Can't say I'm not getting the most out of my year abroad at the moment!

At some point this week (I think it was the Friday) it was Camille’s birthday (22, the oldie!). Camille is one of the Aussies I vaguely know, and so I wanted to go along to catch up with her and also hopefully meet some other internationals for some traveling opportunities. As it was I did meet some cool Aussies I hadn’t met before, hooked up with a couple of Irish who I had met before and quite like (they have some good banter – not that id ever tell them because I know they read this…). I also had the shock of my life when I met Ben, who was on exchange from Manchester. At first I thought he was shitting me and Phil and Aiden (the Irish lads) were getting him to wind me up, especially as I thought I was the only one from Manchester at UNC for the first semester. After a lot of jaw dropping and “what the fuck?!”-s, we worked out that because he had applied through the business school, it meant it was a separate process and as such we hadn’t had out emails circulated by the different study abroad offices (Manchester, sort that out for next year yeah?). Anyways, as seems to be the case when abroad, numbers were exchanged with a ‘well hook up for a drink sometime’.

The evening continued out in Back Bar and then Topo (as I’ve said before – highly recommended!), where some interesting English characters appeared from nowhere (literally they just appeared at my side) and sat down in an attempt to chat up the girls with us. I have to say I had great enjoyment watching the girls have none of it, and they slink away. But obviously hearing the accent there was the obligatory “where you from” conversation where I found out one of them was from far too near me. Great. But he still gave me his number and told me to give him a shout if I’m in New York and he’d “sort me out”. Not sure to what reference, but I can guarantee I won’t give him a shout If I can help it. He had really greasy hair too…

On the Saturday the Tar Heels Football team were facing Virginia in Chapel Hill, and Walt (a guy on my corridor) had invited me to his families tailgate before the game. Now obviously I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to experience some American culture, and invited the rest of the guys along too, especially as Walt’s family had ties to Scotland and England and we keen to meet us. Anyways, embarrassingly enough I was the only one to turn up, with the others citing being tired, having work or a better offer to go to which annoyed me a fair bit because I had promised Walt that we would all be going. Anyways, I had a great time meeting Walt’s family who were really welcoming and happy to chat about everything and anything! I also learnt how to throw an American Football properly (I got spin on it and everything!) and how supportive families get of their college teams (generations go to the same college here). The game itself was OK, but the weather made it a little miserable. It was like being back home – windy and wet and shivering in a hoodie. Not very Carolinian weather at all! There were some cracking Americanisms in the game however, most notably when the announcer proclaimed that “Everybody here thinks this is the greatest country in the world” to a roar of cheers and chants of “U.S.A!!” from the crowd. Andrea and I just looked at each other in amazement. Imagine that at a rugby game!

Kenen Stadium packed as ever

I also experienced my first American house rave that weekend too. It was advertised on Facebook as this amazing event with a proper DJ and heated pool etc, so sounded pretty cool. Except for the 600 people stated to be attending. Unfortunately Fiona wasn’t feeling well, so Andrea and I along with Mary-Ellis, Jessie and Kiever went along. It was an interesting experience to be sure. Must have been about 400 people crammed into a tiny two bedroom apartment, with lasers, strobes and huge speakers crammed into the corners. Needless to say you couldn’t move in there! Me being the cheap-arse student I bought my own plastic cup (I refused to pay $7 for one!) and helped myself to the keg of beer on offer. It tasted like shit.
Anyways, after like 20 minutes of standing around and trying to dance (pretty impossible in the crowded space) there was a sudden influx of people moving back into the apartment from the back and out of the front door. A cry of “Shit! It’s the Cops!” went up and suddenly everyone was pushing out of the door and dispersing away from the apartment (I was actually surprised the cops hadn’t come earlier considering the bass from the music could be heard the other side of the apartment complex). I wasn’t hanging around to find out what the cops wanted either, as (like mentioned in my previous blog) as a 21year old I would get into more trouble being at that party than an U21 due to amount of underage consumption going on. Especially as in our group I was the only person over 21 and the others were fairly tipsy by this time!

Once we got away from the party we hooked up with Brandon and TJ, and hitched a lift (‘ride’ as the Americans call it!) back to mine to “chill out”. The ‘ride’ was quite cool as I got to sit in the back of a pickup truck (HOW COOL IS THAT?!) and basically looked like a dog hanging out of a window the whole way back! After “chilling out” for a while, we decided to head out onto Franklin Street, and headed towards Pulse. This is the place I first went to with Pat back on the second day in Chapel Hill. It hadn’t changed in any way from that day, except the cover charge was an extortionate $10 (I mean what?!). As they are one of a very few places that accept U21’s we were a little stuck for choice and just went for it. Inside was the same tacky, sticky place with people practically having sex on the dance floor. Still, entering into the spirit of it, we got our groove on, with TJ and Mary-Ellis salsa-ing away to much amusement, and me doing my usual trick of looking like a muppet. On the way back there was a stop at the Old Well for some hydration…which obviously turned into a water fight with John (who had joined us towards the end of the eve) and Andrea making each other “wet” (direct quote!). Make of that what you will…. I eventually collapsed into bed at about 4. Again - no wonder I’m always so tired! - with a 9.30 start the next morning. Fantastic!

The Old Well (in the daylight)

The Sunday (after staggering around for a bit groaning), was a hockey match being played away at Elon (a small town about 45mins drive from Chapel Hill). Not only was I keen to go and play some hockey, I was also keen to get out of Chapel Hill for a bit, and so was glad to go along and play. The route they went took us through some rather run down areas, and that was where I realised how poor the South can be. I read somewhere before I came out that North Carolina has the largest concentration of Phd’s in the States yet also one of the highest numbers of people living below the poverty line. Driving to Elon really opened my eyes to this. It was like a scene from a film, with rusty pickup trucks outside houses with windows partially boarded up and doors hanging off their hinges. Yet also there were some incredibly nice houses right next door. It was an interesting sight to see. It also struck me on the drive both too and from Elon why everyone drives so much in the States. Everything genuinely is so far apart. Every house is typically detached with at bare minimum of 6 foot between each house, and in many places pavements don’t even exist. We drive through one neighbourhood and I didn’t see one shop of business for at least 5 minutes (admittedly we were on one road and I couldn’t have know what there was parallel  to the road we were one, but it was still a bizarre thing for me to witness). At many junctions there weren’t even places for pedestrians to cross the roads safely. It was an different perspective to gain of the USA, and I’m glad I have got that perspective earlier rather than later in my time here as it certainly made me stop and think about my attitudes to aspects of US culture which I found bizarre, and the reasons why parts of the American culture have developed the way they have. 

Anyways, moving on from the deep part of this post! Elon University itself is very different from UNC. A private university, it seemed very spread out, but very nice looking nevertheless. Except that as a private school they can’t seem to afford an Astroturf pitch. We played on grass. Yeah, grass. I had never played on grass before, and within 5 minutes I hated it. You can’t dive properly, kick the ball properly or slide and take players down properly (the last one being the biggest issue of course…). Anyways, it was a good match, and got scrappy. Which im always a big fan of (seeing I always win with all the padding on!). We won 3-0 and went home a happy but rather sweaty team!  On the way back I got to experience the Southern delight that is ‘Bojangles’ – a fried chicken place only found in the southern states. After a game of hockey it was awesome! One thing I’ve realised about American places is that you really need to take a step out of the queues in order to choose what food you want as there is always SO much choice! Even places such as Subway and KFC that we have a home have a hell of a lot more choice on their menus, with mental combos. Is rather overwhelming at times when all you want is a burger and chips!

Yet again, this weekend was a mismatch of cultural experiences which, as ever, I have thoroughly enjoyed and with people who I genuinely love being around (except John – he’s a weirdo…). I am starting to feel more at home at UNC now, even though I am missing home loads, and Manchester loads too now Fresher’s Week is in full swing and all the updates and pictures are starting to appear on Facebook. Still, I’m still knocking around campus in shorts and t-shirts so I can’t complain really!

The Bell Tower on UNC Campus

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lost in Translation (A Month In)

September 2011

I’ve been in the USA a month now, and so I think its right to reflect over the last month in terms of differences and similarities a little more (God, this sounds like a crappy school exercise!). I’ve discovered that despite both the USA and UK speaking English, there are still lots lost in translation. This was something I didn’t count on particularly when first thinking about coming the NC, and it has been a slight baptism of fire with some interesting and hilarious outcomes!

There are many words used for different things, and new words not heard before for both myself and the Americans I come across. It’s interesting that when skyping home now, I have begun to catch myself saying Americanisms (which I really hoped I wouldn’t), simply because its easier than saying the English (you read that Americans, ENGLISH) words for items. A prime example being Chips, crisps, and fries. Fries are what I call chips, yet chips are what I call crisps. But crisps don’t exist as crisps in the USA. At all. Ever. Think about my frustration at the beginning of the month! It’s also funny how many Americans seem to not understand what I’m saying a lot more than me not understanding what they’re saying (disregarding the accent of course). Common words that I say (which aren’t really colloquial) such as ‘knackered’, ‘bolocks’ and ‘alright’ are met often with a ‘what?’ or blank looks. And that’s before I start saying words such as ‘redders’, ‘wanker’ and ‘sound’! I think this is an interesting commentary on how American culture has impacted on British culture, yet not so much the other way round. Similarly, pronunciation of words has caught me off guard as well. For over an hour I couldn’t work out what a ‘raut’ was, only to discover it was a ‘route’. Likewise there a some fruits called different names here, and I still can’t work out what they actually are!
Also, in conversation, people (and I think this is mainly a Southern thing) stand quite close to you whilst talking to you, which sometimes can be a little off putting, and I’ve already mentioned about the superficial nature of some friendships with people (I hasten to add that this is usually with those you’ve only met once or twice). ‘Yep’ is also commonly substituted for ‘you’re welcome’ when saying ‘thank you’ here too. It took me a while to work out that people weren’t being rude there. Alongside this, many Americans I’ve spoken to on the phone don’t say ‘bye’ at the conversation, they simply hang up. This has caused me to think they were cut off and so rung them back, consequently looking like a fool! Furthermore, words said differently sometimes just sounds weird. I was in one conversation relating to cars, and the word “Hunday” kept cropping up. I really didn’t know this make of car and asked the question, only to then realise (after a fair while of explaining and then writing the name down!) that they were meaning Hyundai, as in ‘Hi-un-die’, not ‘Hun-day’. I still don’t get how the name can be pronounced so differently!

However, my own stupidity probably contributes to the breakdown in communication at times. When I first got here and filled in the room itinerary, I wasn’t sure what the sprinklers were (as in I know what they are, just not what they looked like in the building), or that bedsprings were attached to the bed (I was very jetlagged when this happened). Anyways, according to the sheet I have no sprinklers or bed springs, and 1 tile in the floor. Means I’ll be up in room furnishings at the end of the year when they check the rooms – score!
I still am scared of crossing the roads here. You press a button, wait for like 12 hours before being able to cross yet cars still come towards you. There’s a bizarre rule where you can turn right whilst it’s still a red light, and thus I’ve sprinted towards the curb only to have a car stop for the person (calmly) walking behind. It was winds me up how cross buttons are placed away from the side of the curb, often meaning you have to take anything up to 8 steps away from the curb to push the button. Inefficient! Also on inefficiency, at a STOP sign, a car has to come to a complete standstill before it can proceed, even if there’s no obstruction or danger in front of it. I really don’t get that one!

A couple of other things I’ve learnt in my time so far:
  • It’s illegal to buy spirits (liquor) on a Sunday, and beer before noon
  • It’s illegal to buy alcohol after 2am, which is why all the clubs close at 2am
  • Biscuits are cookies, cookies are cookies, yet a biscuit here is like a scone-type edible item – yeah, I’m still confused!
  • Southern Fried Chicken is amazing
  • When you buy a fizzy drink (soda) here its automatic refills (HOW COOL IS THAT?!)
  • You can pass a driving test with minimal lessons (as in like 5)
  • Sex in any other position that the Missionary position is illegal (imagine that in court!)
  • Everyone’s either from where you’re from or knows someone there. And asks if you know them too
  • Everything’s ‘only’ a certain distance away (even if that ‘only’ is 10 hours)
  • A Yankee is a term given to someone from the Northern States. Didn’t go down well when I first called people Yanks (as in the English for a generic American)
  • University is an interchangeable term with college and school (very confusing!)
  • There is so much sugar in everything here, even bread tastes really sweet. I think I will need numerous fillings when I get back to the UK
  • If you’re 16 and your girlfriend is 15 and you have consensual sex, it’s illegal
  • As a 21 year old, I’m more likely to be in greater trouble with the law than an U21 at a house party where alcohol is being consumed, even if it’s not my house and I’m stone sober.
  • It’s legal for women to walk around topless
  • A 'small' place here is bloody huge!
  • Toilets are located around the ankle everywhere
  • you really do have to drive most places - public transport is shocking to certain places and at certain time of the week
  • Throwing an American Football ball is a lot harder than it looks
  • Don’t ever put an ‘x’ (as in a friendship ‘x’) at the end of a text to an American. It leads to a hell of a lot of explaining having to be done
  • All you can eat cannot be seen as a challenge
  • Recycling does occur
  • Duke University is REALLY hated in Chapel Hill
  • Be careful about going drinking with the Irish and Kiwis
  • It’s hard living with someone in the same room, especially if you’re not very similar in character
  • Petrol (gas) is a third what it is in the UK, and almost everyone at college has a car
  • Never trust the image of a person by their accent if you can’t see them; I went to the insurance office in the first week or so, and heard the most amazing Southern accent come out from behind the work cubicle. I had an image of a gorgeous blond country singer in boots, checked shirt and cowboy hat coming to help me with my concern. As it was, a wrinkled, fat, middle aged women came out in a dirty tracksuit. I was so gutted.
  • There are more fast food restaurants that I can probably go to in the time I’m here
  • Banter exists here. Just in a slightly different format, and sometimes needs to be explained
  • Don’t drink out of bins at parties. It’s usually not worth it
  • You get charged to receive texts to your mobile
  • Many Americans actually get sarcasm, and Monty Python is a big thing here (at UNC at least). I was very surprised at that!
  • Johns foot is still minging
  • An English accent will get you pretty much anything you want. No joke.
Shock at the missing 'u' in 'color'.

Needless to say however, I am getting to the point where I am starting to experience culture shock, and miss things from home, such as decent food (canteen food here’s pretty bad), a decent bed and a room to myself, and family and friends. It’s the little things like Robinsons Orange Squash, real jam and Cadburys chocolate that gets me the most. And the fact that known brands such as Twix and KitKat really are not the same here. Despite this however, I am still having a great time, and enjoying experiencing the American culture for all its similarities, differences and downright lunacies in a way that could never been done as a tourist. 

Having said that, can someone (Your Majesty) please tell these Yanks how to make a bloody proper cup of tea!

Out and about in Franklin Street

"Warning: Tornado Imminent"

September 2011

This week was the turn of the third natural disaster to hit Chapel Hill since I’ve been here. On Tuesday, at 5.30am I got a lovely message from ‘AlertCarolina’ - a system put in place to warn people in the UNC area of impending dangers - telling me there was a tornado warning for the UNC campus. As much as I was glad to know, it probably could have waited until a slightly more sociable time. Thank you very much.

Like most other students, I paid no notice and went to classes as usual. My Spanish class is held in the basement of one of the buildings, and so without signal, no one got the text from AlertCarolina warning of an impending tornado and to take cover. Needless to say, the class carried on whilst the noise in the corridor got louder and louder as other classes were cancelled and students piled down into the basement. Typical that we wouldn’t miss any class. After the class finished we all walked out into the corridor and were like “errr, what?”. As it was, we couldn’t leave the building (what with there being a tornado in the area and that), so we went back into the classroom, and hoped against hope we didn’t have to learn more Spanish….

A few hours later another siren was sounded (these sirens sound EXACTLY like the ones from the Blitz by the way), and being in my room at this point, I really didn’t have a clue what to do. Diving next door I found Dylan sitting at his desk, seemingly very unconcerned about the whole thing, and not bothering to move. I tentatively went back into my room, shut the windows and blinds (just in case) and hovered around the door wondering whether to go down into the basement and look like a dork for being keen, or stay in my room and look like a dick for not carrying out the right action… The indecision! As it was, after 10mins of no wind tunnel appearing in the sky or trees and cows flying around I went back to my desk and cracked on with my work (yeah, work-rare I know!). Hours later the all clear went. And apparently it was for no real reason anyway and the actual tornado was 5 miles away… 

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful, unfortunately. I seem to be settling into a routine a bit more now (boring!) and with no partying happening at all during the week here, nothing really happens in the evening. It’s a definite ‘live for the weekend’ attitude here, which is very different to the Manchester attitude of go out in the week and stay in at the weekends…guess the locals in Manc are a lot worse than the locals here! I was met with amazement on the first week when I was going out every night and still going to classes the next day – it’s not the common thing to do at all here (VERY different to UK attitudes!).

A slightly less mad evenings entertainment at Chipotle

Harriet turned 21 this weekend, and so with no excuse not to, we partied. Hard. All weekend. Win! The Friday was spent working out which bars in Franklin would let us in with a photocopied passport (not wanting to lose the real thing which would be VERY bad), and really laying on the English accent when the bouncers stalled at letting us in. it worked fairly well! There are a few decent places on Franklin, and I’m slowly discovering which ones are worth going to and which really aren’t. There are also a couple of hidden gems away from the bustle of the main street which I always good to stumble upon. Harriet had a party thrown for her at Lexi etc’s house (becomming commonly refered to as Pritch on account of the road it's located on) on the Saturday, and received the obligatory (very American) thing of 21 things to do before the evening is out. There were some absolute gems (well done to Lilly, Emma and the others that came up with these!) such as take a photo with a cop, talk in a Southern accent for 5 minutes and do a lap dance  VERY amusing!). EastEnd was hit too later in the evening, where I discovered what 'daggering' is (a very hardcore sort of dance very similar to dry sex on the middle of the dance floor), and heard this song for the first time. Needless to say it’s grown on me (being about North Carolina of course) and I love it now! John also did a disappearing act and to this day we still don’t know where he got too….. ( I only say that because he's not happy that I don't mention him in my blogs - bless).

The infamous and traditional '21st list'

Being a gentleman. Of course...

In more sober related news, I’ve joined the hockey team here, and on the Sunday I played my first American Field Hockey game. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. I’m used to freezing cold weather and rain at home whilst playing, whereas here it was redders hot and very, very sweaty. And I got sun burnt with the helmet face mesh onto my face (for those of you that don’t know I play Keeper). Wasn’t best amused! I’m not the only Brit on the team, the other being Paul, a graduate from Manchester (funnily enough!) who lives in Chapel Hill now, and I was glad of the English company as (again) there were funny little traditions I had no idea about. Firstly, at the beginning of every half sticks are placed in a circle and “Heels” is shouted very loudly, and a little chant is done at the end of the match saying something along the lines of “good game, thanks fans, thanks other team, thanks officials, go heels” (yea, I’ve still not got it!). I felt very British at these moments, because ive never done that before playing at home. It’s always been a “cheers guys, good game, pub?” (obviously 21 being the drinking age here means the pub tradition is not observed here at all. Very disappointing I have to say). Then even more baffling to me was the way in which to thank the other team (on top of the generous chant). We all had to line up in a line and high five each other. Yes, you Brits read right. High five each other. In a line. I mean, huh?!. And it gets worse, because as being the keeper, I was at the front of the line and so went to shake hands (like normal people do!). I got very confused as to why everyone’s hands were in the air. Talk about being the Bloody English Redcoat! On another comparison point, Field Hockey is (vastly) predominately female here, unlike the rough balance there is in the UK. Whereas in Manchester we used to struggle to get enough girls to play (as Campus hockey required a minimum quota for games), here there’s no quota and very few blokes seen on the field. However, its cool being in the hockey team however, as everyone is thoroughly social and nice people to be around. It’s also good to have another circle of friends to (potentially – still early days!) hang out with, and I enjoy playing Hockey. Obviously!

The UNC Field Hockey Team

Thursday, September 15, 2011

'It's Super SUPER Great To Meet You!" (Labour Day Weekend)

September 2011

So the weekend was “Labor Day” weekend. If you’re wondering what that means, join the millions of American’s who also don’t know. Honestly, most people I asked didn’t have a certain idea what Labour Day meant. However, trusty Wiki reliably informs that Labour Day is an “annual holiday which celebrates the economic and social achievements of workers”. Yeah, I still don’t get it…

ANYWAY, it meant Monday was a day off. (whoopee!). So Sunday eve was obviously spent working partying. College eh?! Fiona and I had been to hockey training in the early eve, and after an amazing burrito from Qudoba we went over to one of the hockey girls houses for some post-training socialising (via the store for alcohol of course – being 21 we had to provide). Needless to say, socialising soon turned into… more socialising, and with ‘Everclear’ being the spirit in full flow (it’s a 75.5% grain alcohol that illegal in a fair number of states), soon people got drunk. I mean very drunk. So drunk that one person who will remain nameless (Jonathon) decided he HAD to stand in a corner and sing Rebecca Black in full (I would like to put a sanity disclaimer on that link by the way...). At the top of his voice. Repeatedly. I mean how drunk can you get to do that?!

After a good game of ‘Circle of Death’ (‘Ring of Fire’ to you British folk) with some amusing rules of English people talking like an American and Americans talking like English (sorry British, Fiona!) and Beer Pong (I lost miserably), Fiona and I departed to go and hook up with the others at John’s mentors house. Now this is where it went downhill for me. As soon as I walked into the door I was handcuffed to Harriet, placed upside down with a duck in my hand and had my face repeatedly stroked. All in the name of ‘Inconvenience’ as part of the game that was being played. And trust me when you’re like that for over 1/2 hour and busting for the loo, it is a massive inconvenience… Despite this little hiccup to begin with and me making a mad dash to the loo once free (much to everyone’s amusement), the rest of the time there was a good laugh with some rather amusing rules and inconveniences being pulled out of the bag by all (especially having to name all the South American countries or drink for everyone missed!).

Monday, being Labour Day, meant nothing was open. Nothing. Not even buses ran. Very bizarre for someone who comes from a city where everything is open and running pretty much all night. But it wasn't a drama, because Andrea had sorted out a day of meeting and greeting though an organisation for Internationals in the Raleigh/Durham area. Getting up for 10am was a bit of a struggle, but it was managed by all three of us (Fiona being the third – the other two were boring and stayed behind). We then jumped into a car driven by a girl called Catherine who was rather chirpy for the stupid O’clock time it was in the morning and were taken to a church for the days events. Now, I know what youre thinking here; ‘Good lord, becoming Christian?! What’s going on?!’. I haven’t, this was simply where the International event was held. As it transpired it was a church that ran it, but stressed the Christian side was optional for those who wanted it. I didn’t tick the box for interest… Anyway, we were the first ones to arrive, and a few awkward conversations were had with various people about where we were from, and everyone either seemed to come from there (15 generations back) or knew someone there. Regardless of where you said you were from. I swear I could have said I was from Mars and someone would have known someone who spent a year there or something. I’m being harsh here, but after a while it did get a little boring. As was the repeated “It’s super great to meet you!” with a massive forced grin. Oh well the price of hospitality! 

It started off proper with a game of bingo, where the aim was to get people’s names who were left-handed, or like football etc. This was rather amusing for us three, as we were very British and stood around not wanting to look too keen. We needed had worried because some people proper got into it. The idea of the game was to try and meet other people and give something through which a conversation could be started. However, some people would ask you if you were left handed or something and before you could reply “No, I’m not, but I’m Alex nice to meet you” they’d be off asking someone else. Very weird situation to be in! Once the game was over (with some amazing American ‘Super’ and ‘Awesome’) we were served lunch. Which having been on a few weeks of Rams Head/Lenoir food (the student canteens) by now, was like heaven (ironic as we were in a  church I guess…). We also had some speeches from various people relating to their time abroad and how they coped with being away from home and with culture shock etc, which was a useful insight, as were the free tourist magazines of the area provided for us. There was a slightly creepy couple which came up and were clearly still smitten with each other after however many year marriage and children, which was nice but freaky when they kept finishing each other sentences off… I also tried sweet tea for the first time, which is Southern specialty (I use that loosely). Its basically ice tea with a horrendous amount of sugar in it. I could feel my teeth rotting as I sipped it. Not much got drunk I can tell you!
Being British we tried to get out of the large group photo by skulking around the edge of the room, to no avail as a small American women pushed us (no joke!) into the middle of the group. We all beat a hasty retreat to the rear, and had to stand forced smiling whilst various small children appeared from nowhere to join the photo. Once it was over, we made a run for it, getting a ride from Catherine who I think was glad to have a reason to leave too by that point!

The group photo we really weren't keen being in!

It was an interesting way to spend "Labor Day" (I know - American spellings!), which otherwise would have been spent kicking round the room causing trouble (well, I would have at least!) and it was nice to experience hospitality form people who seemed to genuinely want to help those who are new to the area, it just seemed a little forced at times and a little overtly Christian for my liking, but oh well that’s the South I guess!!

Friday, September 9, 2011

"If God's not a Tar Heel, why's the sky Carolina Blue?" (First Football Match)

September 2011

I’ve lost my virginity. My American Football virginity I hasten to add… Attending my first ever American Football match (UNC vs James Madison University) at the massive stadium here at UNC was an experience that will stay with me for a long time. The excitement, the heat, the volume of the crowd was incredible. It also made me realise how much of a big deal college sports is here in the USA. A Tar Heel is someone who either goes to UNC or supports them. It’s the name given to the varsity sports teams that represent the university. The most famous Tar Heel of all time? Michael Jordan. Yep, the world famous basketball player graduated from UNC. How cool is that?!

In case you didn't believe me!
It’s amazing how into their sports people get here. The famous Carolina Blue (basically baby blue for you who don’t know) is worn by a large majority of those on campus, and around Chapel Hill. Whole shops are dedicated to the selling of UNC merchandise, with anything from t-shirts to dog bones bearing the UNC logo (yes, you read that right – your dog can be a Tar Heel dog!). On the weekend before classes started it was rather overwhelming to see all these people decked out in baby blue, with shorts, t-shirts and caps bearing the UNC logo or slogan. And that was just the parents!

The UNC marching band

Everyone wearing Carolina Blue!

It’s a strange concept seeing so much support and loyalty to a university, coming from a background where it hasn’t really existed, unless you were representing the university in a specific sport. Indeed I feel more loyalty towards my UOTC unit than university back home. I guess it is the pride in ones college that has contributed to making it such a beautiful place. There’s very little litter around the campus, and donations from former students mean buildings can be maintained and facilities improved. The fact that a massive 60,000 stadium exists to show college football – not professional, but college, indicates the crowds that are drawn to support their fellow students representing their college. I honestly cannot ever see the same ever happening in Manchester – personally I don’t think there is enough pride by students in their university at home, and this is reflected in so many ways. But maybe that can be attributed to the pessimism that as a whole, us Brits have in much greater abundance that the Yanks. No one in the UK wants to be seen as the overly competitive one, or the keeno wanting to show off. Yet here in the States, and certainly at UNC, this seems to be encouraged. It is an interesting cultural difference to notice. 

It is also amazing how the locals to Chapel Hill and surround areas get behind the Tar Heels as well. The Chapel Hill campus was full of families of supporters on Football day, with roads closed and houses displaying signs offering a parking space on their drive for anything up to $50. As I (think) ive mentioned before, in Chapel Hill all the road signs around campus are in Carolina Blue (instead of standard green) and display the UNC logo upon them. Even the emergency services are decked out in blue instead of red here. Even shops and businesses get in on the act displaying Tar Heel flags and banners in their shop windows and on their adverts. To be honest, being a little sceptical, I reckon some of that is purely for marketing purposes as Chapel Hill is a big college town, but it is still something to behold. That would NEVER happen in Manchester!

Anyways, the game. It was immense. We started off by ‘tailgating’, which is basically a term used for eating a drinking before a game starts. Apparently it originates from people rocking up and having BBQ’s on the tailgates of pickup trucks. These Americans think of everything! My tailgating experience started on the grass outside the dorm where a BBQ was going and burgers were being served (no beer though with the stupid 21 rule here). So I ate my burger and chatted to some people, and then left to go and have a drink off campus. Obviously. The girl’s house where we had been a few times before was the location of the ‘casual-drink-in-the-sun’ tailgate event, with Pat turning up as well as some other internationals. Beer pong (think most people have heard of this game) was in full swing when we arrived, and another game called corn-hole was getting set up. Corn hole involves throwing beanbags into a hole set into a board. Easy you might think (as I naively did too), but it isn’t in any way shape or form. The winner is the team to get to 21 first, but you lose any points the other team gains per round. (I didn’t get it the first few time either…) So it takes a while to win. Especially playing in the searing hot sun. Needless to say, because Pat had me on his team we lost against Lexi and Jess (Lexi was definitely cheating though!).

Playing beer pong

The bros

The game started at 3.30, and the stadium was pretty full. Hearing the chants and shouts of the crowd was awesome, as well as the 300-400 strong band located in ‘The Tar Heel Pit’ (the student bit of the stands). And ‘daim’ (inject some Southern drawl there!) they were loud! Having absolutely no idea as to the rule of Football (I tried watching the Super Bowl the season before but gave up in confusion) Pat had to explain to me everything. Even why play had stopped (ad breaks – even college sports have succumbed to commercialisation). This was also a new experience for me and the other British guys (I’m not allowed to say English anymore because Fiona’s Scottish). When play stopped these ads were played on the big screen at either end of the pitch. One was of famous Football players from UNC saying things like ‘I’m blah blah and I’m a Tar Heel’, and ‘I’m so-and-so and I am and always will be a Tar Heel’, at which point the crowd would go mental. And this was all done to dramatic music and the peoples on the screen were dramatically lighted with dark shadows etc. Another one was various sports players saying something along the lines of ‘we will rush you and beat you, for I am better than you and you should know it’ Again with dramatic music and lighting. The ad would go ‘but when its all over I will pick you up, shake your hand and nod approval to you. Because this game is about respect. And as a Tar Heel I respect you, my rival’. And again the crowd went wild. It was sure surreal to see! Me and John just looked at each shaking our heads and felt very English not joining in with the crowd… Bloody Americans!


The huge crowd

Enjoying the game and sunshine!

The game itself was good to watch, but I found myself being drawn more to watching the crowd and the action around the pitch. It appeared to me to be more of a spectacle than just a game. There were numerous groups of cheerleaders doing various dances etc and the two team mascots running around causing mayhem wherever they went. The match was won 42-10 by UNC, and I have to admit that I really felt like a Tar Heel whilst watching the game.  It was really amazing watching the game and getting into the spirit of it. However, I will never admit that in person, because real football (that’s Soccer you Americans!) is much better, and rugby is waaaay better too. Though I have to admit I’d much rather be taken out by a rugby player than an American Football player – some of those tackles looked painful!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Storm Comes

August 2011

This week I became a geographer. You will probably be thinking I’ve passed a test, or made a map or coloured in between the lines. Nope, I’ve survived an earthquake and a hurricane. OK, so the earth wasn’t heaving, buildings didn’t fall down and cows weren’t flying through the air, but I still experienced one. The earthquake struck on Wednesday, and I felt it whilst in a class. It felt a little like the Tube passing under you (that’s the subway for you Americans), but for a bit longer. It measured 5.8 on the Richter scale in Washington DC, with the Pentagon being evacuated (you can read a story about it here). It was pretty cool to experience – something I’ve never felt before! It was also decent because it meant I had something to talk about with people other than how cute my accent sounds or what English swear words mean (I’ve taught the guys on my corridor ‘knobber’ and ‘wanker’ – their now a staple term of abuse in the corridor), so a relief in that sense too.

Then later in the week Hurricane Irene came to call. This event was really bigged up on campus with emails from various people relating to what to do in an earth quake and how to tell people you are safe. Whilst it was good that these systems were in place, once Irene had past it seemed rather anticlimactic. I’d like to offer my condolences to those who have lost their homes and lives in the hurricane up and down the east coast, but within Chapel Hill apart from a couple of blown down branches nothing really happened. I’ll be honest this was a little disappointing as I wanted to experience a hurricane for myself, but I’ve been assured that there will most probably be another opportunity! The combined hurricane and earthquake did mean I got lots of messages of concern from home though. Nice that people care, just be nice if it was at other times too you know…
Anyways, that weekend Pat took me out for tacos with Madison and Willey. We were going to a taco van, which I initially was a little worried about seeing as they were telling me stories of a bad experience they had with one. However, I was pleasantly surprised when we got to the van and the food came out looking fairly cooked. And damm nice too! Tacos here are nothing like what ive had in the UK, which tend to be hard shells. Here they’re more like tortillas, which the filling is piled into and rolled up. We then went out onto Franklin Street via Willey’s house (which is a gorgeous house by the way – it reminded me of the stereotypical log cabins seen in the forests) into a place called the Cave. This place was advertising a drink for the weekend only, called ‘Hurricane’. Commercialisation or what?! I was well up for trying it but it was sold out. Surprise, surprise. Had a really nice NC ale (no idea what it was called) and then left to go meet Andrea and Fiona who were going to Andrea’s mentors house party. It wasn’t an amazing house party to be honest, but I met some cool freshmen called Dree, James and Nathan. I also tried my first ‘Keg stand’, which basically involved being lifted up upside down and the pipe from a keg placed in the mouth and turned on. You have top drink as much as possible whilst upside down. It’s an interesting experience. Kids don’t do it at home (just to be responsible for the first time since I got here…).

On the note of being responsible, I’m loving the fact that I’m in halls simply for the fact I don’t have to be responsible in the slightest. I’m the oldest in my corridor at 21, but I’m still getting down with the ‘kids’ skidding around in socks and jousting using wheelie chairs. Alongside writing wonderfully abusive messages on everyone’s door (a lot of people have whiteboards stuck to their door to write messages. I’m only too happy to oblige!) I met Andrea and Harriet’s suite mates through being very bored and very immature. Harriet and Andrea live down on South Campus (a 15 min walk at least away) in a dorm called Horton. They share a suite (a shower, toilet and 2 sinks) with two freshmen in the room next door, called Mary-Ellis and Jessie. We were skidding around in the corridor like massive big kids, and Harriet went barrelling into their room asking if they wanted to join. I’m sure they thought we were as mad as anything looking at us skidding up and down the corridor laughing in quiet hours (it’s very naughty to be loud after 9pm here….yeah 9pm. Mental…). They seem really genuine girls though, and really on the banter (after a little confusion as to what the hell me and John are on about!). Don’t think their idea of going to college was meeting some crazy international students through skidding around in socks like 5 year olds!

I’ve also got to mention the introduction of BlackZack (yes, he introduces himself as BlackZack). He’s the only black Zack in the Dorm (hence the name...), and is an absolute character. Described as ‘not your average nigger’, you know when he’s around in the corridor by his witty nature and the laughter of those around him in stitches at the stuff he comes out with. He's also an amazing beat-boxer and regularly can be heard jamming with Zach, Tom, EJ and a couple of others in and around the corridor.

Anyways, Friday we went out with Pat to a house party and again met lots and lots of people. Was a cool house though out in Carboro (the town next along to Chapel Hill). I also had my first 4oz bottle of beer (yep, another American big size product) which was a bitch to hold all night… Needless to say rolling back at 3am to an empty room (Gunn had gone home for the weekend) was the sign of a good night had!

Monday, September 5, 2011

"I Forgot About the Study Part Of Study Abroad" (Start of Classes)

August 2011

Having been accustomed to going back to Uni waaaay after my younger sister goes back to school, having to go to classes whilst still in the month of August and feeling like I was on holiday was a shock to the system. A massive shock. I really wanted someone to come up to me and say ‘Aw, you’re English and you’re not used to starting this early in the year. Have the next few weeks off’. As it happened, no one did. Starting classes bought the new pressure of finding rooms and buildings and panicking when the name of the class wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be. One class I wanted to take in Social Geography looked at racial discrimination in cities through time in literature. I dropped that one pretty quickly. 

The American system of University (or college as they call it) education is very different from that of the UK. Firstly, the work load is insane. And I’m doing the bare minimum of credits possible. The way it works here is lots of little assignments every week, plus reading, plus extra work. Nothing like of the UK system of a slightly larger project every few weeks meaning you can chill out for a bit then work manically at the end. Here you have to stay on top or struggle to keep up. Which I found out the hard way on the first two weeks. Reflected in the work balance is the marking scheme. To get an A (i.e. 1st) you have to get 80-90%. Yeah, my reaction was one of horror too. However, in my opinion with lots of little bits of marked work it may be easier to pick up more marks along the way than in the UK where so much is based on the exams at the end of the semester. Check back for more insight into that one when I get some (probably terrible) marks back! There is also this incredibly bizarre system of “extra marks” here, where you can get bonus marks for either turning up to extra classes or watching a video or something like that. These marks can be up to 30% on top of the maximum grade, giving a potential score of 130 out of 100. HOW DOES THAT WORK?!!! The attitudes towards work here is quite interesting to note also. In my opinion, in the UK its dangerous to be labelled as the keen student who’s always putting their hand up in lectures or helping the lecturer out. You don’t want to be labelled as a ‘keeno’. However, the States this is encouraged with a percentage of the final grade given for classes participation. This leads to some (f***ing annoying) students constantly being like ‘can I do this, can I do that’ towards the lecturers. Ugh, grow up and take your tongue out of their arse! However, I guess the logic behind it is to encourage class discussion etc which is a good thing, and with generally much smaller class sizes it means the lecturers can get to know their students much better on a personal level. However, this was (and still is) incredibly hard to get used to, leading to me being very British abroad and going ‘for f*** sake sit down and shut up’ towards people. 

I do like the US system in some ways in that you don't have to pick what degree you do (known as Majoring here) until 2nd year. To me that makes a lot more sense as people can try out different modules in 1st and 2nd years and then decide. Furthermore, there is a much greater flexibility in module options, with many students taking modules that may have no relation to their major at all. Its also interesting to note that in order to graduate from UNC (I'm not sure about other institutions), students have to fulfill certain requirements, such as taking a maths module or history module at some point in their 4 year programme. I like that system a lot and think it should be implemented in the UK to give UK students more choice about the modules they may want to do at Uni. However, to balance out, I hate the way students have to buy books for their course. It is compulsory to buy books for the modules you take, and the number of books  can be as high as 10 or 12 PER MODULE. Yes, 10 or 12. At up to $200 a book. Yep, you read right again. It's mental. And that's for one semester too. It was a serious blow to my budget as I was hoping to try and get around it by using the library, but found it wasn't feasible to do that. I would like to apologise to the people in the book store for my grumpy-ness whilst buying the books. I was seriously pissed off about having to pay $135 for one book. And it only has like 100 pages.

Needless to say, the work load has produced some very negative attitudes among the English with mutterings (probably majority from me) of disbelief at what we had to do whilst at UNC. Yeah, I know, I forgot about the ‘study’ party of ‘study abroad’…

Not working. Obviously!

The week also entailed me having some very late nights and early mornings, which increased the shock to my body. We were invited to a 21st birthday by Emma, who we met whilst at the Frat party the week before. A number of Emma’s housemates had spent a semester abroad the year before, and were keen to get to know us and welcome us to the States and help us out. Weirdly enough I met Lexi and Ryan who were at Manchester Uni. the previous semester, so it was cool chatting to them about their experiences there. After the party we went to a place called East End in Franklin Street (no, not East Enders as I originally heard and got a little freaked out by the image of East Londoners walking around inside). The place was cool, with country music playing and games of beer pong happening on special tables at the back. A beer was only a quarter (roughly 20p) which was awesome. Until I tasted the beer. Then it wasn’t so awesome. Needless to say I now hate Bud Light. Its vile. Fiona naively went off to dance by herself and had to be rescued from a big black guy by John. Provided much amusement for me when I heard!

The week also saw the first UNC EASE event happen. EASE is an group set up for internationals whilst at UNC to meet others and have socials and sports teams together. It was good meeting new people again, as well as see some others I hadn’t seen since Orientation. Pat came too, and afterwards we went for a drink at R&R Grille (yes, with an ‘e’) with some other internationals from Ireland, Australia, France and England. A mate of Pat’s, Andrew, came and joined us, hilariously drunk and proceeded to try and chat up the girls with his journalistic skills (he writes a column for the Daily Tar Heel), and as he left he wrote his number on a napkin and shoved in Camille’s bag without her noticing (think she still hasn’t found it!). Hilarious for the guys around the table, the girls weren’t too sure how to react! I also hooked up with Pat on the Thursday and went for a few drinks with him, bumping into a couple  of guys I had met before and meeting some new ones. Went to a place called ‘Top of the Hill’ (commonly referred to as ‘Toppo’), which I thoroughly recommend people go to (just to put some touristy bits into the blog!).

Anyways, Saturday was a welcome chill out day I’m telling you!