Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm (Days before Classes Start)

August 2011

Friday morning was Orientation of all International Exchange Students, which involved getting up at a rather early time of 8.00am (OK, not that early but after a 3am crash out it was hard!) and finding where the hell the orientation was actually happening. After getting lost and meeting a equally lost Ozzie on the way I managed to make it to the orientation in time for a little socialising beforehand (I have to say I haven’t actually seen most of those people since…) before being ushered into the lecture hall. We were then promptly scared to death about the ins and outs of our immigration statuses and what that did and didn’t entail and how we would all be deported if we so much as spoke to a cop the wrong way or swore in front of fresher’s (admittedly massive exaggeration there but there was a lot of stuff we can be deported for including not turning up to lectures!). Then the orientation proper got underway by the most amazing Amanda the Study Abroad Advisor. Now Amanda has sent me (and others) numerous emails in the past months relating to different amounts of mundane paper filling and information. However, the emails always bought a smile to my face due their upbeat nature and always without fail wishing me a “happy day”. Amanda in person was no different and looking around the hall you could see smiles come to peoples faces as she radiated genuine joy at having us all there – a proper Southern girl! The orientation itself involved local information, academics information, what do etc as one would expect from something like that, including where the USA was in relation to the rest of the world….erm hello?! Once the orientation was over the rest of the day was spent chilling in the sun and sweating like a pig in a butchers. Typical weather for North Carolina!

Anyways, that evening I had the most random evening I’ve had in a long while (including nights out with OTC!). What started as a little illegal drinking (only Fiona and I in the English lot are 21) in my room turned into drinking in **** and *******'s room (guys in my corridor-didn't want to be named in case Housing read this and kick them out of their room), as they had a properly decked out room with a sofa and TVs. What promptly followed was something from when 14 year old''s drink in the park. Every time there was a bang on the door, all alcohol had to be hidden before the door was open (this will be explained in due course). I was astounded that as an adult at 21 I was having to hide my alcohol. It was such a random scenario! Despite, once copious amounts of hidden alcohol was consumed (we tried teaching the Americans ‘International Drinking Rules’. It didn’t work. At all) we headed to a house for a house party. Now if the hidden drinking had blown me away then the house party was something else! Image American Pie. That’s all you need to do. It was just like that. Red cups, beer pong and random people making out in corners. So surreal to literally step into the American stereotype! The people there were really friendly though and very eager to chat to us Brits. The never ending question of “Oh my gawd are you English?!” was frequently asked, but being the first night out I didn’t mind. To begin with. I should explain another American phenomena which is known as Party Juice, or PJ. This is a (usually lethal) concoction of alcohol and sweeteners in a massive bucket or similar holder which everyone dips their cups into and drinks from (hence the red cups). This is obviously for those underage so they can get drunk, but was rather different from the English attitude of BYOB which we did. Needless to say it all got drunk. Obviously.

Red Cups!!
As the party went on, Harriet (being all things knowing) found a friend at a frat party. Now we couldn’t turn that offer down! So we set off trying to find the frat house. In America the frat and sorority system is huge and people take it VERY seriously. But I personally didn’t realise this and just bumbled along hoping to meet some new people. After a short time (well, long because we got lost), we got to the frat house and again I was stunned (think American Pie again). Really nice place with lots of people. But no booze to be found. Anywhere. However upon asking Lillie, Harriet’s friend, she directed us to a bin. At this point I looked at her like she was wasted and was wanting to have a laugh with the Brits. But no upon closer inspection at the bottom of the bin there was a plastic bag with some sort of beverage within. I know what you’re thinking, and yes we did dip our lovely red cups in and have a taste (when in America!). Surprisingly not bad, except we finished it and so had to make a hasty retreat out of the kitchen onto the front lawn. Lillie’s mates were cool, and we all got on with them well. I didn’t really chat to many others worth mentioning! To my delight the evening was wrapped up in style with a pizza (a lovely similarity with English partying!), except this pizza could feed the 5000. No joke. 

New Kids in the Frat: Fiona, Me, Harriet, Lillie (American!), John & Andrea

The rest of the few days of freedom before the horror that was classes started was spent chilling, finding as much free food as possible (harder than I thought – ended up having to listen about some weird Christian sect for ½ hour to get some pizza at one point), and getting out and meeting as many people as possible. One bizarre event we went to was called a “Target Party”. Target is basically an ASDA-type place and they were having a party in it, with promises of “mental discounts, massive giveaways and dancing in the aisles”. Sounded like it could have been good, so we went. What a mistake. Queuing for 45mins for a coach there and battling with people to get into the store wasn’t that fun, and then the “massive giveaways” turned out to be some shite flavoured water (pretty much tasted like sugar water) and microwaveable macaroni cheese, which I haven’t even ventured to taste because it looks radioactive. No joke. From that point on it went downhill. It was basically a massive marketing ploy by Target to get students into spend. Selves were bare, people fighting over the last items of certain stock and a massive queue to get out again. Slight plus was there was a bit of dancing the isles which was funny to watch. Image in that in Tesco’s! John was hungry for some shorts as he had only bought two pairs with him (I wish I could put some witty comment in here but I cant talk as I bought one pair with me…) so went on the hunt to get some more. Only to get home, try them on and find they didn’t fit him. I was fairly pleased though I managed to get a cheap case of beer. Result!

Dancing in Target
Yeah...this happened

With our bags of goodies!

We also attended the UNC FallFest, which is similar to a Freshers Fair in the UK, only in one evening and with many, many more people. It was cool wandering around seeing all the different activities and clubs on offer at the uni and getting LOTS of free food (mmmmm). There was also two stages with different performances (some good, some awful!) and lots bouncy castles! It was amazing to see a dance called a 'stomp' , usually performed by the Black Fraternities, which involved a lot of stomping (obviously) and clapping and body hitting. Really quite awesome to watch and even funnier to watch these acts jump around in celebration high-fiving each other when they had done. In the middle of the stage. 

Was quite a bizarre experience to see all the different denominations of Christianity trying to get people to join their societies, however. I guess it’s cool that all these different versions are represented and that, but at the same time I didn’t notice any other religious societies such as Islam etc there which was interesting to note. Also as a massive ego boost to myself, I got told I had a cute accent by a random girl on one of the society desks. Shame I couldn’t say the same back about her horrible New York-en accent… Me a John also got pressured into signing up for a 24 hour dance marathon by probably the scariest girl I’ve ever met. She just didn’t take no for an answer, or the fact that Johns feet were practically falling off. Needless to say I put a bogus email address down on the signup sheet and ran (John hobbled).

At FallFest

With Ramses, UNC's mascot

Keon, my roommate also moved over the weekend. Despite all the nervousness I had about meeting him and practically being in each other’s space for a year he seemed a nice enough guy. Was rather embarrassing when he arrived however, as I was in bed nursing a fairly large hangover (it was 10am I point out). I initially heard a sound that was a little like strong wind getting louder and louder. At which point I had awoken and panicked not knowing what was going on and uncomfortably remembering I was in hurricane alley and didn’t actually know what to do if a hurricane stuck Chapel Hill. Anyway, panic was averted when I worked out it was a wheelie chair being wheeled down the corridor (at a fair rate I have to say!) and I sunk back into feeling sorry for myself (I have to say hangovers here are a killer with the heat and humidity), only to hear a key turn in the door and Keon come striding in with most of his extended family behind him. Cue massive embarrassment as I’m in bed in just my boxers. Keon introduced himself as Gunn (not Keon) and went to get some more stuff to move into the room. I leapt out of bed and threw some clothes on and stood around make small talk to his aunt. Once he had sorted his bed and shelves out, Gunn told me he would see me tomorrow, and left the room. Being rather confused, but grateful I could get a bit more lie down time, I sunk back into my pit. Now I was very very nervous about sharing a room with someone who I knew nothing about, and I know it will most probably test my tolerance and attitudes to other people, and so far I can (tentatively) say its not too bad. The biggest issue is me rolling back most nights a little merry and Gunn getting up rather early to do work. We shall see how it works out I guess!

Another new experience was being take to watch a game of 'pick-up' by Pat. 'Pick up' is like a chilled out game of basketball - similar to a kick around in the park with football. The Mens 1st team basketball were offering anyone who wanted to to play them on the courts near my dorm. Now these guys are amazing -  the UNC basketball team is in the top rankings in the country and the players are offered scholarships to come and play for the Tar Heels (the name of the UNC sports teams). Watching them play was phenomenal, especially as all they seemed to do was reach up and place the ball through the hoop. Loads of students and locals turned up to watch as well which gave a really nice social atmosphere to the game.

Pick Up

Adding to the ever increasing list of new experiences, the weekend showed me another American College Life phenomena I still don’t fully get which is Dorm Life. We were all summoned to the lounge on the Sunday evening, to meet everyone else on our corridor and out RA (called Connor who I had already met). This seemed on the surface cool, and I thought it would be along the lines of “say your name, year, where you’re from and a silly fact about yourself” type event and then we would all go and party somewhere or something. However, this was not to be the case at all. Forms had to be filled stating your date of birth, timetable of classes and inside leg measurements and we were read the riot act about drinking, noise and keeping the place clean. Yeah. Exactly.

Now, to those of you who go to an British institution, this will surprise you. Needless to say I sat there with my mouth open thinking “WTF?!”. When I moved into halls in Manchester, I moved in, met my flat mates, went out and then met my RA with a stinking hangover the next morning with him going “I’m your RA, come see me if you need anything”. The rest of the year was spent getting up to mischief and getting on the wrong side of campus security and I never saw my RA again (I can’t even remember what he looks like). Here its completely different. The RA lives in the corridor, and is responsible for the wellbeing of everyone and organising social activities etc. ‘That’s cool’, I thought nice way for people to meet each other and that. But also the RAs on duty every night do rounds of the halls (yes you read right) to ensure everyone is being quiet after 9pm (yes you read that right too). Those in Manchester, imagine that happening in the Tower or Oaks House. It would never happen! Furthermore (and to my increasing amazement, the rules on alcohol are as stringent. There is only to be one open container of alcohol per 21 years old in a room only. ‘What happens if it’s a bottle of vodka one is drinking from?’ I thought to myself ‘does that count as the one or is the cup also an open container?’. Also, even though I’m 21, I can’t have a nice cold beer on a Sunday evening outside of my room on the grass outside or in the lounge watching TV (I have to say however – and Connor don’t read this – these rules are regularly flaunted by most people). This was a bit of American culture I wasn’t quite prepared for, having seen films like ‘American Pie’ and ‘College Liaison’ where it’s all party, party, party in the dorm rooms. And I think in some ways this year could be a long one…

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