Monday, July 30, 2012

"Go Weeeeeeeeeest, this and more we'll do!"

May 2012

With my final weekend at UNC coming to a close, it was time to get on with what I was truly wanting to do in the USA: travel! First stop, San Fun-sisco, California!

Leaving Chapel Hill at 4am was a bitch, but we managed, with Eshe flying out of the place she was staying with clothes still in her hands to be stuffed into bags in the car. At the airport there was further drama as Amy’s bag was over the weight limit, so excess shifted to mine; good job I was packing light!

It’s a long old way from East to West coast, and we had a stop in Cincinnati (no idea either!) en route, arriving in San Fran at like 9am Eastern time. Amy and I were booked into a different hostel from the others, and so left Eshe to find ours and link up later. Rising up from the metro station we had our first interaction with a SF resident. A professional skateboarder who is in the Airforce. And is homeless. Yeah, work that one out! Despite his craziness however he was incredibly helpful in directing us to the hostel and with a cheery wave hobbled off down the street with his walking stick. To go skateboarding. On a plane I would imagine…

Embracing the hills

The trams

Riding the tram. Like a pro.

After dumping our stuff and going through all the paperwork rubbish needed to stay in a hostel we went to link up with Eshe, who was with Kim and Jon, two Manchester students who had been at Toronto University and now joining us for the road trip. From the Civic centre where we met we took the iconic SF tram up and down the incredibly steep hills towards Fisherman's Warf and a long anticipated seafood lunch.
The afternoon was spent wandering around the SF bay area, and it began to strike me how cool the city is. Before getting to SF I wasn’t actually that fussed about going there, but having got there and seen the place I'm so glad I went. It was such a vibrant and quirky place, with all the iconic SF things about it such as the hills, houses, trams, sun and sea. Wandering around the place we stumbled upon a random bar in the middle of a neighbourhood and stopped for a cheeky drink. The barman seemed thrilled to have a bunch of foreigners wander in, filling us in on all the places to go see in the city whilst we were there, including places that many tourists don’t bother going to. He was a genuinely nice guy, although very W. coast-ish with his prancing around and continuously saying ‘alright’ with a  clap of the hands. Damn west coasters… That evening we went for a drink on Market Street (one of the main trunk roads through the city). The place was a typical American bar, but nice enough, and gave Kim and Jon enough entertainment at the types in there. Anyone would have thought they had spent time in Canada or something… It was great getting to know the two of them, and they seemed pretty sound. Certainly happy to have them along for the adventures to be had in the next few weeks!

Three of the ladies

City Scenes

The next day was another wander around the city collecting sore feet, with a chance stumble upon the City Hall Market not far from the hostel Amy and I were staying in. It was an incredibly good find, as I had the best crepe ive had in a long time, found some amazing strawberries and was entertained by a drunk homeless guy attempting to play the harmonica. His tactic was unique to say the least by creeping up on women with another half with them and then launching into full song (I use that term loosely there…) until the guy got annoyed. The homeless guy would then slink away to repeat the routine 30seconds later. To the same person. I don’t think I need to mention his tactics wern't very profitable… That afternoon was spent upon a bike trekking to the iconic SF bridge and going over it. In 3 hours. No biggie there then! The ride was probably one of the best things Ive done in a while, with a phenomenal view of the bridge across the bay as we cycled towards it. The route itself wasn’t too bad, with only a couple of cheeky hills, especially up onto the actual bridge, but also plenty of flat bits for a bit of speed racing. Not that we did that of course being all mature and safety conscious… The ride was rounded off rather nicely with SF’s signature dish: clam chowder. Which is basically a bread roll hollowed out and filled with clam soup-type sauce. Perfect way to pile on the calories burnt off from the ride!  Though to be honest getting didn’t make me feel particularly SF-ian as we got it from a very angry shout-y Chinese man from a stall next to the pier. Ah well, was tasty at least!

Pretty legit advice I feel...

The Town Hall at dusk.

That evening we wandered up into little Haight for a drink or two, on the recommendation of the bar man from the day before. I have to say it wasn’t a bad shout as the place was a bit more local and had a quirky feel to it. The bar we ended up in had stable style doors (maybe to test who was drunk and couldn’t get into the place?!), a very large and very tattooed barman and one hell of a selection of beer and cider on tap. Perfect! Although confusion did reign when Amy tried to pay for her drink by card only to be told they don’t accept cards (fair enough), the barman didn’t own a card (eh?) and it was San Francisco baby (right…). Is that considered to be part of the land of the free then…?

With the Town Hall
With Alcatraz
With the San Fran Bridge

SF was one cool city, and I loved the iconic and quirky-ness that it seemed to have. Having said that, it hasn’t quite grown on me yet, and I think I prefer the cities of the South. Having said that it was a great two days spent in the city, and a perfect way to start the summer of adventure!

(photo credits to Amy, Eshe & Kimberley)

“It was a life I didn’t want to leave behind. It was a life I didn’t want to forget.”

April 2012 

 (Blog title quote attributed to: Maggie Stiefvater, Linger)

I guess all good things have to come to an end eventually. And with my time at UNC this came around far too quickly. I remember at the beginning of the year I mused at how stretched out in front of me the year looked, at it seemed like a hell of a long time until I returned home. Now I'm feeling that the year has simply disappeared and I have run out of time.

The last few weeks in Chapel Hill have been a blur of end of year festivities, fun, exams and sad farewells. Getting the boring bits out of the way, my finals went well, getting A’s and B’s (even with half completion of one exam – I had already passed the class before I sat the final!). Nothing better than bringing up my non-existent GPA! Finals were yet again full of the bizarre American ritual of partying harder than during the term time, with the Pit Rave being attended my many a fresher and semester long exchange student, alongside the streaking across campus. Being my second time around seeing this attitude during exams, I’ve come to understand it, although I still can’t get my head around it!

It being the last semester for many Seniors (4th years), Seniors week was also laid on for them, with a number of events happening, including climbing the Bell Tower and Bar Golf. I was very keen to exercise my pseudo-senior status and climb the Bell Tower to simply have a nose around up there, and it was a pretty cool experience climbing up the windy stairs to the top. Only to find the view restricted by tiny and pretty filthy windows. Typical… The bar golf was also a good laugh, with many of of the exchanges being out and about too. It was a very different experience to pub golf back home, in that everyone raced around the bars (some starting as early as 6 to complete them all – now that’s a hell of a sense of competition!) and people kept asking what number hold you were on. I was just content to bar hop around and get a little steaming to be honest (which did inevitably happen!). Some of the places such as Carolina Coffee Shop (a bar in the evening) was totally rammed whilst other places such as La Res were empty. Very interesting indeed! The night finished off at He’s Not which was ridiculously busy by 1am with golfers in various degree of fancy dress.  Was a great night indeed!

Up the Bell Tower

Partying as hard as ever...

Desperately holding onto the Redneck-ness!

End of the year also saw the coming around of the annual Old Dirty Bash, which is a afternoon party type event for the community I lived in. With free t-shirts, food and drink I wasn’t gonna turn it down (although my roommate did – loser!) and it was great fun chilling out with the guys from my hall and the RAs I had got to know over the year in the sun listening to live music and eating a whole bunch of bad food.  For free. There was also a mechanical bull, a gladiator style boxing thingy and inflatable horse racing laid on for us mature students. Which I don’t need to say were met with total delight by all. The horse racing was basically inflatable ‘horses’ which you had to bounce to the end of the ‘racetrack’. Facing Addison I thought “sod that” and just picked up the horse and ran to the cry of “cheat!” and laughter at the sheer stupidity of what I was doing. Having said that, wasn’t as bad as Lindsay who fell backwards off her horse. And lasted all of 1 second on the mechanical bull. You do wander what they learn in the South sometimes… By having our own community event, it meant there were loads others in other communities across campus, and so the weekend was spent trailing round a number of them and hanging out under the Carolina blue sky with the glorious sunshine. The end of term also saw the Blue vs White Carolina football game, where incoming freshman signed to the team get to play with the current line up. In time honoured tradition Jessie and I attended the rather low turnout game (with Mary-Ellis, Lindsay and Esra too) to watch a rather boring game (if ones honest). Still, was nice to sit out in the sun and sing some Carolina chants!

Music (obviously)

The nearest to a rodeo I ever got!
Chillin in the Quad
More music
At the game

The end of year also meant the inevitable. Packing up of my room and moving out of Graham 3rd. Luckily, as I wasn’t leaving Chapel Hill till a few days after move out date I was able to get an extension (unlike Fiona, John and Harriet who had to crash at Pritch with a few other extras!), and so could take my time over the gathering of things together. God knows how I managed to fit it all in two bags and a box (which was mailed home). I had collected a serious amount of junk and had to be pretty brutal with chucking stuff out! Very kindly I was able to leave the things I didn’t need to go travelling with in a corner of the Pritch house (which was a mammoth effort to do in its self with everyone else’s stuff everywhere there – god knows how they managed!). Despite my lack of stuff it still felt sad packing up my room and taking all the pictures and cards (people had given me before I left) down off the walls. I had always hated my room for its bareness and prison cell look, but it looked even worse taking it apart! Gunn left the day of his last exam, and I was really bad and avoided the room like the plague that day to not have to say bye to him. I just couldn’t stand it – the sooner he was gone the better (that sounds really harsh, but it will be explained in another blog). However it was truly sad to see the rest of the guys (and girls from Aycock 3rd) leaving. I have had such a blast with the lot of them and if you’re reading this guys, you have been a huge part of my year – thank you so much. Highlights have definitely been the makeshift manikin in Sicking’s bed, cling filming doors and toilets and all the crazy conversations and stupid discussions had in the lounge. I’m gonna miss y’all a lot. The hall was weird once they had all left, leaving myself, Connor and a couple of other residents knocking around. Very quiet in comparison to the usual shenanigans’ that went down over the year!

Goodbyes also had to be made to the internationals, both from the semester and the year. Some of whom I know I will see again, and others I hope so. Again, I was genuinely sad to say bye to everyone – even if I didn’t know them that well they were a part of my year abroad and so part of the whole experience. Pritch had its last house/frat party of the year (I’m very sure it wasn’t the last ever!), filled with Internationals, Americans and tears. To about the same proportions. The unofficial rule was no tears till midnight. But that went to bolocks when Jessie left before midnight and I teared up good and proper. Which then with the amounts of booze flowing set everyone else off. Typical… On a brighter note however, a number of people bought flags for everyone to sign, which was a fantastic idea to remember people. I did it too, and it will hang upon my wall when I return to Manchester as a reminder of the year while I cry in my room for having no social life in 4th year!
(one of) the last nights out on Franklin Street
The last Pritch Frat party
Being sad about leaving
The last few remainers

Looking back on the goodbyes at UNC I am filled with sadness in that the my time there had come to an end, and some of the amazing people I had met there I am unlikely to see again. But then I am also filled with happiness with the memories I had there, the phenomenal people I did meet, many of whom I will see again, and the great highs and some terrible lows I had had over the year (thankfully waaaay more highs than lows!) which has made it such a great experience. To all of Tar Heels reading this (both American and International) thank you for being a part of my year and making it such a great one at UNC.

But with the sadness of leaving UNC comes the excitement of the next great adventure – my travels around the great US of A!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The foreigners speak

August 2012

This is a short video I had to produce as part of my work for Manchester whilst at UNC. The idea is to provide some information as to the best and worst bits of studying abroad, as well as how UNC compares to their home institutions. Hopefully it will provide some use for someone thinking of studying abroad! Many thanks to Elston, Aidan, Sophie and Nathan for their help with this!

You can also watch on Vimeo here.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Becoming a Redneck

Not being one to turn down any ‘cultural’ event, when I was offered the opportunity to attend the Dogwood Festival in Fayetteville, NC for the weekend, I wasn’t going to say no. Although I was a little put off when Fayetteville was referred to as Fayett-nam, and described as having close parallels…

The Dogwood (being the state flower) festival is a country/redneck festival held every year with hundreds of rednecks (I mean people) flocking to the centre of Fayetteville for a booze fueled evening of good ol’ country music. With one awkward looking Brit trying to blend in. Being during exams only Lindsay and I went from UNC, staying at her parents place just outside of the town, meaning that I cheekily had to rearrange an exam in order to go (who said study abroad was all about studying?!) , leaving on the Friday afternoon. Fayetteville being a couple of hours from UNC, it was a short journey, and with the sun shining. windows down, and music pumping it was a sweet drive there!

Upon arriving at Lindsay’s house, I was attacked by the dog (attacked probably a strong word considering the tiny size of the thing!) and promptly tried to be cool playing with it. Which ended up me crouching on the floor growling at it. Yeah cool right…. Rescuing me from the awkward situation of a dog looking at me as if I was crazy Lindsay handed me a beer and we headed out to the porch to do what I love about Southern life. Chilling on the porch watching the world go by. The house is set in a residential neighbourhood built around a golf course, which to me is a strange concept. Looking out over the road you could see people lining up their clubs and golf buggys running around. Nice neighbourhood though and I guess pretty typical of American residential areas, with a main drive off the highway opening up to the houses. 

Downtown Fayette-nam
That evening (when Lindsay’s family arrived home from work and school) we headed into Fayetteville centre for dinner and the festival. Arriving at an Irish place in the centre of town (im guessing this by the name, although confusingly a union flag was flying outside…), and dinner was the usual American staple of burgers (and very nice too!) with Lindsay's younger sister freaking out about whether she wanted pickles or not with hers. Oh the difficult decisions of a teenager! From there we wandered around the town centre, having a look at what was going on and stopping off at a little wine shop to try some chocolate wine. Not my thing, chocolate wine, to say the least! Fayetteville itself looked a nice little place, with very typical Southern style downtown and main street. However, it is a massive military town with Fort Bragg located right outside it, and as such there were plenty of Marine types knocking around being marines. Idiots that is! One bumped into me and started going on about how I should move out of the way as a marine was coming through. Don’t think so mate, you look where you’re going thank you very much!

being all 'Merican with beer and funnel cake
The main reason for going into Fayetteville was the Dogwood Festival, which is a very Southern affair with the usual stands displaying “anything fried” signs and offering the usual deep fried candy etc and all the usual American beers on tap like Bud Light (which is awful if I may say so – like piss flavoured water!).  There was a stage where the acts were playing, headlining that evening was Gretchen Wilson of well known song “Redneck Woman” (yeah me neither). Her act was pretty good, getting the crowd going, bringing up a soldier to the stage to thank for his service and playing the National Anthem (like I said, all very Southern!) and I did enjoy watching her. Even if I had no idea what the songs were! I guess she would be considered country-rock, with a mix of electric and traditional blues instruments in use by the band. I did however keep catching myself watching this couple standing a short way from us, who typified the Southern stereotype – he was dressing in ripped denim jacket with tattoos and huge belly and she was an incredibly large women crammed into a tiny outfit. The guys arms didn’t get anywhere near round her waist. And they were so ugly as well (sorry, I don’t usually say things like that but they were. So bad!). But what kept me watching was how they would look into each other’s eyes, lean over for a tongue swallow and have to lean over so far they almost toppled into each other. Gross! (Ill stop being mean now). The set came to an end with “Redneck Woman” which you can enjoy listening too below, and fireworks. Which was all nice and dandy!

Upon dropping the lill'an off back home, Lindsay persuaded me to continue the night at Cadillac Ranch a short drive away. Now this didn’t sound too bad, except it was a line dancing type place (if you don’t know Lindsay, she loves country music, line dancing and America). My stomach instantly plunged. Line dancing? Two stepping? I can’t even keep my own feet from doing much more than step up and down whilst clubbing! Needless to say, being one to never turn down something new I agreed to go but made sure I was under no obligation to dance.  For those of you who don’t know, two stepping is a type of dance to (from what I can gather) predominately country songs, in which a male and female dance together like in salsa or ballroom dancing (except in two stepping apparently its very faux par to dance with a same sex partner). The actual dancing part itself is a little confusing at first, but being only two basic steps (hence the name!) to begin with its relatively easy to pick up. Or so I was told…

The place itself was pretty non-descript from the outside – just a corrugated iron barn type place, but inside it was rather large with a cool bar and huge dance floor. Decked out with numerous people in cowboy boots and hats to add to the atmosphere. Pretty damn cool to be honest! The music was predominately county and blues, no bad thing as I’ve come to enjoy it having been in North Carolina for so long, and it was an interesting experience to see line dancing up close and how it should be done for once. The place was also very different in atmosphere to other places I’ve been on nights out, with much more politeness and charm going around, probably due to the fact that partners are needed for dancing to a lot of the songs and so men would charm the ladies rather than just come up behind and grind them. That did take me a little by surprise! After a few beers Lindsay managed to persuade me to dance with her (by that I mean took my hand and didn’t let go till the song was over) and I was incredibly embarrassed as I thought everyone would spot that guy who had no idea what he was doing and laugh. As it was, despite fumbling over my feet, looking down the whole time and looking thoroughly British about the whole things it wasn’t too bad. Until Lindsay decided she wanted to do a twirl. Which with me looked more like a drunkard trying to gracefully fall over after being shot. Yet somehow she still managed to pull it off… It didn’t really matter anyway, because the laughter I was dreading never came: no gave a shit (or at least to what I could see) about people abilities. Thank god!

Spot the Brit...
Two stepping

I ended up really enjoying myself at Cadillac Ranch (though I wouldn’t say it at the time as the fear of dancing too much was still rather strong!) and did end up dancing a few times with Lindsay (though she would go off and join in the line dances herself – I wasn’t quite ready for that one yet!) and listening to the music being played. Some of it actually recognisable from the UK funnily enough! Eventually the night had to come to an end, with a earlyish start in the morning to get back to Chapel Hill for revision to be done for finals the next week (ugh…).

I had a thoroughly enjoyable night in Fayetteville, experiencing some more of the South and things that I wouldn’t have normally done (never would have gone to a line dancing place in the UK that’s for sure!), and also see another part of Southern culture which I really do like doing. Big thanks to the Phelps family for putting me up for the night, and to Lindsay for putting up with me, my silly questions and poor dancing!