Sunday, 22 August 2010

Where are you going, where have you been?

A suitcase, a British passport, and a sleepy American Studies student.

My original intention was to write a pre-departure entry about the various preparations to complete before I left - but said preparations were so overwhelming that I never found the time. Consequently, I'm writing at a half-way point: on the plane crossing the Atlantic, four hours from London and four to go until I reach New York.

I'm not sure where exactly my year abroad began. It may have been back in 2006, when I first started looking at university courses (and was probably inspired by my older brother's year abroad in Argentina). It may have been during my first year and a half at UEA, where my interests changed completely. Like 99% of American Studies students, it was only later that I learned to look past California and New York to see the other pieces of the jigsaw. Now, there is nowhere I would rather be headed than to the South. It is also interesting that I've not ended up at a liberal arts college like I expected, but I am grateful for this too; I've evolved from a purely academic focus to appreciate everything else that a university has to offer, so where better to go than somewhere as large and diverse as UNC?

The months in between finding out I'm going to Chapel Hill and this moment right now can be summed up easily in one word: forms. Between the visa application, university documents, student finance, housing lease and too many others to mention, I would be happy never to write my name, birthdate and nationality ever again. The only thing worse than filling in all those forms was packing. You would think that my (admittedly rather zealous at times) organisational side would kick in, make loads of lists and arrange items in the suitcases by category, but this was not so. It's not even that I have an unusual attachment to my clothes or stuff in general, but the act of actually packing and preparing to leave was one of the most emotionally draining things I had to do.

About a month ago someone said to me, "Soon it will really hit you that you're going." There is probably an image some people have of me getting on the plane and looking a little baffled. (Of if you are a Starbucks person, doing my Vanilla? face.) The truth is, it hit me that I was leaving much much earlier, and it followed me all through Spring. For something that I had wanted so badly and for so long, it caused me a lot of pain. I was questioning the choice I had made, worrying about all the oncoming changes, and feeling isolated by the whole experience. I loved my life in Norwich, and to leave such a wonderful situation seemed nothing short of crazy, and in turn made me feel crazy. (Milly, you wondered what I was doing every time I disappeared upstairs in the Waterfront - usually I was thinking about this. And befriending edgy girls in the bathroom.)

Of course, the negative feelings did pass, and I can say now that I'm finally on my way: this was definitely the right decision. I am a bit concerned that I have no furniture, no idea how to get around Chapel Hill - and no access to chocolate HobNobs. But aside from these obstacles, I'm excited to meet my new housemates at Raleigh/Durham airport in just 8 hours. I'm excited to be reunited with my favourite restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory. I'm excited to see my new home, new campus, new local Starbucks!

I'm sure it will be a crazy - and at times, stressful - ride, but I intend to make the most of it, and record as much as I can here. Before I finish this entry, I must say thank you to everyone for your encouragement and support. I had an amazing time prior to leaving, and I really appreciate the effort everyone made to see me and say goodbye. I must also thank those at UNC and my other American contacts for answering my never-ending questions - particularly Melissa, who recommended North Carolina to me in the first place.

Now that I have arrived in Chapel Hill, expect another blog post from me soon. Stay safe and stay in touch!