Name: Francesca Dorricott
Degree: American Literature with Creative Writing
Study Abroad Institution: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation Date: July 2013
Considered Career: Currently my plan is to get a little work experience before applying for a place on the much-coveted UEA Creative Writing MA. I’d love to find myself published in the future, but until that happens I’ll continue writing in every spare second I get.
The Year Abroad:
Since leaving North Carolina, many people I have met have remarked on the tell-tale ‘we’ I use when talking about my experiences. “We have an amazing basketball team” or “We have a fantastic faculty” are just two of the things I’ve found myself emphatically telling anybody who will listen. The American university experience is a unique one, and one which opens an exchange student up to all kinds of learning curves. During my year abroad I found myself becoming more than just an exchange student; I was simply a Student – so much that many people I met there were confused when I mentioned that I would not be staying longer than a year. The University of North Carolina was a great place to throw myself into American culture; the students and staff there are extremely friendly and everybody proclaims ‘Southern Hospitality!’ as though it’s the law. Everybody is quick to guide, to joke, and to offer you a seat on their porch with a glass of sweet tea. Of course the weather is also beautiful, encouraging people to spend a lot of time together in group activities, which helps.
Whilst in North Carolina I spent many a weekend (and weekday) volunteering with the Orange County Animal Shelter through a student group on campus. Joining Helping Paws was perhaps the best choice I made early in my study abroad, as being part of a campus organisation made making friends much easier. Not to mention, it gave me something to do in the event that I got homesick – which surprisingly did not happen, probably because I was always so busy enjoying myself! The idea of making so many new friends may seem scary, but it is a huge benefit in terms of confidence. If you can travel across an ocean by yourself, make new friends, and adjust to a new culture, you soon find that you can do any number of things you thought you couldn’t. If you weren’t confident in your skills before, you will be soon.
The variety of offered classes is something I wasn’t really prepared for but was certainly a nice surprise. American Liberal Arts Colleges tend to offer modules in just about anything you can think of, and it’s definitely worth stepping outside of your comfort zone. As an American Literature student I took my fair share of modules on American authors, but I also delved into the world of Shakespeare (that was a great experience), psychology, and more importantly for my degree, Greek Mythology. It’s a wonderful thing to take a class so far outside of your chosen degree and still find things that overlap. And since the manner of teaching is so different – more like a steady stream of homework than our two-assignments-per-module system – students are encouraged to find support early if they need it. And of course, more assignments mean that students come out of the system with polished writing skills and an ability to say exactly what they mean.
Don’t underestimate the importance of exploring. I grabbed every opportunity to travel during my year abroad (it’s not always expensive, particularly if you have a friend with a car!) and it’s a great way to see the country you’re studying. I travelled all along the east coast, including trips to Florida and Asheville, NC. Before Christmas I went to New York City (what an amazing experience!) and in the summer I joined friends from UEA and we saw the White House in D.C. and the hills of San Francisco among other places. Travelling solidifies everything you’ve already learned: how to organise and be safe, how to communicate with strangers and which gas stations look profitable. The experience changed my view on the world and as a result I’m slower to judge and quicker to lend a hand to people I barely know.
I recently returned to North Carolina for a two-week visit, and more than anything this affirmed the things that I learned while I studied there. The friends you make could be best friends for life, and a strong rapport between students and teachers isn’t something you – or they – will forget in a hurry. It’s an experience I never want to leave behind, and I wish it could have lasted longer. As they say at UNC, “I’m a Tarheel born and a Tarheel bred, and when I die I’m a Tarheel dead”. My third year of university was undoubtedly one of the best of my life.