Just after the turn of the new year, I stepped into USA for the very first to start off my very first experience as an exchange student. There were a number of mishaps and oversights following up to that moment but despite all the setbacks, I was insanely excited to be in North Carolina.
"Wait a minute. Did you just say North Carolina? Why of all places I USA did you choose to go to North Carolina?", you may be asking as you read that last sentence. The reason is quite simple actually. Because that was the best choice left when I applied. Now don't misunderstand me. In retrospect, I couldn't have made a better choice.
The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (UNC) and her students have treated me so well I cannot ever do enough to repay them. I'm fortunate to have gone to a university with such a large exchange batch from NUS because that just made road trips and all my other travels across the US that much easier to organise. They have been a wonderful bunch of people and I do hope that we continue being close once we return to our lives back in Singapore.
Nevertheless, while it's certainly nice to see familiar strangers in a strange place who have similar tourist dispositions as myself, anyone who goes on exchange should know that the gem of an exchange experience is getting to know the locals. And indeed I did. I'm grateful that I managed to meet so many locals and make so many friends in my short stay here in UNC, perhaps too many friends even.
What makes North Carolina such a wonderful place for me is its budding dance community. From the outside looking in, nobody recognises North Carolina for its dance community so I was incredibly fortunate to have found this active hip hop dance community here. The community has a unique flavour that I might not have found in other states like LA or New York. All the dancers in the state are like a giant family.
They don't have the luxury of having established dance studios which teach hip hop dance so they have to rely on themselves to build themselves up. They have community workshops almost every other weekends and more often than not, these workshops were conducted not by professional dancers but college students like myself and people travel up to three hours from all around the state to participate in such workshops. In a single semester, college dance clubs participate in numerous small performances and each performance is choreographed and produced in house by its 20 odd members.
It was all an immense culture shock for me coming from NUS Dance Blast! where our yearly intake is more than twice the size of the entire club here and we can get professionals to produce all our performances. Yet, I wouldn't trade my experiences with college dance clubs here for anything. They're small so I honestly felt like I was a part of a family rather than a person in some random club and because they don't have the same support that I could get back I Singapore, everyone had to push all that harder, myself included. Granted the end product may not match the polish that Blast! dishes out for their performances, there is a certain appeal being a part of something homegrown.
The semester is now over and under normal circumstances I would have been elated to bid farewell to exams and welcome in the holidays. However, as I boarded my LA-bound plane leaving North Carolina, I was filled with only conflicting feelings. I've made so many amazing friends in here and it crushes my soul a little to know that I probably won't meet most of them in person ever again.
As I finish writing this on my way back from the Grand Canyon, it is no doubt that the sights and sounds I've experienced from my travels all over USA from Miami, the Key West and Washington, D.C. to LA, Las Vegas and San Francisco are all a spectacle to enjoy but the memories from this exchange that I will truly cherish are those of the people in North Carolina that impacted my life forever.