Tagged: chapel hill

The two week countdown: preparing to leave.

Three months is a strange time. It’s not long enough to completely root yourself anywhere, yet it’s not short enough to transiently go without feeling a thing. 10 weekends in Chapel Hill (I arrived on a Sunday and leave on a Saturday), take away those that I was out travelling (Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth) and that’s really not a lot. I cancelled my plans to go to D.C. this coming weekend because I realised it was my last weekend in Chapel Hill. D.C. can wait, being able to just enjoy the thought of strolling down Franklin Street, walking to Carrboro (can you believe I’ve only been there once so far?!) and hanging out with the people I’ve gotten to know the past three months is probably something that will be really hard to do after this.

KJ (the guy who lives opposite the hallway) moved to Ram Village for his Fall semester rooming yesterday. I will miss dropping in on his room to talk tech stuff and just hang out, as well as Edgardo who’s there sometimes. I’ve grown used to walking by the lounge on my way to my room to see Gayatri studying there with her anatomy or organic chemistry textbooks and Zach just chilling with his humongous headphones. Sure, I’m meeting KJ in San Francisco, we’re even going to the airport together on the 27th (even though we have differing flights but to the same place). But it’s not the same, knowing that once you leave you’ll never return.

So I’m planning, of course, to come back. To be here in Spring 2014 during my two month break from Waseda University and hopefully with a slot to attend Tufts’ EPIIC 2014 (they have educational innovation as a theme this coming year zomg!) But again, with these long range plans, it’s always hard to be sure. Will I have enough money to do it? Will the stars align and schedules fit? Will it even be the same if I’m back here just for a few days? Will I do my Masters here? I fully understand now why Benjamin might want to stay on at Carnegie Mellon for his Masters instead of running off to say, Stanford. Sure, it’s nice to have a change of scenery. But your chance to interact with a specific group of people in this context only really comes once. It might be easy to decide before meeting them: “hey, I’ll go to universities around the world and broaden my experiences and network”. But then you get there and decide: “maybe leaving is really damn hard”.

I’ve been preparing for Waseda in the past few weeks: sorting out housing arrangements, flight plans, talking about visas and researching life in Tokyo. It’s almost time, and it’s strange to be almost there after, what, one and a half years of being on the double degree programme waiting for it and maybe even four years since I first heard about the programme browsing the USP website post-A-level results and saying, YES, YES, YES (what the hell was liberal arts though, I only knew then it was a nice cool term bandied around by the admissions counselors that sounded hipz). So yeah, getting there will be the end of a certain sense of anticipation. But it’ll also be the start of something new that the control freak in me worries about: will I be as comfortable as I am in USP or in UNC, what if I hate my roommate, what if I get all homesick (very real possibility, seeing how I’ve been the past three months) and what if I get so sick of studying (I’ve had two full years of overloading and summer sessions and special terms and I really want my break from all the worrying and exams and all).

The clock’s ticking. I have to start wrapping my life up here: packing my bags and figuring out how to bring back the purchases (not all are mine, I’m a Amazon mule for folks), writing my goodbye notes and making sure my last delivery purchases arrive. And then Room 117, which has “Yingjie Lan” on the door will have that piece of paper removed and a new one tacked on for the two people who will live here in Fall.

I don’t know if I’ll ever come back to study here at Chapel Hill: it’s on the radar somewhere and I think it’ll be nice to be a bona fide Tar Heel, even if I’m just a Masters student. But for now, to make the most of the last two weeks and then go back to my sunny, sweaty tropical island home.

At least, if I’m sad there, I can stuff my face with the food that has always made me happy. Biscuits and gravy, Southern fried chicken and sweet tea can be dealt with another time.

The Experience of Home

So those of you who know me well would know that as of now, I’m somewhere in North Carolina, USA. To be a little more precise, I’m in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I’ve been here since the 12th of May 2013, and I’m here for another two weeks or so until the 27th of July, when I fly off to San Francisco for a week’s break after my exams.

So what am I here for? I’m here for a summer lab exchange programme between NUS and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), where I spend 12 weeks in a lab of my choosing here, and take a class each in their Summer Sessions I & II. Well, I ended up taking 2 classes on top of my research in Summer II, but that’s another story that involves paperwork, bureaucracy and a lot of running around. And an awesome professor who agreed to take me individually for a independent reading class, but that’s not for today.

Instead, I sit here in Caribou Coffee off Franklin Street writing when I should really be studying for my BIOL 450 test on anatomical neurobiology, which is Monday and I’m horribly doomed for it. There’s something more important I want to pen down first though, and that’s about my conception and feelings about Home.

The past two months in Chapel Hill have been great. I’ve had an awesome reception by the Study Abroad Office at UNC, stumbled into good Christian fellowship with the Every Nation folks, live in a dorm (Lewis) with friendly people I can click with on my floor, joined the UNC fencing club where I’ve had great coaching and substantial improvement in my game. My lab experience has been interesting, I’ve learnt a lot and I’ve had excellent professors and TAs in my classes (BIOL 201, BIOL 450 and LING 296). Nothing to complain about, certainly.

And yeah, I’ve done what the usual exchange student does: buy host university merchandise, which at UNC is quite a challenge to find something you don’t like (the Daniels Student Stores has UNC logos on everything you need from birth to death, quite possibly including Tar Heel coffins). I have a UNC pin on my cap and my nice Columbia allweather jacket that I’ll be wearing for the next few years at least when I walk around in bad weather or good weather will have Carolina Blue stitching and UNC logos. Sounds good, you say.

Yet today, I remembered what Home was to me, and meant to me. I’ve been missing Singapore like crazy, much as I love the place here. Even as I await our 48th year of independence on the 9th of August and look forward to National Day back home, I know it will be hard to leave when my last two weeks are up. (I stopped writing at this point because the Every Nation folks I had been waiting for arrived and we went off to get Yopo, but coming back to it, yes, it’s going to be hard to leave without planning to come back.)

Today I stood at the Daniels Student Stores and saw a shirt that was nice. It had a picture of the North Carolina state map on it and it was in my favourite blend of American Apparel material. But well, it had the words “HOME” on it, and as I stood there contemplating buying it, it struck me that I only have two homes where that might be appropriate. As much as Chapel Hill will hold a beloved place in my heart, the physical place I call home will still be a small, sweaty tropical island in South-East Asia, and the eternal home I yearn for not defined by a physical location, but the sweet presence of my heavenly Father.

A special place in my heart, but not my home.
Chapel Hill, NC: A special place in my heart, but not home.

I may have walked out of the Student Stores emptyhanded, but I was reminded again of what Home was to me, and I am glad for that.