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7th October 2022

Running with wolves: Howling passion at NC State

Here’s one student’s experience of a reverse culture shock after returning from a semester abroad at North Carolina State University
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Running with wolves: Howling passion at NC State
Photo: Cara Barclay @ The Mancunion

Most students wait in anticipation of their semesters abroad, but little thought is given to returning. New experiences ensue reverse culture shocks and feeling adrift. Since my semester abroad at North Carolina State, coming back to Manchester has felt daunting.

A sea of fiery red and white Wolfpack garments flood the basketball game – this is my first glimpse of the devotion North Carolina State students possess towards their university. Passionate howling arises from the crowd at the arrival of our school mascots, Mr and Mrs Wolf; a hybrid of Southern accents repeat “Go Pack!” Relentless support of their university sports team is one of many cultural differences where I must side with Team America.

Photo: Cara Barclay @ The Mancunion

But in comparison to American ice hockey, that basketball game was serene. During ice hockey matches, curses casually thrown at the opposing team reverberated through the audience. It’s a brutal competitiveness unseen in Manchester, or any UK university.

Returning home is therefore a difficult adjustment. Manchester’s familiarity feels alien: the once comforting images of thunderclouds and the 142 are replaced by blinding blue skies and Wolfline buses. A reverse culture shock, perhaps.

Intense and enthusiastic American sporting culture seeps beyond the university level. Wearing our old, faded blue jeans, the ‘”World’s Toughest Rodeo” was a night of high-spirited hollering and not knowing how it was scored. But, whether we understood the sport or not was irrelevant. Like other sports games, it was more an incentive to create, develop, and secure new relationships: the American version of going down to the pub.

My appreciation for North Carolinian culture is enhanced by the classes. As a student of History and American Studies, the classes offered were a dream. I could finally delve into the most pivotal segment of American history, Indigenous history, with an indigenous professor. Insightful discussions ensued over what it means for NC State to be a land-grant university, providing a personal, contemporary context sometimes lost within English education.

Professors also encouraged considerable creativity. Our Cultural Anthropology research project ranged from Zines to Podcasts to Tiktoks – a change from the formulaic two-thousand-word essays. Meanwhile, students eagerly awaited to present their thoughts. The contagious fervour passed from student to student in the form of ideas, and the zeal often distinctive to humanities students engrossed even STEM majors.

Excitement filled even mundane activities: eating at Sammy’s Tap & Grill, weightlifting every day, my roommate and I binging every Marvel movie… Those moments I shared, so unique to Raleigh, will never be replaced in Manchester or repeated ever again. And when that fact is really contemplated, the joy and familiarity that should be felt when returning home are eclipsed by disheartenment.

The thrill of living in the United States never waned. But the restlessness I now feel, as I’m sure other students do, doesn’t mean I adore Manchester any less. North Carolina and the United States are simply new, unfamiliar territory. It’s important to reminisce rather than dwell on those perfect few months though. Because there are passionate people, beautiful landscapes, and complicated histories all over the world. It’s just about finding them.

Photo: Cara Barclay @ The Mancunion

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