Editor’s note: Sophomore Hunter Sigmund from St. Louis, Missouri, shares his experience of coming to Carolina as an out-of-state student. Hunter is also a Carolina Social Influencer.
My phone’s alarm blares. After much effort, I bring myself to open my eyes. The screen on my phone reads 8:30 a.m. The day was finally here: Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2018. My first day of college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
I roll out of my lofted Twin XL bed, throw on my preplanned first day fit, fill my Hydro Flask, strap on my blue North Face backpack and grab a Clif Bar on the way out the door. As I step outside of Horton Residence Hall and put my earbuds in, I whisper to myself ‘Here we go!’
Before I head to my 9:30 a.m. First-Year Seminar, I take a pit stop to sip from the Old Well in the spirit of Carolina tradition. After securing my 4.0 for the semester, I peak at my phone: 15 minutes until class starts. “I better start heading over to Alumni Hall,” I tell myself.
I plug ‘Alumni Hall’ into Apple Maps which notifies me that it is a 12 minute walk from the Well. Moving at a brisk pace, I mindlessly follow Siri’s instructions: from the Well, I head north towards Franklin Street and hang a left. At this point, I am profusely sweating; walking from Horton to Franklin on a toasty summer day is no small feat. Even though my preplanned outfit is now a little damp and smells a bit like BO, I am determined to push forward to make it to my first college class on time.
“You have arrived at your destination.”
I look up from my phone, which reads 9:28 a.m., and see “Alumni Hall: Collegiate Gameday Apparel and Accessories.”
After uttering a few expletives under my breath, I realized that there are, in fact, two Alumni Halls: the clothing store on Franklin Street, and the academic building in McCorkle Place. And I knew with relative certainty that I would not be learning about Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection in the store filled with Carolina blue merchandise.
Needless to say, I walked into my First-Year Seminar 15 minutes late, covered in sweat from head to toe.
This little anecdote about my first day provides a pretty accurate synopsis of what my first year at Carolina as an out-of-state student looked like: figuring things out the hard way. My name is Hunter Sigmund, and I am a sophomore from St. Louis. A little bit about me: I’m an intended computer science major and marine science minor, I am an avid advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community, I participate in the Carolina Social Influencer initiative and the Club Swim team, and I volunteer as a swim instructor for children in the surrounding Chapel Hill area.
As an out-of-state student and the only person from my graduating high school class to attend Carolina, I had a lot to learn. Currently, I’m in the middle of my second year and feeling relatively settled in and used to the way things work here in Chapel Hill. After an entire year of navigating Carolina as a non-North Carolinian, I have compiled a list of ‘Tips for the Out-of-State Student’ that summarizes what I wish I knew before stepping foot on campus.
Before I moved into Horton Residence Hall, I had only stepped foot on campus twice before. Needless to say, there was so much I didn’t know about the campus and the culture. I could barely find where my classes were located; I had no geographic knowledge of the Chapel Hill area; I didn’t know much about our acclaimed basketball team. And meanwhile, amidst all of my confusion, I was surrounded by thousands of students who already seemed to know the ins-and-outs of Carolina. This was extremely intimidating at first. I felt like I was the only one who didn’t know what was going on. But don’t fret! With practice, experience and help from friends, you will feel like an integrated member of the community in no time.
#2: Try to get off campus
This one is key. After coming from St. Louis where I had a car and the freedom to travel around the city, it was a big change to be in the middle of a college campus without the ability to go places easily. I was surrounded by my North Carolina friends who would drive home on the weekends to escape campus for a bit. I love Chapel Hill, but I often found myself feeling stifled and trapped. In order to alleviate this, I try to get off campus as often as I can. Spending a few hours getting my shop on at Southpoint, or taking a day trip to downtown Raleigh, or even road tripping to the beaches and mountains for a long weekend were vital to my mental health and overall happiness. Go explore! There is so much more to North Carolina.
#3: Make your dorm a safe space
Considering that home isn’t as accessible to out-of-state students as compared to North Carolina residents, I think that it is essential to invest in making your dorm room your ‘home away from home.’ Make it a place that you enjoy returning to every day; a space that makes you feel comfortable and safe. With my bedroom in St. Louis being 13 hours away, it was mandatory that I had a place to call my own.
#4: Take advantage of Carolina’s transportation
During University breaks (fall, winter and spring), Chapel Hill Transit offers free (yes, free!) transportation to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Ubers and Lyfts are extremely expensive during these peak-traffic times. So, make sure to take advantage of the free transportation that Carolina provides to RDU.
#5: A note on packing and storage
I know that the end of the academic year seems far off, but it is incredibly important that you find a safe place to store your belongings over the summer. Bringing everything in your dorm room home is basically impossible. I made the mistake of storing my belongings in a friend’s house on campus last summer, and when I returned in the fall, about half of my stuff was tampered with, missing or destroyed. Learn from my mistakes; there are plenty of storage facilities in Chapel Hill, and you won’t regret securing a safe space for your belongings early!
#6: No one knows you and you don’t know anyone
When I arrived at Chapel Hill, I didn’t know anyone. This intimidated me at first; it seemed like everyone around me had a friend group and a niche on campus. For much of my first semester, I really struggled with my mental health and finding a sense of belonging. However, I soon realized that this period of instability and uncertainty was completely normal; the adjustment from being an out-of-state high schooler to a first-year student is so difficult. But it does (and it will) get better with time, patience and persistence.
Most importantly, although not knowing anyone seemed like a detriment to me at first, I later realized that it was actually the opposite. Because no one knew me, I entered college with the ability to completely reinvent myself without the fear of others’ judgments. As a result, I have been able to pursue new passions, make interesting and exciting new connections and truly explore and establish my identity.
So, to all my fellow out-of-state Tar Heels; hang in there. Be patient and allow yourself time to adjust. Sooner than later, you will see Carolina as your new home.