One of my best friends from undergrad now goes to school for library science at University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, and since I was already so close while in D.C. (well, relatively–far closer than I was while in Central New York anyway), I hopped on a bus and made my way down to her after the PDO. Most of my time was spent catching up with my friend after over a year of having not seen one another in person, and working on projects for the In-Country Orientation for the new ETAs, but since I had never been to North Carolina before, I did find time to do a fair amount of exploring, both with my friend and independently while she was at work.
I spent quite a bit of time simply exploring UNC Chapel Hill’s Campus (a task unto itself–coming from a small liberal arts college, I’m always a little overwhelmed by larger schools). It is a beautiful campus, with more little history exhibits tucked into corners than I think I could find in my entire county back home. My friend interns at Wilson Library, which is the special collections library for UNC, and if memory serves correctly, this library actually has the largest special collection dedicated to the history of a single state anywhere in the U.S. If I wanted to learn about North Carolina, it seemed I was in the right place.
And learn I did. By wandering through the various exhibits on the first floor of the Wilson Library, I learned about Southern Cooking, the history of scientific documentation of North Carolina’s bounteous fauna and flora, and finally learned where the term “tar heel” came from. My friend was able to give me a more personal tour of an exhibit she helped curate, entitled Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia. The exhibit is centered around a series of oral histories of African American families living in that region. It is a powerful exhibit, and one which I hope will inform others for years to come.
My friend was also in the middle of an internship at North Carolina State, and since we are a pair of nerds, we went and toured one of the libraries there too. Hunt Library is not only just a massive college library, it is also home to a Book Bot, and contains an assortment of strange and wonderful chairs, which provide an opportunity for the university to do research on ideal seating for college libraries, so much so that the chairs even have their own book (I’m not making this up). I was a bit dumbfounded by the sheer high-tech-ness of the whole place, but intrigued nonetheless.
We didn’t spend all of our time on college campuses and in libraries, however, and also went hiking in Eno River State Park, a lovely bit of land which gave us exactly the outdoor reprieve we needed. Though I had just spent nine months in a tropical country, in the midst of rice paddies and jungle, there was a different sort of green, a different sort of life, at Eno which I deeply appreciated. North Carolina, or at least what I saw of it, is a beautiful state with a complicated and fascinating history. Though I was only there for a few days, I enjoyed every moment, and hope to explore more of its wonder someday.