Thursday, March 8, 2012

Oh, The Places You Can Go

Today we introduce you to Michael Carey, who is a recent Carolina graduate working as an admissions counselor in our office. You may have met him over the phone or in person if you have come to visit us. His words follow.

We use the slogan “Unlimited” when talking about life here at UNC.


It has a persuasive allure, but defining it is a difficult task. The amount of opportunities here are so broad, so dynamic, that trying to paint a complete picture of “Unlimited” from a set of examples seems nearly impossible. You could look to any department, any discipline, and any number of campus opportunities and say “now here, here is a great example of unlimited!” Then maybe, we’d be a smidgen closer to fully defining “Unlimited” than when we started.

I thought that I’d write to try and give a taste of “Unlimited” by pulling out one of the most unique experiences Carolina offers—an incredible study abroad program. Being a former student myself, I thought that I was especially well equipped to discuss just how vibrant Carolina’s study abroad program is, and share some of my experiences here on the blog. I went abroad twice while I was a Carolina student, once to Japan and again to Guatemala. I figured I’d share a little story about my time in Japan here.

:::Mamonaku, kakegawa, mamonaku kakegawa::::

The sirens rang out as I stood up to exit the train at Kakegawa station. After a long hard day at school I was going to spend the weekend with my old host family. I had lived in Japan in high school as well, and I was still really close to my host family from then—I was truly their son.

Now a few years older and at UNC, I was studying at International Christian University, a prestigious private school in the Tokyo suburbs. My host family lived in Shizuoka, a prefecture a few hours south of Tokyo, in a small beach town called Omaezaki. It felt like returning home.

As my feet brushed across the concrete symmetries that define Japan, I noticed that my host mother had yet to arrive. The car ride to Kakegawa from Omaezaki was a tedious one, rising into the mountains from the squashed coastal plains, so there was always an expectation for delay. I ambled about for a few moments before growing impatient. I needed something to do, having already sat for a few hours on the train.

The bright green glow of an illuminated ice cream cone stared me in the eyes as I stood like a lost child in the center of the station. The evening commuter crunch had already passed, so there was no garrison of packed bodies to block my view of temptation. I succumbed. Nothing filled empty time in Japan better than some green tea ice cream.

I made my way across the tile floors, as the fluorescent lights hissed under the pressure of overuse. There, beneath the soft flickering glow, was the jackpot: a green tub of glabrous Macha ice cream flanked by a smiling Japanese hostess with one of the most authoritative ice cream scoopers I have ever seen. I nodded meekly for a scoop, and as I reached my grimy hands for the outstretched cone I felt a sharp tug on the back of my neck.


I turned to look behind me. No one. Then I heard soft laughter, and I craned my neck down. Bacchan? I asked, managing only to mutter “granny?” as I eyed the smiling stranger behind me. She must have been four foot nine, give or take an inch, and had the biggest, toothless grin. In her fingers she gleefully clutched a strand of my red hair.

I just stood there in amazement. Pure, unadulterated shock. I opened my mouth a few times like a fish against a glass tank; nothing managed to make its way out.

She took a small purse from her bag, and placed my hair in it with a defiant ::click:: of the clasp. Still smiling. I turn back as she reaches her hand up, full of coins, and take the ice cream cone. She gives the ice cream lady the exact change, grin still pressed from cheek to cheek, and walks around the corner.

Never seen a redhead before…? I think to myself as I rub the back of my head, ice cream happily against my lips. Only in Japan.


Do you have a question about Carolina or studying abroad? If so, please ask it here and I'll be happy to answer it.