Hannah and the Deep South of the USA – Recap of my first two months in the Bull City

Welcome to Duke University. Photo: Hannah Riemann

Over two months ago, I was sitting at home packing my bags to go on my next big adventure: studying in the United States for a year at Duke University in North Carolina. Considering the current American political scene and the fact that I am a political science student who does not really agree with most of the political choices Americans have made lately, it was quite a jump  for me. The fact that I would live in the conservative South of the United States did not really calm my fears of spending my next 10 months arguing with Americans about politics.

Now I have lived and studied at Duke University for over two months, visited great lectures, had amazing conversation and discussions with other students and professors and came to the conclusion: I really like it here.

Make America great again?

But don’t worry. I did not turn into a redneck, hillbilly, gun-owning Trump supporter. As an American friend put it when I asked him whether North Carolina belongs to the Deep South: “Yes, they were part of the Confederacy, but you are in a super liberal pocket of North Carolina in Durham. Drive 20 minutes in any direction and you will find some hillbilly …… (*insert censor beep sound here*).” It seems that I just got lucky and ended up in one of the most liberal areas of the Deep South. So far, I have not had “the pleasure” of talking with a Trump-supporter, because everyone I met here is ashamed of having him as their “president”. It is true though that as soon as you leave Durham and drive through the more rural areas of North Carolina, it is not uncommon to find Confederate flags hanging in front yards or “Make America great again” stickers on bumpers.

American way of life

Photo: Hannah Riemann

Wanna know about my first impressions of living here? First of all: the supermarkets… Jeez, Louise, you can get lost in there. They are just so big that even if you only want to get some milk, you will exit the supermarket 1,5 hours later with two bags of treasures you found on your adventurous tour to the dairy section. I mean, who can resist three pints of Ben& Jerry’s ice cream for only 10 $?

Another adventure is riding your bike here. Car drivers are definitely not used to bikers and drive past you super carefully with a safe distance of 5 meters. You should see the faces of Americans when you make plans with them, they ask you how you will get there and you answer, “By bike.” I can’t even remember how many times I have already heard the sentence: “Germans just love their bikes.” Well, I guess we do.

When in the States during the summer, prepare to freeze. As weird as it may sound, please make sure to always carry a sweater with you even if it’s over 30 degrees outside because Americans just LOVE their A/C. Every building is cooled down so much that after 5 minutes you wish you had your ski jacket with you. Apart from everything being bigger than in Europe, life is not that different here compared to Germany. Americans are really friendly and easy to socialize with. So, even though it is thousands of kilometers away from Germany, I felt like at home very fast.

The University is great at organizing events and trips, so it is easy to meet new people. For fall break, for example, I went on an amazing canoe trip at the coast where we camped right on the beach. It was awesome! And well, Halloween is just like in the movies. Eeeeveryone goes crazy and walks around dressed up for the whole day – even some professors. Wonder what fraternity parties are like? They are exactly like in the American college movies – it’s crazy!

Did I end up at Hogwarts?

Inside Duke. Photo: Hannah Riemann

Duke University’s campus just reminds me so much of Hogwarts! As a Harry Potter fan, I love it. Because everything looks so old and cozy, I don’t even mind spending most of my day at the university or studying at the library. University here is much more demanding than in Germany and students are expected to do a lot of work during the semester, which was new to me. In Germany, I would mostly only do my readings for the lectures and visit seminars, but apart from that I would not have to do any homework, take exams or write papers until the end of the semester. Here I have problem sets and assignments due pretty much every week. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but after a while, it becomes a routine to spend half of your day at the library. And to be honest, there are worse places to study than in a room that looks like it’s from Hogwarts.

Two months are already over, time flies and there are so many more great experiences that I could just write about for hours.

The holiday season is around the corner and I can’t wait to tell y’all about my first American Thanksgiving – in case I survive exam period which starts next week.

Thank y’all and goodbye from the “Bull City” Durham.


Hannah Riemann