As applications for our US Programme open, Daniel Ogunbamowo, a Morehead-Cain scholar at the University North Carolina (UNC) and a Sutton Trust alumnus, reflects on his first few weeks as an undergraduate in the US.
A few years ago, I would never have imagined that I would be typing this sentence whilst sitting in my dorm room at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But thanks to the Sutton Trust’s US Programme, I’ve been able to do and see things I could never have pictured in my wildest dreams.
I’m only a few weeks in, but my experience as an undergraduate in the States has been fantastic so far, but not without its challenges. I’m sure that thousands of freshers around the UK are feeling the pangs of homesickness and I’m sure that it’s the same for many of my fellow Cohort 5 US programme students who have just begun their journeys on foreign soil. We have the added task of making sense of an unfamiliar culture and history too.
While the UK shares much of the same music, TV shows and cultural norms with the US, there is much that I have come across for the first time. Not only that but this is a very large country with vast cultural differences from state to state. I’m going to have a very different time at the University of North Carolina than someone studying in Chicago or California – the main difference being a university where basketball is the main religion (UNC were the 2017 national champions). These differences are unfamiliar but they are also enriching my experience in this new environment.
The journey to North Carolina began a week after coming home from working as a team leader on this year’s Sutton Trust US summer school. My own experience on the summer school was one of the best weeks of my life and I wanted to give back to the programme that has provided me with so much.
It is hard to be optimistic about the current political climate in the States right now, and many of the concerns potential students may have can be justified. However, we must remember that most US universities have – for decades – been bastions of progressive and liberal values. This is reflected in their welcoming atmospheres on campus.
I became familiar with the look of concern on friend’s faces when I told them that I was studying in North Carolina, but I have had nothing but positive experiences on campus. In fact, the Universities’ social justice hub, the Campus Y, was founded all the way back in 1859. Their emphasis on racial justice and helping local communities has been engrained in this university for decades.
One of the major advantages of studying in the US is access to the liberal arts curriculum. I’ve only been studying for a couple of months and I’ve already interviewed a sorority chef as part of a communications project investigating the experiences of residents of a once segregated African-American community; debated as a government official ignoring the aims of the suffragette movement in early 20th Century Britain in my Women and Gender history class; written a popular science article on the link between violent crime and climate change in English; and started learning Spanish. UNC and many other universities around the United States not only allow this academic exploration but they actively encourage it.
Thanks to my scholarship programme, I had the privilege of spending a month over summer backpacking through the North Cascades National Park and Pasayten wilderness in Washington State, with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). I didn’t wash for 30 days and had no access to technology, running water or toilets. It turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and it would never have been if it weren’t for the Sutton Trust US Programme. What the rest of this semester and the next four years will bring me, I am not sure. But judging from the experiences I’ve had so far as a Morehead-Cain scholar at UNC, I can only be optimistic.