Silent Sam, NC State Fair and Halloween

Hello there!

So, the past couple of weeks have been pretty busy. As usual, I’m getting stuck into the archives and I’m getting lots of writing done. I really wanted to write a post about how to write 1000 words a day but I’m so drained after all the writing I do during the day that I really haven’t been able to bring myself to write about writing! 🙂 Soooooo, here is an amazing blog post that inspired me to become  a more committed writer. Have a read if you want to get some serious writing done.

Confederate FlagsRecently I attended a counter-demonstration against Silent Sam, a statue of a Confederate soldier on campus here at UNC. I wasn’t prepared for what I experienced. When I walked towards the site of the counter-protest the first thing I saw was a convoy of cars and trucks all flying at least one Confederate flag. Some were flying multiple. I thought it was pretty crazy because I believe that the Confederate flag cannot be separated from racism. Especially one that has a belt hanging from it in what closely resembles a noose. Shocking stuff. At the end of the day, four million black people were held in slavery when the Civil War broke out in 1861, for no other reason than the colour of their skin. For centuries they were forced to labour from dawn to dusk, beaten and raped. Their children were taken from them and they were separated from their spouses. Sure, there were degrees of slavery and some masters were more lenient than others but the myth of the happy slave is exactly that. A myth. The way I see it, the Confederacy cannot be separated from that history of racism, prejudice and oppression. Anyway, you can read more about the counter-protest here.

I also went to the State Fair in Raleigh with some of the Boxing Club crowd. For Irish people reading this, it was basically like a much bigger Funderland. But the food… The food was amazing. Basically, you could get deep fried anything: cheeseburgers, oreos, cheescake, mac and cheese…The list was endless. You could also get these massive turkey legs that smelled delicious and really buttery corn on the cob. Mmmm. I’m drooling just thinking about it!

Deep Fired Oreos

Deep Fired Oreos

Then, of course, I celebrated Halloween! A friend had a house party that we all dressed up for. It was really fun. I had to get creative with my costume. There are no costume shops in Chapel Hill and I wasn’t in the mood to go shopping for one so I dressed up as a …. zombie! The only thing I bought for my costume was fake blood. I did crazy make-up, messed up my hair, ripped my tights and made some cool cuts out of eyelash glue. I think it turned out pretty well!

Today, UNC were playing their rivals Duke in football. And they won 66-31! I didn’t go to the game but I went to a pre-game tailgating party.

Next week I’m going to Washington DC to visit a friend I met at the Fulbright Orientation program so I’m really excited about that. I’ll fill
you all in when I get home.

Slán go fóill!

Fall is Finally Here…

…and it’s beautiful in Chapel Hill! The air is crisp and cool, the sky is blue and the sun is shining, the fallen leaves crunch under your feet and the squirrels (which are practically everywhere) are searching for acorns. Autumn is definitely one of my favourite times of year and I could not be in a better place to enjoy it.

When I initially started blogging I intended on posting once a week but that hasn’t gone exactly as planned… I’ve just been really, really busy.

So what have I been up to? Well, unsurprisingly, most of my day is spent…researching! So far that’s been going really well. And I’m getting lots of my thesis written too (more on that soon). I’m really trying to make the most of having access to such a wide range of sources so I’ve divided my day into two and three hour chunks – some are devoted to research and others are spent writing. So far this system has worked really well for me and I’m being really productive.

Other than that, my days are spent meeting friends or colleagues for coffee or lunch (Chapel Hill has some really great restaurants) and attending seminars or classes. Although I’m doing independent research, I’ve slotted into some classes that are related to my field and both the classes and the professors have been really helpful. 

Two evenings a week I train with UNC Boxing Club. The classes are ridiculously hard…I’m not even joking! But like a friend back home used to always say, ‘you never regret a workout’. These classes are two hours long and are divided into cardio, which is hell, strength, which can be hell and technique, which I love. The trainers are really enthusiastic which I also love. They’re really upbeat and their positive attitude helps you to push yourself way harder than someone shouting abuse at you! I’ve met so many people through the classes. Like I said in my previous post, it’s really easy to make friends here.

My weekends are for downtime. Every Friday a group of us from the History Department head out for drinks in a local bar. These evenings are really fun. They’re a great way to unwind and catch up with everyone. They also provide a great opportunity to discuss your work and to share new ideas and perspectives – a fundamental aim of Fulbright!

Recently I attended a football game which was fun except for the rain! It literally poured the whole time. As you may or may not know, UNC is a huge basketball college – Michael Jordan went here! So when the season starts a few of us are going to get together to head to a game. The tickets are supposed to be hard enough to get but my friends seem confident we can get them.

This weekend a group of us are going to the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh which I’m really excited about so I will fill you all in on that later.

Bye for now…

Go Heels! (They won)

Go Heels! (They won)

Some Challenges You May Face When Moving to a New Country

2015-09-11 13.56.14These challenges won’t apply to everyone. Ireland has become very Americanised over the past twenty years or so and having been to the U.S. previously, either on holidays or on research trips, I didn’t really experience culture shock. Nevertheless, these are the challenges that I faced when I first arrived in North Carolina.


HOMESICKNESS

Homesickness is, unfortunately, inevitable. No matter how excited you are about your new venture, you will miss your friends, family and home comforts. However, as sure as I am that you will experience homesickness at some stage during your time abroad, I am equally sure that you will come out of it. At the Gateway Orientation Program, we were warned that all cultural exchange students go through periods of highs and lows – sort of like a roller-coaster. But for every low point, there’s a high point! When I first got to North Carolina I experienced homesickness almost immediately. I didn’t know anybody and because I’m not taking any classes (I’m conducting independent research) I was worried that I wouldn’t make any friends. Fortunately, it’s actually very easy to make friends here, provided you’re willing to put in the effort. Within the first week I signed up with the UNC Boxing Club and got in touch with the Graduate History Society so I got to meet loads of new people. If you sit at home and don’t reach out then you probably won’t make too many new friends, so it really is important to put yourself out there. Meeting new people helped to solve my homesickness problem but if it’s plaguing you, this website offers some really good strategies to deal with homesickness.

THE CLIMATE

In Ireland the weather can be pretty miserable. Our winters are dark, drab and grey and although we get some bright, sunny days in the spring and summer, the temperatures rarely peak above the mid-twenties – Celsius that is. So when I first came to North Carolina I loved the bright sunny mornings. That is until noon hit. I learnt the hard way not to walk to the store between 12 noon and 2pm. The humidity is a killer! Once, I even got sunburned walking ten minutes to the shop! Now that it’s October, I’m getting a good insight into what hurricane season is like in NC. Hurricane Joaquin is on the horizon and it’s been raining for the past week, pretty much non-stop. When the rain first began I noticed that so many people wore wellies! I found this hilarious until I couldn’t walk to the library without stepping into very deep puddles. I now plan on investing in a pair of wellies!

NOT HAVING A CAR

I love my car. I miss my car. Here in NC, I’m very, very lucky to have found an amazing apartment so close to everything on campus. Pretty much everywhere is within walking distance. Except for the grocery store. It’s actually only about a thirty minute walk away but I have to make sure that I time it correctly because there is nothing worse than walking that distance (in jeans) in the humidity. I speak from experience! My rule of thumb is not to use a basket while shopping and to only buy whatever my two hands can carry. This ensures that I’m not logging heaving bags all the way home – again, I speak from experience! There are buses, but they are so infrequent that it’s sometimes easier to walk…

THE CURRENCY

This might seem like a silly one but American currency can be very confusing! First of all, a wad of dollars makes you feel like you’re loaded when you’re actually not. Boo. 😦 And don’t get me started on the coins. What’s a dime and why is a five cent coin bigger that a ten cent coin!? Aragh. This can be very frustrating when you’re trying to pay for your coffee and a very large queue is forming behind you. Thankfully, most places accept card, even if you’re only buying a bottle of water. I’ll admit, having to swipe instead of entering a pin did take a bit of getting used to too! You can’t swipe too fast and definitely not too slow. But I’m a pro swiper now! 🙂


I know that I’m very lucky that these are the only challenges I’ve faced in the U.S. Some of my friends from around the world have definitely experienced culture shock, particularly because of the language barrier. My fellow Fulbrighters and I have all remained in contact because it’s important to have a strong network of support. If you’re finding living abroad challenging, never be afraid to reach out to someone. Even if they’re not going through the same thing, they’re sure to offer kind words of support and sometimes that’s all you need.

Road Trip to Asheville, North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway

A view from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Last week my boyfriend came to visit and we went on a road trip to Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is a beautiful city in western North Carolina, about three and a half hours away from Chapel Hill. So, for that all-American experience, we rented a pick-up truck, booked an Airbnb and off we went!

Asheville was as beautiful as everyone said it would be. It’s a very laid-back city with a strong hippy vibe. The food was amazing and the craft beer is supposed to be even better. I don’t actually like beer but the wine was pretty good!

Asheville

A view from the Blue Ridge Parkway

The first day we got there we spent the day exploring downtown Asheville – our apartment was within walking distance and our air bnb hosts recommended some great bars and restaurants. The weather was perfect – not too hot and definitely not too cold which made all that walking very easy.

Biltmore House

Biltmore House

The second day we visited the Biltmore Estate. Biltmore House, the main house on the estate, was built by George Vanderbilt in the late nineteenth century. It’s the largest privately owned house in the US. We couldn’t take any photos inside the house but the place was restored to near perfection. It really gave you a feel of what it would have been like to be one of Vanderbilt’s guests. The view from the house was nothing short of magnificent. Miles and miles of trees, rolling green hills and perfect blue sky. I really fell in love with the place because of that view!

The Biltmore Estate was designed to be self-sustaining and the Biltmore Winery is located just a short drive from the house. A free tour of the winery is included in the cost of admission along with free wine tastings. Needless to say I came home with a great bottle of Riesling.

The view from The Biltmore

The view from The Biltmore

The third day we drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This parkway runs through Virginia and North Carolina, mostly along the Blue Ridge Mountains which are part of the Appalachian Mountains. Again, the views were spectacular. The weather was cooler that day but it was the perfect time to make the trip because the leaves had just started to change colour, making the views even more amazing.

That evening it started lashing rain! And when it rains in North Carolina, it pours. The weather has been pretty miserable since but hopefully we’ll get some sunshine before the week is out. All in all, the trip to Asheville was amazing and we’re both so glad we got to see a beautiful part of North Carolina.

How I Research

For all you budding researchers, I thought I’d share with you how I conduct research. It’s very important to establish a good system at the beginning of your studies, and it helps to be organised. I wasn’t a particularly well-organised person until I first began teaching and your life is ten times more stressful if you’re not organised so I adapted pretty quickly.

Anyway, this system can be used for primary and secondary source research. It can also be adapted to suit your particular needs. I like writing. Like, with a pen and paper. But I know that a lot of people prefer writing directly onto a computer so that’s fine too.

Here is my step-by-step guide to researching:

First, I read the material and take notes.

Whenever I come across an important piece of information I write it down exactly as it appears in the source. It’s okay to paraphrase but I prefer to have the exact quote – I can paraphrase later if I want. Make sure to take note of the page number if it is a book or if it’s a diary, letter or some other archival document write down the date of the document, who wrote and/or received it and other important information. This will save you loads of hassle when it comes to writing your chapter or paper later.

All of this note taking is done with pen and paper in my notebook and I keep all the notes for a particular source or document together. The name and location of my source is clearly written at the top of the first page. For example, ‘Nathan Hill Papers, Duke University’ or ‘Ronald E. Butchart, Schooling the Freed People’. Sometimes, to save myself the hassle later, I include the other information that will be needed in my footnotes or bibliography, such as date and place of publication.

Second, I record the important notes into a word document.

This is the most important step but it does not have to be done immediately after the first step. Sometimes I wait a day or two to give my head a break! I’m still working during those couple of days, I’m just doing something different.

I have five running word documents for each of my thesis chapters saved onto my computer. For example, I have a word document entitled ‘Northern White Teachers’ and another entitled ‘Black Teachers’. As I read through my hand-written notes for a particular source, I record the relevant notes into one of the five word documents.

Let’s say I’ve read the diaries of a black teacher. Most of the notes I have taken from these diaries will be used in the chapter about black teachers. Some notes, however, could be useful in another chapter, perhaps if it supports a point I plan on making somewhere else or if it contextualises an issue I raised somewhere else.

As you record your notes into your word document you categorise them. This is the most useful part of the process. So if I’m recording my notes from the diaries of a black teacher and I have a quote which suggests black teachers’ motives, I will put that particular quote under a section entitled ‘Motivation’. This process happens naturally. You don’t need to have created subsections prior to beginning your running document. Then, at a later stage, when I’m in the process of recording my notes from another source, and I come across another quote that suggests the motivation of black teachers, I will put that quote in the same section. Just be sure to clearly mark your source at the end of each quote, otherwise you’ll be very confused when it comes to writing your chapter!

Does that make sense? I hope so! I was kinda hard to explain…

Third, I write my chapter!

This system works very well for me because as I continue adding new sources and new quotes to the word document, my word count increases bit by bit. These quotes are the foundation of my chapter. They are the evidence I need to back up a particular point I’m making. The rest is just filling in the blanks. So by the time I start to write my chapter, a huge chunk of the work is actually already done.


So that’s how I conduct research. Everyone has a different method. I could probably save myself some time by recording my notes directly into my word documents but I find that I get too distracted that way. It’s whatever works best for you! Feel free to share how you conduct research.

The Value of Studying History

The Old Well, UNC

So I’m here at the University of North Carolina, getting stuck into the archives and getting lots of work done. It’s been great. I will definitely write a post about all the different kinds of fun and interesting things that I’m doing but I came across an interesting quote the other day so I’m going to talk about that for now…


I’ve yet to meet a person who does not enjoy learning about some aspect of history. Although they may not necessarily want to study history, there’s usually some aspect of the the past which fascinates them. When I was teaching in a primary school, History was definitely one of my class’s favourite subjects and when I’d announce that we’d be doing History next, the whole class would erupt in a series of yesses. And that’s not an exaggeration! I was often surprised by their level of enthusiasm but it was great to be able to share my love of the subject with such an eager bunch of students. I wish third level students had the same level of enthusiasm!!!

Although learning about historical events is interesting, many people are unaware of how useful it can actually be. When I was conducting archival research at UNC, I came across an interesting quote that I believe best illustrates the value of history:

The past is the key of the present and the mirror of the future, therefore, let us adopt as a rule, to judge the future by the history of the past, and having key of past experience, let us open the door to present successes and future happiness.

These are the words of Robert G. Fitzgerald, a black American Civil War veteran, teacher of the former slaves and political activist, written on 26 July 1867. His diaries can be found in the Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina. You can find the link here.

This quote really struck me and it’s funny because Fitzgerald’s granddaughter actually used that same quote as the epigraph to her book Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, something I just found out.

So basically, through the study of history we can learn from the past to plan for the present and prepare for the future. And that’s why historians matter!!!! 🙂

Fulbright Gateway Orientation

Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

So this week I attended an orientation program at Kennesaw State University, Georgia, USA. It was an amazing few days! Approximately sixty Fulbrighters from forty-six different countries were in attendance (I need to double check those figures). The program was basically designed to familiarise non-US students and researchers with the American culture and system of education. Over the course of three, fairly intensive days, we engaged in workshops and seminars that examined American customs, values, politics and history. However, the value of the program extended far beyond the practical knowledge it imparted upon us students.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love learning about different cultures. And they will know that because I basically interrogate any non-national in Ireland about their home, their culture, their traditions and everything in between! I find it fascinating. This orientation program gave me the opportunity to learn about so many different countries, from Afghanistan to Ukraine. It allowed me to dispel some of the misconceptions I had about some countries while also making me more aware of the unique way of life in other countries. Although most Irish people enjoy having a few drinks, I hope I helped to dispel the notion that Ireland is a nation of alcoholics and leprechauns! 🙂

Fulbright’s aim is to promote cross-cultural understanding in an effort to reduce global conflict. And I believe that this orientation program, and others like it, go a long way towards achieving this aim. If we really are to be the leaders of our generation, as Fulbright hopes and expects us to be, I can safely say that there will not be any conflict between those of us who were in attendance this week. Although we did not always agree on certain matters, we were wise enough to accept each other’s differences and unique points of view.

We love our group shots! Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

We love our group shots! Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Never have I connected so well with a group of people. And I believe that most, if not all, of my fellow Fulbrighters feel the same. Every day I talked to someone new, or sat with a new group of people at meal times, and the conversation always flowed. On the first day of the program, one of the professors mentioned that while we were all intelligent people, we were not chosen to receive Fulbright awards on the basis of our academic merit alone. Rather, our unique interpersonal qualities played a huge factor in the selection process. And from what I could see, everyone in the group was kind, generous, positive, open minded, hardworking, determined, motivated, and, of course, immensely intelligent. We weren’t just a bunch of boring academics! We had fun, we were witty, we were funny, we cracked jokes, and we laughed. A lot!

Hopefully we all manage to stay in contact. I am so grateful to Fulbright for giving me this amazing opportunity and to my wonderful Fulbright family who have made this experience so amazing thus far.

Outside Martin Luther King Jnr.'s family home in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Outside Martin Luther King Jnr.’s family home in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Now, it’s onto the next chapter!

Teambuilding!

Teambuilding! Photo Credit: Vanessa Sayajon

Day One in Atlanta, Georgia

Travel

Happy Monday!

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, I was so busy getting everything organised for this trip.

So I arrived in Atlanta, Georgia last night. I’m not gonna lie, it was tough leaving home. I was so sad saying goodbye to everyone, especially one person in particular. I was in Chicago and NYC for five weeks just a few months ago so it seemed like this trip came around really fast and I was off again before you knew it!

A beautiful view of NYC from Central Park West in May 2015.

A beautiful view of NYC from Central Park West in May 2015.

Anyway, homesickness aside, the first observation I made is that Atlanta is HOT! Yikes. And I’m not great with the heat. When you walk outside the hot air blasts you in the face. Like when you open the door of a really hot oven. I’m hoping I acclimatise!

The second observation I made is that it’s dark at 6am! One of my favourite things about Ireland during the summer is the bright mornings, regardless of the weather. I’m an early bird so waking up to a bright morning is a huge bonus for me. It’s pretty bright by 7am though and, to be honest, I probably won’t be getting up until that time anyway! 🙂

How beautiful is the view from my home in Ireland early in the morning? Granted these mornings are few and far between these days!

How beautiful is the view from my home in Ireland early in the morning? Granted these mornings are few and far between these days!

Today I begin my Fulbright Gateway Orientation program so I will keep you all updated on that over the coming days.

Bye for now!

Tips for Writing the Personal Statement

The second essay that forms part of your Fulbright application procedure is the Personal Statement. This essay is probably one of the trickiest to write because there really is no strict format to follow. As with the Research Objectives essay, however, Fulbright will provide some general information as to what should be included. Again, it’s a relatively short essay, about fifty lines of text, and you should share your work with others so that you can get some constructive feedback. Start writing early as you will undoubtedly write multiple drafts.

One of the best tips I read in relation to the Personal Statement was, if your essay sounds like it could have been written by someone else then it’s not personal enough. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what site I read this on but if I come across it again I’ll make sure to post the link.

Obviously, the Personal Statement has to be personal. But it should also be academic. You need to find a balance. I think my first draft was way too personal and my supervisor advised me to insert some academic information, such as my achievements to date and plans for the future.

I don’t have any tips, as such, for writing the Personal Statement so I’ll just give you a brief outline of what I included in my essay.

In my Personal Statement, I basically outlined my academic trajectory.

I began my essay by discussing what motivated me to study American History. In the ‘About Me’ section of this blog I explain that my interest in the American South was inspired by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I then proceeded to explain how my parents were very strong influences because they always encouraged me to find an occupation that I love. Teaching and researching is my passion so I’m glad I followed their advice. Even though I’ve been a ‘poor student’ for longer than I care to think about!!!

The next section of my essay discussed my academic qualifications and experiences. I explained how my B.Ed with History degree made me uniquely qualified to carry out the proposed research, the awards I received and the conferences I will be presenting at.

The remainder of my essay discussed how I planned to disseminate my research, how this dissemination would benefit Fulbright, Ireland and Mary Immaculate College, and what I planned to do when I returned to Ireland.

So that’s it. I hope it helps! Ultimately, I don’t believe that anyone else could have written an essay too like this. Everyone has different interests, inspirations and motivations. Equally, everyone has different academic achievements and plans for the future. So just be yourself!