A very prominent change in nature can be noticed during Fall Break. The leaves change color, the weather turns colder and sunbeams become luxuries. Like a few of the trees that I saw over my Fall Break, I have only a few leaves on my bare skeleton. But instead of losing more, I make more. The leaves that I have are friends that have come along and are keeping me warm during the winter of my life.

It is almost halfway through my exchange here in the States and I am already dreading the day that I have to say goodbye to all of my new friends. They have meant so much to me in a time where I had no one. I came to UNCC all alone and very afraid of my disability to make new friends. But I overcame that fear and now my tree has a few leaves.

This weekend I was part of a retreat for the Niner Student Media in the Springmaid Mountains in Spruce Pines. It was a wonderful weekend –filled to the brim with laughter, inside-jokes and my first ever s’more.

My new friends and I stayed in a cabin in the woods. With Halloween constantly on our minds, we made every ghoul and ghost come to life with our stories and practical jokes.

The weekend started with me getting into a van, knowing only two people in the group, for a two-hour trip to the mountains. I slept for halfway there, but after our Burger King stop I noticed some sceneries and views that will probably stick with me for the rest of my life.

Fall Break NTR
Photo by Corlene Beukes

With the people chattering and laughing around me I realized that this will be a time in my life that I will never experience again. These people, these views, these moments are for one time only.

It made me serious about enjoying every moment of the weekend and I am hoping that it spilled over to the rest of my life. This resulted in a weekend full of firsts.

I bonded with people that I would never have if I had not participated in this school organization. I formed friendships with American students that will hopefully last longer than just this semester. This weekend was the first time someone told me that it will be so sad to see me leave. It all left a mark.

Knowing that I am a bit of a loner and introvert, going on these types of retreats can sometimes be so intimidating, but I always return a better person for it. Being locked up in a cabin in the woods for a few days without WiFi or reception will do that to a person. You get to know people the old-fashioned way –by talking to them face-to-face.

We learned about and from each other. We can now carry all of the knowledge we acquired this weekend over to UNCC to better serve the people that we are here for –you, dear reader.

North Carolina and all the people that I have met have showed me true compassion and cared for me in ways I never knew I would want from people. Now having had this experience with so many more of them, my love for NC and its people have been cemented in my heart.

This semester has had many ups and many more downs, but the friendships that I formed with both American and other international students is the reason that I will look back on this experience with fondness and longing. Because it will forever be about the people you are with and not where you are.

May you find and acquire many more leaves for your tree and may you always have warmth and love in your life, to warm the winter of your heart.