In North Carolina, it might be hard to know the season is changing; one day you will experience 80 degree weather, while the next you will be unpacking your winter clothes from the back of the closet. One marker of a true change into the fall season is the coloring of leaves, which can be seen in Raleigh in mid-October. The UPP cohort of 17-18 was lucky to witness the leaves changing during their 3-day stay in Asheville early October during the student’s fall break. Along the highway on the journey closer to the mountains, you could see dimension of color being added to the trees the closer we got to Asheville.

There is much to do in the smoky mountains, an iconic region of North Carolina but truly the East Coast. It was difficult for the UPP staff to decide what to expose students first, but as we arrived to our destination midday on Thursday, we thought allowing students to explore the eclectic town of Asheville an excellent opportunity for them to explore the city as they choose, indulging in the town’s artistic shops, architecture, and unique food options. Many students tried typical American restaurants, while others pursued more familiar territory such as Dim Sum or even Japanese sushi. Students attending our classes practiced their new skills reading a menu and left restaurant reviews on famous apps used by Americans giving advice based on their experience. Adventurous students were overjoyed at the quality of food and atmosphere offered by the restaurants in Asheville, and noted how colorful and friendly the city was to newcomers.

Later in the night we brought students to an iconic event, contra dancing with participants of Warren Wilson college. This type of dance is a uniquely American hybrid of country dance and French style of the 17th century, and quite a challenge for beginners. While every student was resistant and shy at first, slowly but surely their American partners allowed their awkward hesitation to dissipate, and by the end of the night students were begging to stay longer. This is the second year that UPP has offered this experience and each time we are validated by the rich experience it offers to our students, challenging them to step outside their comfort zone, interact with locals in a unique way, and gain confidence in themselves.

The following day lead was “choose your own adventure” day, and students had used the following week to sign up for a slew of fun options: extreme kayaking, relaxing kayaking, touring the Biltmore estate (a famous and beautiful castle) and lastly going on the fastest, tallest Zipline tour in the country! Each group had wonderful stories to tell about their adventures, and almost everyone got to enjoy the beautiful nature that the mountains have to offer and is not available in Raleigh. This closeness to nature was appreciated by students who all grew up in highly populated cities and rarely got a chance to go hiking, visit waterfalls, kayak in a river or fly down the mountains on a zipline. To culminate this exploration of the mountains we ended the night by making classic smores, where many students for the first time roasted marshmallows over an open flame and enjoyed them with graham crackers and chocolate.

Our last day at Asheville was one of luxury. The whole group rose early and were bused to a very famous and lush hotel overlooking the city and nestled in the mountain side. It contained a beautiful spa, luxurious relaxing rooms, shopping malls, and a mouth-watering breakfast buffet. A few students recalled tasting the best donuts and omelettes they’ve ever had. After filling themselves with as much food as they desired, walking around the scenic campus of the gorgeous hotel grounds, or in the case of one student–Keyu Wang–play a beautiful song on the hotels grand piano, we headed to our last group activity. Apple picking is a classic fall activity normally reserved for those living in more northern states, but luckily we were able to enjoy it in North Carolina. Some students purchased a buckets and wandered around the orchard, climbing trees to find the best apples. Others were able to enjoy the petting zoo of animals, or relax and enjoy a famously delicious apple cider donut. If everyone wasn’t full enough, we still had one more meal to impress. Before returning to Raleigh, students indulged in a famous Brazilian steakhouse in downtown Asheville where they discovered they quite liked food from South America, but even more than that the endless options they could choose from the extravagant buffet.

The fall trip was intended to introduce students to the mountains of North Carolina. Raleigh residents are afforded with their rare opportunity of being between mountains and the sea, and taking students to both of these relatively close locations shows the geographic beauty and diversity of our lovely North Carolina state. Themes of the Asheville include: outdoor adventures, mountains, forests, waterfalls, artistic townships, unique foods, and country culture. Our method of cultural integration at UPP is to have students safely experience what locals do, by joining in on a contra dancing or going for a hike in the woods. Generally students surprised the staff with their openness to trying all of these new things and an eagerness to explore this aspect of North Carolina. We couldn’t be more proud of these students for signing up to join us on these wonderful adventures!