Earlier this month, 30 Barker High School students sentenced themselves to an 11-hour bus ride to Lenoir, N.C. At the end of the trip, there was no doubt that every sore neck was worth it.
Each year, Barker's American Field Service club plans a short-term exchange. This five-day exchange brings a number of the club's students to a new state for a glimpse into that area's culture. Each member of the club stays at a student's home and attends school with that student. Trips are planned to attractions in the area. It is always a surprise to see how different life, only a couple of states away, can be.
Our first morning in Lenoir, we attended school with our hosts. As soon as we walked in the door, the school was very different for us. Barker is small, so going into a school with 900 students was very new for our group. There were triple the number of students roaming the halls, and these halls were probably double the size of what we're used to.
Not only were the hallways out of proportion in regards to our expectations, but the length of classes was as well. Barker has nine classes that are 40 minutes each, but at Hibriten High School, a block schedule is used so classes are an hour and a half long. This means they only have four classes a day. By the end of the two classes in the morning, the Barker students were more than restless.
One of our day trips took us to Asheville, where we not only explored the city, but its main attraction, the Biltmore House. The Biltmore is the largest home in America; it could fit up to three White Houses under its roof. We were taken on a guided tour inside this luxurious mansion, but couldn't take any pictures.
Then the bus took us to downtown Asheville, where we were able to walk around to look at shops, or find a restaurant, which gave us a little time to discover the lifestyle in Asheville.
In the evening, our group went to Sim's Barbeque. It was described as a huge barn with concrete floors, and that's exactly what it was.
Despite its drab appearance compared to the Biltmore, we had a great time. Sim's served a small buffet of side dishes and barbecued meats. A bluegrass band played, and we were invited to clog/square dance. Sim's has a clogging team, so the team members showed us how it's done. We had no idea what we were doing, but we didn't mind laughing at ourselves.
Although there are only three states in between North Carolina and New York, local cuisine is different. The first thing you notice when you get to Lenoir is the large number of fast food places. Biscuits are served at every meal, and sweet tea isn't just at McDonald's.
Breakfast is the one meal that took me off guard. I'm used to the sweet taste of syrup over pancakes or french toast, but in the South, breakfast is more savory. My host family made us breakfast with a couple of options that were all typical Southern morning meals: grits, chipped beef gravy over toast and livermush. Livermush is exactly what it sounds like: mushed-up liver that is fried. Each time I explain livermush to someone at home, I always receive the same disgusted response. I actually didn't mind it too much.
In April, the students from North Carolina will be coming to stay with Barker students. The Southerners will be able to see that when we say New York, we really don't mean the Big Apple. It will be our turn to show them around our local attractions, like Niagara Falls, and give them a bit of Western New York culture to take home with them.