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Here's how students are keeping up friendships now that campus is closed


Kenzie Chasteen, a senior in the UNC School of Nursing, makes colorful letters as a way to communicate remotely with her friends from UNC. She also sells her postcards to raise money for a field hospital being set up to treat those with COVID-19 in Milan, Italy. Photo courtesy of Kenzie Chasteen.

Whether they used to have lunch in Lenoir Hall, catch up on the quad or even just wave to each other on the walk to class, UNC students will likely be spending the rest of their semester far away from the familiar faces that made up their daily lives on-campus. 

The University announced on March 11 that spring break would be extended by a week and that afterward, most classes would indefinitely become remote in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. On Tuesday, the University said students must move out of their residence halls unless granted an exception. 

“I just love being around my friends and that community all the time,” Ethan Runyan, a sophomore economics major, said. “And I love my family too, so I’m still around people I love at home, but it's just a much different experience than being with your friends at UNC.”

Runyan said he will miss the regular classroom experience and UNC sports as well — but the main thing that makes UNC a sad place to leave is the people he's met there as a student.

“I mean, I was disappointed for sure, since I just like being at UNC with my friends and all that, but I definitely understood the decision that they made,” Runyan said.

Here are some ways students are staying connected while social distancing: 

Letters and postcards  

Kenzie Chasteen, a senior in the School of Nursing, said she started writing letters as an alternative form of communication and has encouraged others to do the same.

“Social media and staying in touch through that is great, but we can't control what's in front of us. We just get fed it and we can respond to it," Chasteen said. "But writing a letter requires you to really reach out and initiate words and communication to people who you might not have otherwise specifically thought about.” 

Chasteen said letters are a lasting memento of this season and the fact that someone was thinking of the recipient at the time, and can make the recipient smile.

“I hope that I won't forget even the words that I receive in this time,” Chasteen said. “I think that we all want things to go back to normal, but things are never going to be the same normal again. I think that this experience and the lessons that we learn from this as a culture, a generation and as a world need to stick with us.”

Chasteen is also selling the postcards she makes to raise money for an aviation-based field hospital being set up to treat those with coronavirus in Milan, Italy.

Apps to keep in touch

Ellie McNair, a psychology and neuroscience double major, said she has been using video-based communication apps like Marco Polo, House Party and FaceTime.

McNair said that being away from campus for the rest of the year has made her feel motivated. She said the free time has given her a chance to better herself in the coming months.

“I’m of the mindset that I’m sad and it sucks and it’s missing a lot of memories that could have been made, but at the same time, I’m living with pretty much the same people next year, all of my friends are going to be in the same dorm, and it's going to be a party,” McNair said. “I can use these five months to fix my life basically.”

Beyond these apps, students can also use technology to stay connected in other ways. The Chrome extension Netflix Party, for example, lets students watch movies in sync with their friends. 

Emily Michael, a senior studying geology, said she will try to have as much communication with her friends as possible to make sure people are doing alright.

“I plan to actively reach out to people,” Michael said. “I know that I haven't been great at that in the past. I think I'll actively call people and check in with them.”

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