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The Daily Tar Heel

From the class of 2021 to 2025, The Daily Tar Heel spoke to UNC students who reflected on their experiences throughout the last two years of the pandemic.

Chapter 6: ‘Long story short, I had burnt myself out’

Junior Ella Carter was driving back from a hike at Eno River State Park with two friends in March 2020 when they got the email that the University was extending Spring Break for a week.

The three of them cheered and celebrated in the car the rest of the way home, looking forward to a longer time away from campus.

But according to that email from UNC, classes would be going online indefinitely. They never ended up back on campus that semester — and online learning was a struggle for Carter.

Carter said they had a lot of trouble motivating themself to go to class. Or, if they did go, it was hard to pay attention. They said they often use daydreaming as a coping mechanism for stress, but started being unable to snap out of it and focus.

“School was an absolute struggle,” Carter said. “I could stare at a writing assignment all day and get a page done — maybe. And I don't think I could really face that this is going to last that long.”

So at the end of the spring 2020 semester, Carter decided to take the following school year off from UNC. She pushed her cybersecurity research summer internship to the fall, hoping things would be in person by then, and moved to Warren County for several months. They lived in a trailer on the family farm of a new friend they had connected with over climate activism.

The internship ended up being remote as well, but Carter was able to find some community and get a break from academic environments.

“Long story short, I had burnt myself out,” Carter said. “And so, coming back this semester after having a year off, I was actually able to engage and enjoy my classes more than I had so far during my time at Carolina.”

But being back on campus this past fall still had its challenges.

“It's been sort of jarring, and not easy trying to come back into a place where I feel like I know people but don't really,” Carter said.

Click here to read the next part, Chapter 7: ‘I knew I was supposed to be happier’

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