The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday June 26th

Two years of COVID-19: A look back on UNC student experiences

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 7: ‘I knew I was supposed to be happier’

During the two-week period before students were sent home from campus in August 2020, Emma Brown called her mom and requested a large suitcase.

“I called and said, ‘Hey, I think I need you to bring me a suitcase, because things are not looking good, and I think it’s going to be a matter of days and I want to be prepared,’” Brown said.

A first-year at the time, Brown said she did not have her car on campus and hadn't brought a large suitcase because her parents lived nearby in Hillsborough.

Once the University released the official statement that residence halls were closing, Brown began to look into off-campus living options with two of her suitemates. They all signed nine-month leases for an apartment in fear of being told to leave again during the spring semester.

“We felt uncomfortable coming back to campus potentially during spring semester, because getting kicked off was a little traumatizing — having to pack up all your things in two days and scramble to find an apartment was just ridiculous,” Brown said.

Four of Brown’s other suitemates also looked into off-campus housing and ended up in the apartment across from her own. The situation felt like a suite and a bit more like college, she said.

Brown said it was helpful to lean on her suitemates during that time, especially when it was difficult to make friends. She and her roommates went on a 'Galentine's Day' trip, and there were nights when they would order pizza and watch “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette” — small traditions to build their friendships, while supporting one another through unusual times.

But, it was still hard for Brown mentally. 

“I think freshman year was really hard for me because it was just not what I was wanting it to be,” she said. “It was hard to explain to non-college students, because it was like I was happy — I was content with the situation — but I knew I was supposed to be happier.”

Brown said she never had the typical first-year experiences. But despite this, she's found benefits to the unconventional situation.

Five of her suitemates now live in an off-campus house, where they continue some of the traditions they developed in fall 2020 — though the fluctuation between in-person and remote classes makes it hard to find overlapping times.

For the current season of "The Bachelor," Brown said they’ve come up with a plan: to watch each episode at 9 p.m. rather than its premiere time at 8 p.m. so they can all see it together — even if it means ending the night late.

Even though Brown and her suitemates have remained close and some of their traditions have carried over, Brown said she does not want a repeat of her first year.

“I feel like everyone wants to go back to normal," Brown said. "But you just have to manage your expectations, and that’s just not on my radar for things that will happen in my remaining two years at UNC."

Click here to read the next part, Chapter 8: Closing

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