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The Daily Tar Heel

I have noise-canceling headphones. I work out in them which, in turn, has made them so sweaty and disgusting that I can’t wear them outside of the gym.

I used to wear them nonstop, for almost all hours of the day — between classes, in the dining hall, in the library, on the quad. But now, given the mistreatment of my beloved “emotional support headphones,” I now must listen to the world around me. 

At first, it was tiring. I would walk down the street and listen to the gentle breeze rustling through the beautiful fall foliage and think to myself, 'This is so boring. I’m so bored.' I would sit on the first floor of Davis Library, being forced to listen to my own thoughts while doing homework. 

One benefit has stemmed from the situation: I started talking to strangers again. It is these interactions that have made me feel like a real member of the greater Chapel Hill community rather than just a student at UNC.

At my old high school, we weren’t allowed to use our phones outside or inside — much less listen to music at full volume on headphones between classes. This rule made students interact with each other much more between classes: It was the norm to greet each other, even if we didn’t know each other. Because of this, I used to hate the fact that I couldn’t go on my phone or listen to music. Now, I miss it. 

When I first arrived at UNC, I smiled and said 'hi' to people on the sidewalk between classes, on the way to Franklin Street or at my residence hall. It didn’t matter if I knew them or not. I would ask how their days were going. I would tell them that I liked their shirt or that I recognized them from one of my classes. Sometimes, it was an attempt to make friends — sometimes, it wasn’t — and sometimes, it just felt good to connect with people.

Soon after, people started to look behind them rather than wave back at me, or not know what to say when I started a conversation with them. I thought I was being super weird. At least, I assumed other people thought I was being weird. So, I followed the norm and put my headphones on. 

Listening to music, there was no reason for me to talk to anyone. I could control my environment perfectly. So, I ended up only interacting with whom I chose to. Instead of picking up conversation with my distant acquaintances, I would just smile at them politely and keep on walking. A brief acknowledgement of existence but not much more. But in only speaking with the same people repeatedly, I started to feel a disconnect from the rest of my surroundings. It was like I went with a group of friends to visit Chapel HIll, rather than living here. We would only talk with each other about how our classes were going, what we thought about this new restaurant or a movie that just came out.

That lasted for a while. Until I stopped wearing my headphones again. I tried to read on the way to class or take the time to reply to text messages, but I couldn’t multitask, so walking and reading didn’t work. Without my headphones to ease the barrier between me and the rest of the world, I didn't know what to do with myself. 

I fought the boredom by talking. At first, it was with the people that lived on my street. Walking past them on the way to class, I picked up the conversation. I asked their names and got to know them. Then it was the employees at the regular places I go to, like the grocery store or the gym I work out at. Now, walking home at night, I feel comforted knowing the people waving through their windows know my name as well. And instead of just walking into my workout and leaving, I look for my favorite employee to ask how her week has been. 

Start a conversation with the person next to you in the lecture hall, even if it might be uncomfortable. Chat with the person in line behind you at the coffee shop — it’s an opportunity to connect with no strings attached. It’s a reminder that there are people outside of our immediate social circles that we can talk to. It makes the monotonous, boring parts of the day exciting. And that’s just my Two Spence.

@dthopinion opinion@dailytarheel.com

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