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Maxine Nwachukwu: 'I feel kind of just exhausted all the time'

Maxine NwachukwuWhen the news of the pandemic first hit, senior Maxine Nwachukwu thought KU’s decision to cancel classes would just mean an extra week of spring break. As time passed and the pandemic continued, she realized the pandemic was serious. She became concerned for not just those in other countries who she had been hearing about on the news, but for those in the United States, her family and herself. 

Nwachukwu is working full time on top of completing her classes from home. She feels like her schoolwork is non-stop and she is often stressed. She now lives alone because her roommate’s parents would not allow her to return to Lawrence during the pandemic. The lack of socializing on top of school and work is exhausting for Nwachukwu. This semester has left her feeling burned out. As a senior nearing graduation, she has decided to alter her future career plans. She initially wanted to move to California to work in the film and television industry. However if the pandemic is still going on when she graduates, she hopes to work remotely or freelance. She is still hopeful she can move to California once the pandemic is over.

► Listen to the audio version here.

Kate Robinson: This is Kate Robinson. Today is Nov. 11, 2020. I'm interviewing Maxine Nwachukwu for the William Allen White School of Journalism Pandemic Oral History Project. So Maxine going back to March, what was your initial reaction when the pandemic hit?

Maxine Nwachukwu: Ooh, my initial reaction, at least before the lockdown, I feel like there was a lot of -- most of the information that we were receiving was kind of saying that it was overseas. So I was concerned for the people overseas, but I wasn't so much so concerned for myself and other people within our nation. And then of course, spring break happened to realize there's a lot of cases in America and that's when reality kind of set in and the lockdown, of course. So at that point is when I realized, OK, I need to start looking at what the other nations did and how long the pandemic was so intense for them to kind of gauge how it's going to be for us. So once the lockdown happened, I had a feeling like this is going to go on for months, especially cause they're such a large country. And so many people had just traveled.

Kate Robinson: OK. And do you remember where you were when you heard the news? That KU was closing?

Maxine Nwachukwu: Oh, I know it was in Lawrence. I don't think I can recall exactly. If anything, the only thing I can remember is whenever we got the news that they were extending spring break. So I was in my apartment with my roommate and we got that email. Oh, great. Another week. And then from there, we were kind of guessing whenever we would get news that we were gonna go back in person. Cause we knew that was going to be the next step.

Kate Robinson: Hmm. OK. And how has this semester with the pandemic felt different than the spring semester with the pandemic?

Maxine Nwachukwu: It's felt different in a lot of ways, some of them just being kind of more personal. It's hard to gauge the true differences just in my own personal life because I am working this semester full time, which has made me feel even less of a student. So at least last semester, I had gotten the chance to actually meet my classmates face to face. And then we had that transition. I was in a lot of classes. I had group projects. So that was kind of the most, most drastic change with having to work with my groups, but do it virtually. I had done online classes before and Zoom wasn't that bad to me, but this semester, if anything, I just feel like it has been a lot more stressful because we have been going for almost 15 weeks now, nonstop, virtually and teachers, the way that they handle their curriculum is all different. So if anything, it's been more stressful this semester due to just having a full semester virtual as well as having my own personal factors weigh into how I'm feeling with school.

Kate Robinson: Right. OK. And kind of going off of that, what would you say has been the biggest challenge of adapting to these changes on campus?

Maxine Nwachukwu: I think the biggest challenge. Hmm. I honestly don't even feel like it's school itself because honestly online class is something that I've kind of always wanted to do was have a semester of online classes. But if anything, I think it was trying to balance school with making sure that I felt sane. I live by myself because my roommate -- her parents didn't allow her to come back. So I am unintentionally by myself. And so I feel like I even have less of a social life than others that at least will live with somebody. It has been difficult in that sense where I feel kind of just exhausted all the time. Really.

Kate Robinson: OK. And how has your workload changed as a result of the pandemic? I know you talked a little bit about that before.

Maxine Nwachukwu: Yes. So it is heavier. I will say, school itself, I can do that, but there's so many other things I have to do in a day. Some of them are also virtual. Some of the organizations I'm in are strictly virtual and some of other -- I'm in a research program. So that's also virtual. My job is in-person, unfortunately, but it has just been a lot of being in front of a computer in a way that I would rather not be. I'd much rather just be on Netflix, but I spend most of my day actually in front of a computer doing some type of work. So that kind of adds into the whole exhaustion that I've been feeling, just being burned out essentially, I guess.

Kate Robinson: Right. OK. How has your perception of the pandemic changed over time?

Maxine Nwachukwu: Yes. So my perception is changed quite a bit. I will say it's ultimately based on what I hear in the news. So as I mentioned, like at first I was thinking, OK, this is more of a concern for people overseas. Europe, Asia, that's where I was hearing most of the news around the coronavirus at first. So I thought this is very terrible for them, but we're worlds apart. And then it came to the U.S. and I realized, OK, this is a very, very serious situation worldwide. And also, I guess in regards to health, there was also this talk in the news at first about it affecting older people more than younger people and with that, I feel like we didn't discuss enough at first how it ultimately affects everyone. Even if you're young, you can still get sick and get sick in ways that you weren't expecting.

And that's something that didn't click for me just because -- just because I wasn't hearing that in the news. So I was just thinking mortality rate and then I thought, you know, actually, no, people of all ages are getting sick and this is not something that you should be OK with just getting. I became very scared of the idea of getting the coronavirus because I didn't know how my body would react and I'm young and I think I'm healthy. But even then I don't know. It was just -- we're just constantly getting more information on it. So my perception is always changing at this point. I feel like I know the severity of it and I wish more people understood the severity of it, so that’s kind of where I'm at.

Kate Robinson: Yeah. And how have you, how do you feel like you've emotionally coped with all of this?

Maxine Nwachukwu: Emotionally? I think for a very long period, I kind of detached, the lockdown setting, within my own personal life. There were things I was intending to do, which involved me traveling and socializing. And I immediately was like, OK, that's canned at least for the rest of the year. That's -- none of those plans are going to happen. And I kind of stopped thinking about like career options and things like that for a good amount of time. And I also noticed that some of the, I guess, self-care habits I had in the past few years, I completely avoided them. So, I noticed I would go through phases of kind of just going through the motions and then I would kind of become more self-aware of how I'm feeling and always hit me like a truck. So, at this point now that I know how I've been emotionally coping, I'm trying to be better about speaking to friends and family on FaceTime or over the phone, just seeing how they're doing and letting them know how I'm doing. But it has been quite a lot stressing about my own personal life, how my family is doing. My mom works in the health field and my dad's over 60. So, it is pretty concerning to think about how they're doing because they still have to go through life as essential workers.

Kate Robinson: Right. OK. How has your involvement in J-School organizations, other student organizations, Greek life or other clubs been affected?

Maxine Nwachukwu: I don't really have that much of a desire to participate anymore. I’ve been in an organization. And I still technically am. I have been in it since my sophomore year. I'm now a senior and if anything, I've just attended a few of the Zoom meetings without pitching in anything past that. It's been tough cause I want to be involved, but I just feel like that's more than I can handle right now. So it has been greatly affected, unfortunately.

Kate Robinson: OK. And how do you feel about your fellow students’ response to the pandemic?

Maxine Nwachukwu: Hmm, not a fan to say the least. I know that we've seen, within local news, some of the parties and other things that have happened so far this semester and it has been pretty infuriating. Just to see people not take it seriously. I lived here over the summer and it was very quiet. So when everyone came back, I was hoping that it would be more people, but at least more people still continuing to behave responsibly. And that hasn't always been the case throughout this semester, unfortunately, which is, it's just really upsetting, I think, but I at least know that there are people out there that are taking this seriously and trying to stick to themselves, not socialize too much. I understand that people need to see their friends, but keeping it to a minimum and trying to do it in safe environments. I wouldn't be mad at people for doing that, but parties and things like that. That's kind of been, what's been irritating to see.

Kate Robinson: OK. Do you have plans to adapt your education or career because of the current situation?

Maxine Nwachukwu: Yes. at least career wise, I do have more intentions of doing things individually, finding some type of career path where I can either work freelance or be my own boss otherwise. I would prefer to find a job that is remote after college. I wanted to work in a film and television industry, which meant that I would most likely live in California and that is still my plan. But I'm not too -- I guess I'm not too set on that idea right now just because I'm not sure how things go by the time I graduate.

Kate Robinson: OK. How do you feel about the School of Journalism response to the pandemic?

Maxine Nwachukwu: I feel like for the most part it's been handled pretty well. I don't go on campus often. Think I've only gone on campus about twice to take a test and to get the physical tests back. I do know that some of my classes have done and I think one of them was a lecture that I had never gone to in-person because I didn't want to be around that many people, but overall I think we've handled things pretty well. And I have seen how the School of Journalism looks with the kind of having like a one-way path throughout the building, which I think was a pretty smart idea. So yeah, I'm not upset with how they've handled things ultimately.

Kate Robinson: OK. How do you think the pandemic has changed the School of Journalism and KU in general?

Maxine Nwachukwu: Hmm. So of course there's the obvious, I mean, there's less people on campus and we have to have our mask on when we are up there. But if I were to move away from some of the health precautions that they've taken and the actual school system itself, I'm not sure if I can kind of pinpoint them at the moment. I feel like there's been so many changes. It's kind of hard to wrap my head around the ones kind of go directly towards schooling. If anything, you kind of just get to see which teachers take into ... some teachers I've had so far this semester have just taken into account people's mental health, giving little breaks here and there or a week where we're not so hardcore with the schoolwork. So I do see that change.

At least I see that more teachers are open to talking about students' mental health and how they're doing. And if they're, you know, if they're OK with continuing turning in their work on time for the next week or two, or if they need, you know, a little leeway, I've noticed that more than I've seen it in the past. And I've spoken to my teachers on an individual basis more than I ever have in my previous three years here at KU. So if anything, I think that might be one of the biggest changes was just seeing that more teachers are becoming aware of a student's mental health and they understand that right now it's a really crazy time.

Kate Robinson: OK. And do you think that there's ways that KU will be better after everything that's happened or that like, I guess, let me rephrase that. How do you think KU will be better or grow from everything that's happened with anything good coming out of this?

Maxine Nwachukwu: Hmm. I have hopes, at least I'm not sure if I can say that. I think KU will be better in some departments, but I at least hope they'll take into consideration students' physical health and mental health more often. I have seen those types of conversations around our clinic here on campus and some of the health care that students have received.

So I hope that's a change that we see in the near future. I also hope it was kind of more like an institutional thing, but I also hope that KU and other schools, you know, put the student above their financial needs. So I think that's one of the other things that I hope to see. I had assumed that they had done that at the beginning of this school year, just because I'm out of state and I did see a change with my tuition. But after talking to students that were in state, I guess that wasn't an all-around thing that was done for students. So, yeah. I don't know. I just -- I just have hopes ultimately.

Kate Robinson: OK. And what advice would you give someone 100 years from now who may be dealing with another pandemic?

Maxine Nwachukwu: Wear your mask and stay inside as much as possible.

Kate Robinson: OK. And Maxine, is there anything else you would like to add about your experience that we haven't touched on already?

Maxine Nwachukwu: No. I feel like we hit all the points.

Kate Robinson: OK. Well, this is the conclusion of this oral history.


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