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“When I’m stressed, I buy plants to cope”: Online Learning in Profile

Althea Pilapil loses sleep from having to stare at a screen all day, but the pandemic has also given her time to start a business.

Althea Pilapil sits in the middle of the indoor jungle that is her living room. “When I’m stressed, I buy plants to cope,” she explains.

As a university student adapting to online learning during the pandemic, there are many reasons to buy plants.

Pilapil is a second-year King’s student, pursuing a double major in International Development Studies and Social Anthropology. But upon entering her apartment, you might mistake her for a fine arts student. Tapestries, paintings, and art cover every space in her living room. In a time of being confined to your living space, her one-bedroom apartment is a personal oasis that she shares with her roommate and best friend, Charlotte Perry.

Pilapil smiles and also gestures to the compact speaker nestled between pots, playing an endless stream of lo-fi hip hop music. “That helps, too.”

Two woman stand together for a photo in their kitchen.
Pilapil and her best friend Charlotte Perry share a one-bedroom apartment together. (Chase Fitzgerald / The Watch)

Last year everything was supposed to be stressful, but that’s expected of first-year university students who are navigating their new lives. Nobody predicted they would spend second-year coping with a pandemic, and life has been unpredictable ever since. Pilapil feels that this year she’s stressed “for different reasons.”

A lot of classes have taken different approaches to teaching online – and it’s exhausting. Pilapil has a hard time keeping track of all the assignments, discussion boards, and lectures across her timetable. She finds herself more tired nowadays but struggles to fall asleep after all the time she spends facing her computer screen. The screens’ blue light disrupts the body’s biological clock, which we rely on to feel sleepy at night.

And although she doesn’t mind online school most of the time, keeping track of her courses is a feat in itself too. “Once I’m on top of everything I’m fine,” Pilapil says, “but when I’m not, I just completely lose it.”

Online school is disconnecting. Pilapil reminisces of a time when the King’s quad was filled with friendly, approachable faces. Now, she follows provincial health guidelines and limits her circle of friends, but this means she can’t see her high school friends anymore.

As a result, Pilapil spends more time on social media now to reach those she can no longer see in person. But it’s a poor substitute for the real thing. “I definitely miss seeing everyone all the time.”

Opening the JuncTrunc

Pilapil likes that the commuting time to campus is eliminated but now she finds herself spending too much time in her apartment. There’s an upside to more free time though; it has lent itself to be quite a productivity kick for Pilapil.

In early October, Pilapil and Perry created The JuncTrunc (@junctrunc). Their business is an online space on Instagram where they resell their well-used and well-loved clothes.

“We’re just trying to find our loved clothes a nice home,” says Pilapil.

Each item receives its own Instagram post with multiple angles displayed, the price, and details such as the size and material. Pilapil takes all of the photos in their living room under the skylight. She first positions the item neatly on the singular hook on her wall and then stands on the sofa, where she believes she’s found the optimal angle for photography.

Pilapil and Perry resell clothes through their Instagram account @JuncTrunc. (Chase Fitzgerald / The Watch)

Instead of looking for a profit, they price the clothes relatively low and are open to negotiation, so that they are affordable for their target consumer: students. Pilapil and Perry even offer swaps instead of money. They plan on returning 30 per cent of the proceeds to the Halifax community via donations.

“I’ve always wanted to donate but I didn’t have the means to,” Pilapil explains. “JuncTrunc does.”

Pilapil has many local charities in mind, like Souls Harbour Rescue, a Christan charity that gives out free meals, food, clothes, and other essentials to people who need them, and Hope Blooms, a non-profit that empowers youth to grow produce and fight food insecurity in the North End.  

The JuncTrunc is also COVID-19 conscious. Pilapil puts each item in a bag and lets it sit out for a couple of weeks to decontaminate before the customer picks it up outside, contact-free.

Pilapil says she likes the freedom of her business because she doesn’t put too much pressure on herself to run the account. The business is nowhere close to running out of stock yet, but that hasn’t stopped her friends from donating clothes either. In her bedroom, Pilapil reveals shelves of neatly folded clothes covered by a blanket, awaiting their turn to be featured.

Out of all the wonders in her apartment, the most precious piece is a small canvas painted in bright acrylics. Different bright shapes, zigzags and dots flush the background while Octavius Rex and the Blue Tuna from SpongeBob gape mindlessly in the centre stage. Out of all of the vibrant art pieces on display, this is the only piece Pilapil created. She calls it her fever dream and the pandemic fueled it. 

With her giddy smile and flamboyant hand gestures as Pilapil speaks, it’s hard to imagine that Pilapil is ever stressed. Surrounded by her plants, she hugs a particular fishbowl, home to a spiky aloe plant as she talks about her life during the pandemic.

Glancing down, she pokes it. “It’s not the worst coping mechanism at all.”

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