Surviving a Summer in Isolation
It’s a strange feeling when you realize you don’t know yourself as well as you thought you did.
That’s what I experienced the summer after my junior year of college, when I headed to Los Alamos, N.M., for a newspaper internship.
I’ve always considered myself a very independent woman. And as far as the introvert-extrovert spectrum goes, I always fell closer to the introvert. So packing up and going a couple of hours’ drive from my friends and family didn’t seem like a big deal at all.
But there’s a reason Los Alamos is called the Secret City. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived and the community has so many friendly and civic-minded people, but it is incredibly isolated. And I felt this huge separation from my friends and family almost immediately.
If you’re spending the summer away from the people you love and care about, here are a few things I learned from my experience that may help you deal.
Throw Yourself Into Your Work
Odds are, if you’re spending the summer away from everyone you know, it’s because you’re pursuing a career, not just a job. And the good thing about being isolated like this is that you can throw yourself into your work and really give it 100 percent of your attention.
My first day on the job, my boss called me in and set some work expectations. He told me I was to produce at least one news story for every publication of the paper. (It was a daily paper.) He also told me that part of my function as an intern was to provide relief for his full-time staff, so I would be writing articles for everyone’s coverage areas.
I was intimidated for sure. And, of course, I thought he was being unreasonable. But you know what? It helped me grow as a journalist in a big way.
Get Comfortable Doing Things Alone
There’s a lot to be said about finding security in doing things alone. It takes a brave person to be able to eat at a restaurant by herself.
I got in the habit of driving down to nearby Santa Fe every other weekend just to treat myself to lunch and go shopping for the afternoon. One weekend, I decided to try watching a movie by myself. “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” was playing, and I thought that would be a safe one to watch because my friends back at school probably wouldn’t want to watch it anyway.
But it turns out “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” has a few really sad parts. I can tell you there’s nothing more humbling than sitting in a chick flick by yourself, surrounded by groups of girlfriends and mother-daughter pairs, and crying. But I’m definitely not afraid of going to the movies alone anymore.
Learn You Can Be Friends With People Of All Ages
Since the Los Alamos newspaper had a small staff, I was able to meet everyone during my first week. This was so beneficial because everyone got comfortable seeing me around the office and talking with me.
My internship was back during the heyday of “American Idol,” and one couple who worked at the paper talked to me enough to know I watched the show every week. Since it was summer, “American Idol” wasn’t airing, but another spin-off rock-and-roll show was, so they would invite me over to watch with them.
A few of the other reporters were roommates who lived in Santa Fe, and they invited me over for dinner one time just to get to know me and talk to me outside of work. It was nice just to feel included in people’s plans.
But my greatest friendship of the summer was with our photographer, Gary, and his wife, Marilyn, who owned a local retail shop. Gary and I were the only ones who worked on Saturday story assignments, and we spent a lot of time covering other stories together during the week as well. We’d frequently grab lunch with Marilyn or stop by the store after covering an event. They were around my parents’ ages, so I felt like their adopted daughter for the summer, and it was so nice to have that support.
Gary and I were with each other for a lot of strange times as well. My first Saturday working, I locked my keys in the car and Gary had to pop the lock. Another time, he and I were working on a story at a nearby wildlife preserve and he slipped and his camera popped up and broke off his front tooth. Just going through those types of experiences with someone else definitely helps you feel less alone.
The most interesting thing is that by the end of the summer, I found myself feeling really sad about leaving everyone to go back to school. I had made new friends and I definitely felt like I was part of the team at the paper. Everyone threw me this really great surprise going-away party and I remember I almost cried.
And that’s when I knew I had conquered those feelings of isolation.