I slumped on a couch in a Los Angeles apartment, 34 hours from all my friends and family in Michigan. The workweek was over, and I had a three-day weekend ahead of me. With no concrete plans or new friends to spend time with, what was I supposed to do?
When I decided to move out to LA for six weeks to intern at FilmNation Entertainment, I had a vision of what internships are like embedded in my mind. I saw countless Snapchats and Instagram pictures of peers all around the world, interning at exotic places and making lifelong friends. But FilmNation was a small company with only a few interns, so I feared that working there would be completely different. I was afraid I wouldn’t meet anyone new, and I’d just wallow away my off-days alone. Well, that kind of is what happened.
Sure, I met some cool people at the internship. I did eat lunch with the other interns each workday. There was the dude I talked about True Detective with as we strolled down the streets of downtown Hollywood, and the girl who suggested places for me to visit in town. I just never saw any of them outside work.
I had all these fantasies of ways that my new acquaintances would change my life. While I sat in Grand Park on the Fourth of July, I imagined an improbably beautiful girl would sit next to me in the grass like Catherine in the moors and introduce herself to me, her Heathcliff. I walked around downtown LA silent that whole night, except for when I ordered a burrito. I was beginning to think that the most meaningful connection I’d made this summer was with the movie theater employee who asked me “You come here a lot, don’t you?” the last time I caught a matinee.
After a week or two working in LA, I took out a collection of senior photos from high school, on the back of which my friends had written notes. Abdullah had drawn me cats on his, and Paris, a girl who always joked that we were a married couple, wrote, “Our marriage may be fictitious, but my love for you is real.” I read them all and smiled, missing home. I’d never been homesick until this summer.
I’m not sure how I eventually learned how to deal with feeling alone thousands of miles from home. I wrote constantly in my journal, venting to an imaginary audience about how I couldn’t help but look forward to going home despite the utter beauty of LA. I Skyped with a couple friends from school, taking screenshots when their faces were frozen in funny positions. I had weekly calls with my parents to fill them in on my life.
I also started going everywhere. I visited museums. I watched movies at local theaters and attended Q&As where I heard Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman speak, geeking out over my sheer proximity to the people I’d always adored on TV. I went to three different beaches, stifling screams in the freezing cold ocean and sometimes just watching the tourists. I conducted casual interviews with Michigan alumni I’d never met. I ate greasy, delicious pizza from Joe’s in Santa Monica and succulent roast beef sandwiches from Top Round Roast Beef, a fast-food place like Arby’s but way better. I visited Griffith Park and made an exhausting walk up to the Griffith Observatory to get a look at the Hollywood Sign and the LA skyline. Standing there and looking out at the indescribable view, I felt liberated, and somehow, less alone.
There are certainly things you can do to fight off boredom during an internship far from home. In the end, though, it wasn’t some sudden change of heart—it was a slow transition.
What I do know is that before I went to LA, I’d never been more than an hour’s drive from my family and friends, having picked a college 45 minutes away from home. I never imagined myself as someone who’d be capable of living alone on the other side of the country for six weeks. Driving around by myself, relying on my own common sense to figure out what to do and how to make my own meals and even just getting gas periodically never seemed like a possible realities. I never imagined myself driving those 34 hours home entirely alone, booking my own motel rooms and planning my stops along the way.
I didn’t know what it was like outside of my little Midwestern bubble of comfort until I left. Even when some of my fears were confirmed, I found other ways to replace the life-changing companionships I failed to find. In a way, what I got in Los Angeles was more valuable than a bunch of new friends I’d never see again.
Okay, yeah, there’s a big part of me that still craves that worldly experience of going somewhere foreign and becoming part of a tight-knit family there. I did sometimes wish I’d been in a position to reach out or ask a coworker to hang out after work. But while I was there, I never felt that desperate need for company like I thought I did. Living alone, planning my own trips and dining out for one was actually cool, and when I thought about home, it became more wistful than lonely. I learned that I didn’t necessarily need a ton of new friends—I’m more independent than I thought. I think everyone is.