How Denver Burst My College Bubble

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When you look back on your freshman year of college, do you think, “That’s when I grew up”?

Nope, me either. But I had that moment a few years later. I spent the entire summer of 2015 interning for Ibotta, Inc. in Denver while living with my brother, Kyle, and sleeping on an air mattress. This was the first time I was more than a two-hour drive from my family or without my closest friends at my beck and call.

Besides Kyle, I was completely alone.

The night before my first day at Ibotta, it felt like I had 50 butterflies fluttering in the pit of my stomach. The only thing easing my jitters was that Kyle also worked at Ibotta and would show me the ropes. In the morning, he did just that. Looking back on it, I’m sure he felt like he was taking a four-year-old to school for the first time. I was one step away from making him hold my hand.

But the more people I met on my first day, the more butterflies flew out of my stomach. The real world wasn’t so scary–I just had to take off my light-up sneakers and put on my grown-up heels. Over the course of the internship, I learned more than I had in my entire previous semester at school. On paper, that was the most important outcome of my summer.

However, my real takeaways were what I learned living (almost) on my own in a new city. Although learning how to not set off the fire alarm from a toaster and appropriate places to keep a hot straightener (not my brother’s carpet) came in handy, I learned the most from what I did outside of the apartment.

My first weekend there, I was left alone. Trying to get into the outdoorsy vibe of Denver, I left the house, rented a “B-Cycle” and started riding around the city. On my journey, I realized I’d never explored a new city completely alone–I always had family or friends to help guide my explorations. But that day, and the whole summer, it was all up to me.

I rode around downtown and found a path along a river that extended throughout the entire city. I discovered stadiums, stores and an amusement park. I even got lost and found my way home with my faithful iPhone. But getting lost is all part of the exploring experience.

That first weekend alone set the bar for my summer. I enjoyed exploring alone and realized I didn’t need a best friend to do everything with, like I always did at school.

I wanted to meet new people who shared my passion for discovering Denver. Kyle and his friends were great companions, but I thought I’d go crazy if I didn’t start hanging out with people my own age again.

I began to reach out to the other interns at work and planned activities for us like movies, concerts and even excursions to the farmers market. It was nerve-wracking to invite people I barely knew to hang out with me, but making that step sparked close friendships with people I never would have gotten to know if I didn’t take that risk.

I forced myself to go on lunch dates with not only the other interns, but other employees in the office. Just listening to what they had to say about their careers or their lives outside of work fascinated me. I even learned how to share my own stories without feeling like an immature college student.

If you have the opportunity to spend a summer in a new city where you know very few people, you should go for it. Not only did I leave my comfort zone in the dust, but I also got a little taste of what life will be like after college.

When you’re in a new city, make sure you know how to work a toaster and a straightener–but don’t be afraid to roam aimlessly around the city alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you barely know, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to take a chance.

You’ll eventually be back at your college in the fall and all your friends will be right where you left them. But you’ll bring back a great learning experience to keep with you both for your resume, but most importantly, for life.

Danae is a junior at the University of Wisconsin—Madison studying journalism and digital studies. She loves dancing the night away and hopes to someday call Denver home.

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