Born and raised in North Carolina, I had never strayed too far from my hometown.
I’d never seen an airport in person, let alone stepped foot onto an airplane. Then, last September, I was accepted to a study USA program at my university which would take me across the country to Los Angeles, California for a semester to intern and live in the city. At the time that I applied, I was feeling overwhelmed at school and wanted to get away, even if it was just for a semester. I felt so trapped in my life at school and at home that the chance to go anywhere for just a little while was an exhilarating idea. So at 21 years old, armed with nothing but a pillow pet and a playlist full of Gilmore Girl podcasts and Fall Out Boy records, I bumbled my way onto a five hour flight that would change my life.
I had no idea what the hell I was getting myself into. The program that I had been accepted into was geared towards cinema majors, which meant that I, being one of only two people who were not in that major, did not know anyone else. The first few days of the program were filled with group dinners and events which basically forced me to go against my introverted nature and get to know the other people in my program. As soon as our internships and classes started up however, I found out quickly that no one was going to be there to hold my hand and force me to talk to people.
The first day at my internship, I said about three sentences. I was horrified that I would say something stupid and become the annoying intern who talked too much, so instead I stayed quiet. Weeks passed and instead of trying new things, I feel deeper into the same routine. I’d go to work, not talk to anyone, get home and FaceTime my friends from home for hours. The social anxiety I’d suffered from growing up made it impossible for me to risk starting conversations with anyone I didn’t know very well for fear of being rejected. That had been fine when I was back in North Carolina, surrounded by familiar faces. But now, living in one of the most competitive professional cities in America and not knowing anyone, it contributed to making me miserable.
After a few weeks of loneliness and anxiety, I knew that I either had to overcome my fear, or I would waste this incredible opportunity I had been given.
That Monday, I went into class and read my work out loud, ate lunch with the other students, and made weekend plans. I went to my internship and started asking questions, gave my input, and even cracked a few jokes. It was not easy, and even though I got a positive reception from my peers and coworkers once I started showing more of my personality, I still spent hours agonizing over every little thing I said. But I kept putting myself out there, and eventually, I started to feel like I was really living in Los Angeles instead of just visiting. I made friends with strangers, served as a production assistant on a television set, received beaming compliments from my professors, and left my internship knowing that I had proven my skills and was more to them than just “the intern.”
When I look back at those four months I spent in California, I’m still stunned that I was able to thrive so far out of my comfort zone. However, I also know now that if I could succeed there, then I am able to do anything. Knowing that I am capable of anything, makes all the anxiety and uncertainty I went through just a part of a bigger journey.
Cover image courtesy of Getty Images.