Finally, summer! How long-awaited you are, summertime!
As much as I love school, there’s nothing quite like the rush of all of your responsibilities disappearing all at once. And after a particularly stressful semester, I was more than happy to bust out the front door of dormitory and never look back (until next fall, that is).
And even though I might not be finished recording my daring adventures in the Middle East from last summer (which yeah… I totally dropped the ball on that), life moves on and I’ve already picked up my roots and replanted myself somewhere new for the summer. Determined to get an internship in the field I’m hoping to go into, I applied to internships all over the country for and landed an opportunity in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
As glamorous as moving out to NYC or exciting as a California summer? Hardly. But I feel lucky that I was able to get an internship in this field at all given my (lack of) experience and training, and at least it’s in the Midwest which is close enough to home. Plus I’d never seen the Great Lakes before, and hadn’t spent much time up north.
It feels a bit weird blogging about being here because I’m not exactly traveling. No hotels, no itineraries, no tour guides. But I also don’t exactly feel like part of the city either, and my apartment is only a sublease. I made the mistake of thinking that this is temporary without realizing that three months is a long time. I didn’t pack nearly enough clothes and skimped on decorations, thinking it would just take up too much space. I was pretty unprepared.
It wasn’t until a few days before I left that the gravity of reality began to weigh down on me, and I realized that I was going to be entirely alone, which wasn’t something that really occurred to me before. Just me, and this big city. No friends, no family. In 21 years of life, I had never actually been alone. Parents, siblings, roommates, friends, relatives, whatever– there had always been someone there, someone to go to lunch with or hang out with in evenings. For the first time, I had no one. No one to talk to, no one to eat dinner with, no one to share experiences with.
It was nerve-wracking at first. Really upsetting and really hard. A seven hour drive is difficult enough when you do know where you’re going and have some idea of what your destination looks like. But circling one way streets and accidentally getting on the wrong highway multiple times after Google Maps totally freezes while having no idea what the outside of your apartment building even looks like is, well, pretty terrible.
Sweat drenched and anxious enough to have a heart attack in the front lobby, I met with my landlord who is a very large Italian man with an extremely thick accent. Rings encircled almost every one of his fingers and with a fat cigar tucked in his left hand. The room was filled with smoke. Oh my god, I thought at as he turned in his swivel chair to face me. The only thing missing is a fluffy white cat on his lap. At least I know I’m safe from the Milwaukee mafia.
I got the keys and unloaded my car into the bare apartment. The air conditioning had been off for several days since the last tenant moved out and it was stiflingly hot. I opened the window to let in some air and realized, I had no idea where in the hell I was. No idea what buildings were to my right or left. No idea what that street lead to. No idea where any restaurants or grocery stores or gas stations were. I was alone, in an unfamiliar place, 10 hours from my hometown.
I might have had a small anxiety attack. This was a terrible idea, I told myself, hyperventilating out the window. Why did I do this? This was a stupid idea. I’m so stupid. I never should have done this. The first few days, I mostly threw myself a pity party and switched between unpacking and laying listlessly in bed. I found out quickly there was a little convenience store only a block from where I lived and bought myself all of the junk food that I could carry, drowning my insecurity in french fries and ice cream.
But once I got all unpacked and hung my stuff on the walls, the apartment started to feel much more like home. I explored the area and got to know the city. I really fell in love with this little apartment, especially my tiny kitchen. The first time I went to cook something on the stove, I turned it on and was alarmed when a fire erupted underneath the burner! I thought I had done something terribly wrong, but quickly realized that the stove and oven run on gas and not electricity like I’m used to. But I like it much better than electricity!
My apartment is a little studio apartment in the downtown area, near one of the universities in Milwaukee. It’s small but very cozy and has everything that I need, and the next street over has lots of restaurants and convenience stores. The area is very college-y. From my window, I can see three Greek houses, with two more across the street from me. It feels very safe and since it’s so close to the university, the university security system extends all the way down the block.
One thing that I didn’t do before I moved here, since I had a very short time frame and limited resources to find an apartment, was research neighborhoods. I had no idea where I was actually going to be living, no frame of reference for the area. And strangely, even though I’m right in the heart of downtown, there is zero nightlife down here. Everything closes at 9 pm. There’s no fun things to do either, like movie theaters or bars. And I just thought that Milwaukee was a boring city until a friend at work took me up north to an area called Riverwest, which is apparently where all of the nightlife and entertainment is.
On multiple occasions I have described to people where I live, with interesting reactions. Most people describe the area as “really weird”, with a strange mixture of churches, missions, poverty-stricken streets, and the college area nearby. One guy laughed and told me that I was living in the ghetto, which I was really taken aback by, until I ventured out several streets away from the college and realized the area is really poor. Milwaukee is the most segregated city in America, and you can tell immediately when you pass from a predominantly white area into a predominantly black one. It’s a real shame.
For a while this caused me to really resent the area, and I spent a lot of time wishing that I had chosen an apartment in Riverwest instead. But, as strange as this little neighborhood is, I’ve grown to appreciate the charm of the old houses and quiet streets. Quiet except for when the garbage truck comes at 6am on Tuesday mornings, the obnoxious drunk college kids at the fraternity on the corner, the screaming and crying baby in the apartment next door, and the honks, screeching, and sirens from traffic on the next street over. But hey, that’s what living in a city is all about, right?
I love cities. I can’t explain it. There’s something about the shade of skyscrapers, the beautiful architecture, the busy streets, and big crowds of people that I just love. It feels like there’s always something going on, always something to do, always somewhere to go. I love being surrounded by other people. And sure, it’s not as high-stress or crowded as New York City, but that doesn’t make Milwaukee any less of a city. Anything that doesn’t resemble my suburban upbringing is a city to me.
I love my morning commute. If I’m having a bad day or had a stressful time at work, as soon as I step out onto the sidewalk I feel better and I notice myself smiling. Usually I walk to work, just because of carbon emissions, never finding a place to park, and honestly it’s just not any faster to drive. For the first two weeks when I didn’t have a bus pass and couldn’t figure out how the public transportation system worked, I walked everywhere. I walked to my internship, I walked to get groceries, I walked to new places. I was walking probably close to 4-5 miles a day. It was exhausting. The one time I did drive to work I accidentally ended up on the highway and got hopelessly lost, so I just decided that walking was easier.
I did eventually get a bus pass, which saved me a lot of time in the mornings. Walking to work takes a good 40 minutes, but with the bus I can get there in about 25. Up until that point, I had never used public transportation before. One time, when I was in New York, I took a taxi, but other than that I had always driven. I had always been warned against taking buses. It was always too dangerous or too unreliable or in too late at night.
And despite all of my suburban hesitations, riding a city bus turned out to be exactly like riding a school bus. In fact, one time I even got on a bus filled with a massive group of elementary school students taking a field trip downtown, and it was the cutest thing I’ve experienced so far. A bunch of them talked to me and asked my name and told me I was pretty. It really made my morning.
That is not to say that creepy people also haven’t tried to talk me up on the bus. But that’s when I learned the power of wearing headphones in public, which for the most part deters anyone who may be trying to catcall/hit on/be generally creepy towards you. Most of the time I don’t even listen to music.
And, of course, I love my internship. And honestly, that’s what has made this whole thing worth it. Now that I’ve started doing actual work in this field, I realize this is the only thing that I want to be doing with the rest of my life. The days pass by so quickly, even though I’m working for seven hours, I feel like I was in and out of the door in the blink of an eye. I feel like the work that I do is really meaningful and the people I work with are so passionate and kind. I couldn’t be happier working there.
That being said, not everything has been beautiful and wonderful. My apartment is on the cheaper end (in fact, when I told my co-intern how much I was renting for, she was shocked that I had found a place for so little), but it’s still more than I had planned on spending this summer and money has been really stressing me out. I’ve been trying to live without electricity, using candles at night. The only electricity I used on a regular basis is to run my refrigerator and charge my phone and laptop, but I try to charge them at work as often as possible. I buy very few groceries and pack my lunch nearly every day. And still, I don’t even have enough money to afford to buy a bike, so I applied for a part time job that I can do in the evenings and on the weekends. That starts next week, so hopefully things will improve even if it means I will have a lot less free time.
The other real challenge that I really didn’t expect is how lonely it is to live by yourself. And how hard it is to make friends as an adult. In college you make friends quickly because your constantly forced into social environments living in dorms and going to classes. But in the “real world” everybody already has friends and few people are on the lookout for new relationships. There really needs to be a Tinder app that’s for making friends and not dating because it’s so hard to move to a new place and not know anybody.
But I am so grateful for the people who have opened their doors and their hearts to me. The people here are so nice, especially the people I work with. But I miss my fiancée, my family, my friends, and my cat. And as much as I’ve begun to settle, nothing really ever replaces the feeling of truly being home.
I hate to end on a negative note like that, but this post has already gotten way too long and I haven’t covered even half of what I wanted to! But thank you so much for sharing this journey with me, and be on the lookout for another post very soon where I’ll actually talk about some places I visited and activities in Milwaukee.