My parents moved across the country after I graduated high school, so I spent a lot of time during my freshman year questioning where I should go after the school year ended. The idea of “going home,” over the summer, to a new side of the continent where I knew no one had little appeal to me, so I resolved to find work and housing in my college’s town and try to get to know the area a little better.
The town itself is about 10 square miles, and roughly half of its population is made up of students attending the two colleges in the area. Because most of my friends returned home to see their friends and family for a few months while they had time off from school, I was alone, in a relative sense, for several months. I knew very few locals, and my knowledge of the area itself was scant at best.
Now, this summer marks the third year that I have stayed in this town. The past two years, I spent my days working, and my evenings left to my own devices. Being alone, however, doesn’t necessarily mean being unendingly bored.
Here are a few things I’ve learned trying to keep myself entertained alone in a small town.
1. Trust the Input of the Locals
This tip is mainly for people who are still getting used to living in a new place. Regardless of how big or busy an area is, it can be intimidating to integrate yourself into a new culture. Luckily, wherever you are, there are probably people who have lived there a long time and take pride in their community. If you want to get familiar with an area, consider these people a goldmine.
Some of the coolest information I’ve learned about my town has been from employees of local businesses and strangers I’ve made small talk with. These people know the ins and outs of the area, and might know of some local attractions that could make for a good afternoon adventure or even a fun excursion to add to a daily routine. Find out which cool places there are to explore, where to get the best food and what events are taking place soon.
On a similar note, ask around to any friends or family you trust, especially older ones; you might be surprised at what serendipitous connections people can have to isolated places. Anyone could be an excellent potential resource about goings-on in a particular area — the closer to your original home you are, the higher this likelihood might be.
2. Get a Summer Job in Town
Now that you have a break from the obligations of school, summer offers ample opportunity to make some money for the coming semester. And, because you spend so much time with your new coworkers, you have plenty of chances to get to know them and maybe even make plans for after work. While no job is constantly a blast, you might as well try to improve your general experience while grinding away.
By taking a job in a town you are unfamiliar over the summer with you are deliberately acquainting yourself with many of the intimacies that mark a small town’s dynamic. You’ll have an understanding for the economic and cultural ins-and-outs of the area. You’ll develop a deeper understanding of what attracts people to the town, and in turn how those people like to celebrate the community they maintain.
Working in a customer service position — a perspective-shattering form of education everyone should attempt to ascertain — will expose you to a diverse array of people with a wide variety of interests. Many people in the service and retail industry use their employment as a source of income to foster other passions. While results may vary, personally I wouldn’t have met some of my most valuable artistic connections had I not taken up work in a local restaurant.
This approach can be a grueling initiation ritual, but the benefits could very well outweigh the costs. While it might require long hours of hard work, you’ll be engrossed in an endless stream of insight into your temporary home while simultaneously accumulating funds to contribute directly to your experience in the town.
3. There Is No Shame in Keeping to Yourself
Night life or an active pursuit of new social circles is by no means the path for everyone. Sometimes making a slew of new acquaintances feels more like torture than a gratifying interpersonal adventure. You have absolutely no obligation to anyone to extend yourself beyond your social comfort zone, and there are plenty of ways to achieve experiential gratification by your own devices.
A good book can have the power to remove you from your own body and place you in a world beyond this reality’s most feasible wonders. Movies are longform visual, auditory and sensory stimulation literally designed to engage and entertain. One of my happiest memories from my own isolated summers was the week I spent discovering just how mind-blowing of an actor Daniel Day-Lewis is. We exist in a media-centric age, so we might as well enjoy the comfort it provides before those machines start playing us.
There are other, less conventional methods you can experiment with to alter your perspective during an isolated summer. Practices such as meditation and yoga have been used for millennia as a means for improving both spiritual and psychological health. One good session could alter your perspective if you go in with an open mind and a willingness to approach the work with an open mind. Similarly, many psychedelic experiences can lead users to new revelations about themselves and their lives. The human mind is a remarkable force, and as long as you are careful, you could find ways to expand your own without any influence outside of it.
No matter how exhilarating the warm nights might feel, no matter how lonely your lowest point of the season gets, the end of every summer is an inevitability. Try your best to enjoy any lowering of obligations the interim between semesters provides you, but before too long you’ll be back in your typical academic routine feeling right at home.