“I’m going to be home for the summer. What about you?”
The more people I talked to, the deeper the sinking feeling in my gut grew: I was going to be alone for the summer.
After the spring of 2020, I had accepted an internship at Art with a Heart, a nonprofit in Baltimore. In other words, I was spending my summer in the city. Coming out of a semester of remote learning, most of my friends were staying put in the suburbs until the fall semester began, leaving me without a roommate to sublet hunt with.
I was excited and grateful for the work opportunity that summer, so why did I still feel uneasy about the next few months? I had been in Baltimore this whole time, from arriving my freshman fall and returning my sophomore year spring. In fact, I’d been here considerably longer than other people my year, most of whom have stayed at home ever since we were sent home that March.
I found a studio available on a Facebook renting page. After touring the place and agreeing to the rent payment, the sinking feeling returned.
Friends and family kept asking me things like, “Are you excited for the summer?”
Wrestling with my thoughts, I realized that it wasn’t dread but just a sense of newness. I’ve never lived alone before. I always had a roommate, a resident advisor, a dining plan, classes to attend each day — a clear purpose for being here. I was a student at a university that happened to be in this city. But this summer, that was gone. I was just a person living in Baltimore. There were no expectations for how I’d spend my time outside of work or who I would see.
My sister arrived in Baltimore shortly after the summer began. It was her last summer before she went back to graduate school, so she stopped by Maryland to visit.
Before she came, I sat down and frantically wrote down all the things we could do. Living alone, I’d easily let myself spend my evenings on my couch. Being in charge of someone else’s time lit a fire under me. I had to find all the things we could do.
When she was here, we went to a new neighborhood every week, exploring places that even I had never seen before. We got pastries from Café Dear Leon and walked around the Canton waterfront. We finally tried Baltimore snowballs (and went back three more times during her visit).
I’d call her on my drive back home.
“My supervisor told me about this ice cream place next to Patterson Park. Do you want to go? I’ll be there in ten.”
After her visit, I couldn’t help but wonder what else Baltimore was offering that I hadn’t seen yet.
Even my initial worries of not having any friends in the city morphed into a good thing. Not having a default group of people to hang out with gave me the space to spend time with anyone. I ran into an acquaintance at a coffee shop, and we ended up spending the rest of the day together, chatting and walking around Hampden. On another day, I went to Lake Montebello with a new friend, and we joined a group hiking through Herring Run Park on a whim.
I’m not sure what it was about that summer, but I felt like my eyes had grown wider, eager to absorb everything around me. Maybe it was having a car and being able to break free from the sporadic schedule of the buses. Maybe it was my new work schedule, which allowed me to really step away from my responsibilities at the end of each day. Maybe it was the space I had, free from my friends, free from my role as a student and the expectations I had for myself as a Hopkins student.
The summer pushed me into an unfamiliar space. I saw what Baltimore had outside of the Homewood campus. Baltimore is full of people who are pursuing what they love in a city they love. In no other place have I drawn out conversations with people that I’d met on a hike or with enthusiastic owners of vegan ice cream shops.
I’ve always felt the need to justify choosing to be in this city, let alone enjoying my time here. But that summer, I was surrounded by people who didn’t demand that from me. These people were just happy to be here. Being around them showed me that I’m happy here, too.
Now, if anyone asks me if I want to explore an unfamiliar place, my answer will be, “Yes, absolutely.”
Jocelyn Shan is a senior from Carmel, Ind. studying Public Health and Psychology.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.