Oberlin Blogs

Winter in California: Burritos and Ending Social Isolation

January 19, 2016

Winter Term is here! I'm home in California, consuming as many burritos as I can and soaking up every minute with my family. During the week, I am an intern at Beyond Differences, an incredible non-profit organization with the goal of ending social isolation. Beyond Differences is located about 40 miles from my house, which makes for quite the morning commute, but I couldn't be happier with how my first Winter Term is going so far.

This is the ideal internship for me, as I get to learn about non-profit work and help to end social isolation. Social isolation is a topic very close to my heart, as it was a big part of my middle school experience. In eighth grade, my classmates would throw food at the table where my friends and I sat during lunchtime, and often wouldn't pay attention to us when we tried to talk to them. Being bullied and isolated made me anxious to go to school, and affected my confidence for years afterward. Appropriately, most of the work I'm doing at Beyond Differences this month is in preparation for our big event called No One Eats Alone (NOEA) Day on February 12. NOEA encourages kids to be more inclusive through student-led activities and fun tools like conversation cards. If you have a connection to an elementary, middle, or high school and would like to sign them up for NOEA, you can visit NoOneEatsAlone.org!

My internship has definitely given me opportunities for growth. For example, making phone calls has always made me really anxious; so last week, when my supervisor gave me a list of about 50 calls to make in an afternoon, I froze, a nervous, tickly feeling in my stomach. For the first time at my internship, I thought I wouldn't be able to do my work. What would I say if someone got upset at me for calling at a bad time or responded rudely to my questions? After sitting around for a few minutes, I realized that, one way or another, the work had to be completed. So I started calling. And yeah, a few people were irritated with me - I even got hung up on a few times. But most people were super kind, patient, and interested in what I had to say. I even talked to someone entirely in Spanish! On the phone! That was amazing, because I took an intermediate Spanish class last semester; getting to apply what I had learned was really fulfilling. Going into my internship, I knew that improving my communication skills was one of my major goals; though I'm sure I'll still complain whenever I have to make phone calls, I've learned a lot about how to speak effectively with strangers and have (kind of) gotten over my anxiety about it. I've really surprised myself - guess what, Kira, you can do things that scare you! And maybe even do them successfully!

Another thing I love about my internship is the time I get to spend with people of different ages and backgrounds. I work in an office with three colleagues, with many others spread out around California and Oregon who join us on bi-weekly conference calls. Everyone has been very generous, and they let me ask as many questions as necessary. I feel like a valuable part of the team!

Kira and Jenny in front a truck full of boxes
With my awesome colleague Jenny in front of a U-Haul full of boxes for No One Eats Alone Day!
Living at home has been amazing. I spend almost all of my free time with my family and my pets, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Sometimes it's hard to think of leaving, since I'm so comfortable here. But at the same time, I miss Oberlin! I've realized more than ever since being home that it is very hard to have your heart in two places. For the time being, I will never not be missing someone. When I'm home, part of me is still in Oberlin, eagerly awaiting Snapchats of the snow, and I miss my boyfriend and wonderful friends. When I'm at Oberlin, I miss laughing with my family, taking showers without shoes on, and driving the familiar streets of my town. Still, it's all worth it. I'm really happy: cherishing my time at home and at Beyond Differences, but confident that I have another home waiting for me in Ohio, with all the people and places I've come to love over the past semester.
 
That being said, not all of my friends are living at home for Winter Term. The broad spectrum of projects they are undertaking is incredible, from working with elephants in Thailand to writing a TV pilot to helping register people to vote. One of my friends collected anonymous secrets from her Facebook friends, which she is illustrating and will display in a show at the end of the month. The bottom line is that Winter Term is what you make it! For me, it's all about going out into the world and taking risks - and I love it.
 

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