Today we have a special edition of My First Year Out. We caught up with your classmate Kristen Smith to hear what she has been up to for the past seven months since graduation. She shares her take on the changes, the challenges and the lessons.
Describe your first year out of UVM.
To be honest, I think that I (and many of my friends) have had an unusually difficult and tumultuous few months after graduating; there has been a lot of unexpected and expected death that I’m still grappling with. And I’m not going to sugarcoat what it’s like being out of school—for many of us, when we graduate we are stripped of our community and support system. It’s a really stark change that you can’t really prepare for.
With that being said, there have also been some awesome experiences since graduating that I wouldn’t have had if I were still in school. Over the summer I worked as pseudo-tour guide for Japanese high school students traveling to Boston and I made some pretty special friendships with people from Boston, Japan, and Egypt.
In August I moved to DC for a fall internship with National Geographic. Within a couple weeks of moving I realized how much free time I had in this new life of no school. At first this was unsettling because l didn’t know what to do with my weekday nights that were free of homework and papers and I wanted to go back to school ASAP. But once I accepted this new vacancy, I realized I could do whatever I wanted and that was a pretty cool feeling. I had always wanted to learn how to paint with oils, so I took a painting class, I went to poetry slams, I started volunteering at an urban farm, and I tutored English to immigrants in the DC area.
Post-grad can be draining because there are so many adjustments and new avenues we have to learn how to navigate, but it’s also this really cool time when, other than your boss, you don’t have to answer to anyone.
What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
I don’t know if there was one particularly large challenge but rather a bunch of small, unpredictable challenges, and I wouldn’t say I overcame them. I’m still adjusting, figuring out how to work with them, and how to be an advocate for myself.
The general lifestyle change of college to office was difficult because being on a computer all day is pretty brutal. I had a really hard time adjusting to the indoor, sedentary culture. But, there are ways around it. I’ll randomly take the stairs throughout the day, walk during my lunch break, and run at night when the monuments are lit up, which is pretty cool.
What did you learn from this experience?
I learned to make time for the things that make you happy, even if your coworkers think you’re an odd-kabob. At first I tried to get into what I assumed was a large part of DC culture(s), namely happy hour, but after sitting and working on a computer all day, I just wasn’t into it. I need a break after work and I would much rather go for a run or take a painting class than drink at a bar and “network.”
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to yourself as you prepared to graduate from UVM?
Jump in. Whatever you’re doing, immerse yourself and take advantage of the opportunities around you. Working as an intern at Nat Geo, I had access to pretty much every employee’s email. I cold emailed some of the writers from the magazine to setup meetings in order to hear about their work and career paths. To my surprise, people really respected the fact that I reached out, and were more than willing to chat. Through this effort I somehow ended up in the office of the executive editor of digital for Nat Geo and showed him a couple of my articles and learned how he became a standout journalist.
So put yourself out there, you never know where it might lead. But be intentional and thoughtful about who you reach out to—people can see through networking for the sake of networking. One of the magazine’s journalists told me that flattery goes a long way. In my case, she suggested that I reach out to one or two writers whose style and content I genuinely liked, and tell them that. So when you reach out to people and later meet them, be deliberate, prepared, and honest, and always write a thank you note.
What are you doing now and what are you looking to do next?
My internship with Nat Geo ended in mid-November, but they asked me to stay through the end of the year. So I’m working as a coordinator with my same team in the education department, and my role will probably turn into a full time position for the next year.
But recently I’ve been reading about master programs in dance/movement/art therapy. Dance and art have helped me a lot in dealing with grief, and I’m curious to see if this might be a career I’d want to pursue as a means to help people struggling with trauma and mental health issues. So I’m currently in the process of deciding if I want to stay at Nat Geo and ultimately give journalism a shot, or see if dance and art therapy might be more my thing. I still have a lot of figuring out to do, but I believe that if we can’t take risks now in our early twenties, when will we?