It’s the end of winter semester and the start to summer. In high school, this time always brought me a sense of relief. The last day of school was the day I could finally let out my breath, which I must have been holding the entire nine months previous. It was here that I always resolved that for the next four months of summer, my time was my own!
When summertime came around in college, however, I found it a lot different of a feeling. At the last ring of the bell, I was expecting everyone to ecstatically throw down their textbooks (not the expensive ones, of course) and run out cheering, but I instead saw a lot of my friends keep a firm grip on their notebooks. Rather than jumping into an outdoor pool, they were jumping into another semester of classes.
Seeing so many of my peers give up their summer for the “higher cause” of education, I felt a little guilty in my desire to just sit back and relax. I considered those who stayed in school over the summer to be the “gods” of academia, the ones who had discovered the secret to mental immortality. It didn’t seem possible to me that anyone could go through two full semesters of school and still have the mental capacity to continue. And yet, I knew of students who had been taking classes for almost two years straight!
My First Summer
Seeing others have this type of scholastic endurance, I felt incompetent. I knew I’d never be able to keep my own brain gears rotating for another term over the summer. So when people would ask me if I was staying for another semester, I would say, “Heck no, I’d never be able to do that,” and try not to think much of it.
Interestingly, even though my own summer was full of very valuable experiences (I had a great full-time job), I felt a sense of ineptitude eating at me as I watched others speed through their schooling at a rate much faster than I. I especially didn’t like seeing others excel in summer classes while also working full-time, because that made my own job seem like less of an accomplishment.
So, when my next summer break came along, I did take classes. But I found a way to do so while also getting a vacation. My solution? I took classes abroad.
Mexico Study Abroad
And let me tell you, I am so glad that I did this—I would recommend studying abroad to anyone and everyone. The experiences that I gained when I went to Mexico were priceless, not to mention the valuable increase in my Spanish skills. So if you have any desire to go on a study abroad at all, I would definitely look into it. Summer is the perfect time to go, and there are generally a good amount of opportunities for scholarships as well. So don’t think that this option is out of your reach!
My only regret about this summer is that I was focused too much on the classes that I needed to take, and not enough on the experiences that I actually wanted. So rather than choosing a destination that I had always dreamed about, I chose one that had all the classes I would need. Because of this, I’ve since caught myself longingly looking at other study abroad programs with a slight tinge of regret.
What I wish I had done instead is chosen a study abroad that went to the country of my dreams, and not worried about the classes or the time I was taking away from my studies. It is summer, after all! It’s okay to take a little time away from your degree.
Come the next summer, I did things a bit differently, going with the next step in my pre-made plan. This time, I chose to do an internship to rake up a little experience for my resume. But because I now knew what I really wanted—that is, travel abroad—I made sure that I did that too. Since my goal had now become focused on traveling, what better time could there be than the summer to find an internship that took me out of my country?
I must say that this was also a good decision on my part. In addition to getting a little work experience, I loved seeing more of the world. I had wanted experience in multiple areas, the business world and the real world, and that’s what I got. Plus, I also checked off a few needed classes at the same time! Triple bonus. The internship gave me what I really wanted—I was able to get experience while also getting a vacation in a country I now love. I still got the break I needed but was able to take a step ahead in the world.
There’s really no better time than summer-time for something like this. While it may be tempting to stay in your college town and keep taking those classes, it’s also a good idea to think about the other options out there. There’s more than one way to get ahead, and you can do it without stressing your brain cells out too much.
A Different Experience
As you can see, up until now, all of my summers have been enjoyable and productive, even without being back at school taking classes. By doing things like studying abroad, working full-time, and getting an internship, I felt like I was accomplishing something, and that initial sense of incompetence didn’t bother me too much.
It wasn’t until this summer that I realized a different truth about summers in college. This time around, I had to face up to a summer where I really might not be doing anything. After getting married, I moved with my husband to a state I’d never visited before, with zero connections, and no options for taking online classes.
Suddenly, I was terrified. I immediately started trying to find a job, desperately telling my husband that I can’t just do nothing all summer. The more time that passed without any luck, the more frantic I became. My husband didn’t understand my desperation, and I don’t think I did either until now.
Change of Perspective
But since then, I’ve realized. Ever since I started college, I’ve felt this pressure to always do something, always push my life forward, without pause for breath. I had become an overtime student. Unfortunately, it took a lot longer for me to see this than it did for the writer of the post How I Learned to Value Myself as More than Just a Student. As a result, my summers—as amazing as they were—had become just another time for school.
But facing a possible job-less, class-less, and travel-less summer has surprisingly given me new purpose. I now know that it’s okay if I’m not taking spring or summer classes. It’s okay if I don’t have a full-time internship in my desired field. It’s quite alright to give my mind and body a needed break. I’m not incompetent by doing so. There are a lot of ways to keep my summer enjoyable and still get what I want out of it.
In fact, I already have created a long list of plans for my free time this summer. All of my old hobbies—talents I lost once school took over—I have enough time to catch up on those. I was also able to find a couple smaller jobs that give experience for my field. So really, even if I don’t find that perfect full-time position, I’ll feel accomplished as long as I keep up with my goals.
Less Obligation, More Enjoyment
So I come back to my high-school view and say, come summer-time, my time is my own! I do deserve a needed break from the stress of fall and winter semesters. But that doesn’t mean that I should take a break from my goals. No, summer is one of the best times to accomplish those! Whatever your goals be, you’ll finally have time to do them.
Just treat your summer as a time for you. As full-time students, time for us often gets left in the dust. It’s my strong belief that the summer is when we can pick it back up, dust it off, and give it the attention it deserves.
The important thing to remember is that everyone has unique strengths and unique goals. So of course each student’s summer will look different. Sure, there’s always going to be those academic gods who seem to never fall short in their mental capacities. They’ll go on continuing their summer classes, and maybe they’ll graduate a semester or two before you. But that’s okay. That was their goal, and they had the capacity to do it. But you don’t have to hold yourself to the same standard.
So whether you spend your summer taking classes, studying abroad, doing internships, working full-time, traveling with friends, or just learning new hobbies, be proud of it. Make sure it’s really what you want to be doing, and then just go out and do it!
You could make this next summer the best one yet.