Summer Opportunities: For You or Your Resumé?

Eager representatives flanked by bright posters of faraway lands filled the Cage. My friend and I entered, paused and looked around. Cautiously, we began to make our way through the maze of 80 or so tables. We had yet to take a few steps before representatives trying to get our attention besieged us. Eye contact was deadly. I spotted a banner with “internships” in its title and pulled my friend to safety. I cannot say whether or not I had any expectations for what I would find at the Summer Opportunities Fair, but I can say that I did not anticipate hearing what I did. The first woman I talked to was the director of a summer internship program. She described how her program matched high school and college students with suitable internships in the local Boston area. I thought that this sounded like a pretty good proposal until the woman got to the recommendation portion of the program. After completing a respective internship, each participant would receive a letter of recommendation from his or her respective employer. From there, the student could use this recommendation in his or her resumé or college application. It is very hard to describe how much this woman stressed the participation in this program as an aid for getting into college. I was taken aback by her proclamation and when I asked her how many students partake in this program with college in mind, she said “at least half.” Now for me, this was an instant turnoff. I have no desire, whatsoever, to participate in a program whose sole intention is to help me get into college. I was simply interested in pursuing a curiosity in business, scientific research or maybe even journalism. My friend pointed out another table with a representative from a different summer internship program. I walked over and began to ask the representative about the program and job offerings. In return, I got a sales pitch I found equally appalling: a brief description of what the internship entailed and then a extensive explanation of some of the other activities the program provided: trips to Red Sox games, duck tours and weekend beach excursions. My hope to find a summer internship program quickly faded away. Now, one could say that maybe these programs were misrepresented, but a number of other people I spoke with repeatedly emphasized the local excursions to go shopping or ways to add this experience to a college application. The stands for other programs, such as language studies abroad, cultural discoveries or outdoor expeditions were not much different. So what are the merits of these programs? Are they worth it? Will it hurt your chances of getting into college if you do not travel halfway across the world to build houses in Tahiti? First off, nothing can replace the experience of getting out of your comfort zone. For many kids this would mean traveling far from home with people they have never met, something that these programs do offer. The opportunity to see how other people live their daily lives is an empowering experience and one that everyone should have the chance to do. That being said, the majority of these expeditions come with a hefty price tag. For the average three to six weeks, most trips cost at least four to six thousand dollars. Factor in airfare, medical expenses, food and the floundering American dollar, and you arrive at a very expensive summer program. Additionally, many of the program descriptions can be deceiving. Simply traveling to a third world country, staying in the nicest hotels and climbing the local mountain does not qualify as an empowering experience. Language immersion, for example, is not just spending time in a country where the common language is Spanish. If “home-stay” is checked off as one of the components of the trip, make sure to investigate this means. How long will you be staying with a family? Will you be alone? Who can you contact if you get sick? As far as colleges are concerned, I cannot tell you whether or not a summer studying at Oxford will improve your chances of getting into college. Moreover, people that are persuaded by the brochures that quote Susie as saying “this trip to Venezuela gave me a great idea for my college essay!” are in my opinion seriously misguided. You should go on these trips for the experience, not to build your resumé. Quite honestly, I believe that there are plenty of other things you could find to write about; one of these programs is not necessary for a meaningful essay. A college admissions interviewer once said that the best college essay he ever read was about a boy who spent his summer working at McDonald’s. Furthermore, many parents and even kids are unaware of the programs their schools offer. Specifically at Andover there are summer study programs in Spain and France, an archeological exploration in Latin America and a community service trip to India. As these trips are organized by faculty that know the local areas and speak the language, on the school’s programs a trusted adult is held responsible for students’ wellbeing. Detailed seminars are held explaining the purpose and details of each trip and meetings are arranged to discuss logistics and answer questions for those that apply. Seth Bardo, Instructor in English, dreams of one day incorporating a term of academic study and travel abroad into the Andover curriculum. He said, “During the spring term of a student’s Senior year, students and faculty would be able to get together in an interdisciplinary course with three weeks of intensive study at Andover and five weeks of travel in the respective country.” Logistics aside, a program like this would incorporate faculty from the English, music or history departments, for instance. Regarding many global issues, he said, “One really has to travel to that place to understand the issues at hand.” As a whole these programs would bring together the idea of “global citizenship.” All in all, most kids will have a great time wherever they go. If, however, you want to pick the program that best suits your interests, the program with the most safety and supervision and the program that you will get your money’s worth out of, make sure to investigate your options. This does not mean reading over all the quotes from Max who got into Harvard and “had a truly unforgettable experience.” This means talking to former participants and calling the program offices and asking how many hours of community service you will be doing, who will be with you on the rainforest safari or what exactly “hostelling” may mean. While many people left the fair with free T-shirts, pens, candy, DVDs and brightly colored brochures, I hope that they will see beyond the photographs of smiling participants and sunny destinations. A summer spent reading books or scooping ice cream would not be the end of the world. Think fun, think relaxing and think of the opportunity to enjoy the several weeks of freedom to do whatever your heart desires.