For me, a chimpanzee screaming at an encroaching hurricane is right up there with ice cream vans, picnics, and washed-out barbecues, as typical imagery I associate with summertime. At this moment (the first week of July as I write this) in years gone by, I would normally expect to have the cries of the meteorologically prophetic primates, cut off by a school bell, as my physics teacher would pause ‘The day after tomorrow’, halfway through our regular afternoon lesson to let me and all my other secondary school classmates go home for the summer. I describe this previously annual event not merely to celebrate an underrated 2004 disaster movie classic (which teachers would “allow” us to watch at the end of term for its “scientific educational value”), but to illustrate a point about the complicated meaning of summer for a university student. For my school aged self, this moment represented the beginning of the six-week summer holidays; which I could expect to spend resting, doing very little, and then buying overpriced school supplies from WHSmith in preparation for September. As University students, for many of us I believe the phrase ‘summer holidays’, comes with very different expectations attached.
Most of us started our summers over a month ago, and that summer is no longer a free pass to do nothing until fresher’s week. Instead, a combination of academic, career, and personal imperatives, force us to feel on edge about spending any free time relaxing. The list of pressures weighing on any given student’s mind over the summer can include: finding an internship to build their CV, working to make money for the rest of the year, completing set work or reading in preparation for their next academic year, developing interesting extracurricular passions in their “free time” like writing, catching up on all the bands, books and movies they learned about from Uni friends last year, trying to arrange housing for the next year, cleaning everything to get back last year’s deposit, finding time to get together with friends from home now spread out across the country or the world, somehow going abroad themselves and trying to lose the weight built up from a university diet. As I sweated away in un-air-conditioned heat in the library, trying in vain to write a dissertation proposal, whilst simultaneously contemplating all these other tasks, I began to question how anyone could call this a holiday.
While I might have exaggerated how much pressure most of you will face this summer, I do think there is some universal truth for all of us that the student summer is uniquely difficult. It comes at a strange time in our lives when we’re between school (where you could essentially turn your brain off after 3:15 every-day), and our future careers, where full time work doesn’t take any break over the summer. We face a conflict between trying to enjoy our last opportunity to do nothing productive, or to try and do something useful to prepare for a future that will swiftly arrive in the form of the next year of university and then graduation.
Perhaps I’m overthinking this, or perhaps I’m thinking about it this way for more personal reasons. In the coming week, I’ll be turning 20 (in fact it will almost certainly have happened by the time you get to read this). As my 3rd decade of life, my 3rd year of university (and my first year of trying to write a column!) begin, the future seems a lot closer this summer than it ever has been before. As I look back at the past, I find both nostalgia for those summers of the past, but also a sense that 10-year-old me thought I would have a lot more of my future figured out by now.
If you have permitted my self-indulgent nostalgia so far, then good news I’m about to get to the point. Which is, that whatever is beginning or ending for you this summer, whether you’re feeling awkward that this is your last summer as a teenager or you’re just worried about getting nothing done before fresher’s, don’t. University can feel like such a momentous and important time – even more so when you don’t have the distractions of term – that it is easy to get worried about the future or yearn for simpler times. The easiest way to get around this is just not to think about it, live in the moment. Let’s be honest, you’re going to lie about doing the reading for several seminars next year anyway, you might as well start now. Why worry about not reaching abstract goals you set yourself this summer, when in a few months there will be real deadlines to lose sleep about? Instead, just enjoy this summer in the present, it’ll be over sooner than you think.
This is my first entry for my new column: Support Structure (get it!). I will be writing about the perils of life at University regularly throughout the year here, so if you liked this, keep checking back here for more.