What Are College Summers Like?

Presenting my Summer Experience Funding poster at Family Weekend this February.

It’s that time of year — everyone seems to be anxiously applying to programs/internships/jobs/research positions/funding etc. Over Family Weekend, standing in front of my CDO Summer Experience Funding poster, I fielded tons of questions from eager parents of first-year students. I’ve been asked the vague questions “Where do you want to be this summer?” and “What are your summer plans?” too many times, and I’ve probably asked them a few too many times, as well.

Just to give a glimpse into what summers can look like, I’ll give a brief description of my own summer experiences.

After my first year:

I did an internship with the China Institute, where I assisted with their “Summer Study in China Program” — basically, an exchange program for high school students from the US. For 4 weeks, the students lived in Beijing with host families, took language classes, participated in cultural activities, and went on field trips. My job was to be a point of communication for English-speaking students and their families, as I was the only native English speaker on the program staff. I took pictures and wrote daily blog entries for the website, communicated with American parents at home, dealt with issues that came up among students and host families, and worked with the staff to help organize and supervise various activities and excursions.

It was a lot of work, but also a great deal. The China Institute paid for my flights, housing, and two meals a day — it was basically a free trip to China! There were other Pomona students in Beijing at the time, so I was able to be around friends my age. I lived with a roommate, but I gained a lot of independence from getting around Beijing on my own. And my Chinese language skills definitely improved!

At the Great Wall with the high school students on the program.

After my second year:

I did an internship with Asylum Access, a refugee rights nonprofit run by a Pomona alumna, Emily Arnold-Fernandez ’99. Asylum Access empowers refugees in Africa, Asia, and Latin America using an innovative legal, rights-based approach. My internship was in Development and Communications, so I did a lot of writing — grantwriting, memo-writing, research, writing content for the website, outreach, etc. It was a full-time, 10-week internship, so I learned a lot and had a great time with the wonderful staff and the other brilliant interns.

This internship was unpaid, so I turned to Pomona’s Career Development Office. They run a Summer Experience Funding Program, where generous parent and alumni donors cover your transportation, lodging, food, and other necessary expenses. The grant I received was a giant help, as I would not have been able to do the internship otherwise.

I lived with another Pomona student and some Berkeley summer students in an apartment that we found on Craigslist. Besides finding our own housing, we also bought our own groceries, cooked our own food, and navigated public transportation in the Bay Area. I learned a ton from the internship itself, but I learned just as much, if not more, from the experience of living on my own.

In the Asylum Access offices with Alice Timken ’16 and Emily Arnold-Fernandez ’99.

After my third year:

That’s this upcoming summer, which also happens to be my last summer before I graduate from Pomona! I don’t yet have solid plans, but I have applied to a couple of Pomona funding programs (the Pacific Basin Institute Student Summer Grant and the Oldenborg International Research and Travel Grant) to do pre-thesis research in China. If all goes well, I will do that for 5-6 weeks, then spend some quality time at home afterward.

A final word on summer experiences: There are a ton of wonderful Pomona programs to help fund your summer plans (Summer Undergraduate Research Program, CDO Summer Experience Funding, various research grants across the disciplines to do research at Pomona or elsewhere) — and it’s great to take advantage of them. That said, summer is also a time to take a break and enjoy yourself, so don’t get too caught up in the grind. It’s 100% OK to go home and work, to value spending time with your loved ones more than building a resume, to step away from the sometimes-toxic intern culture, and to be confused and unsure of what you want to do. Rest assured, you’ll figure it out sooner or later.