College Polish

06.15.134:45 AM ET

The Prudent Student’s Guide to Summer Break

School’s out—now what?

The semester is over— you are standing outside your dorm, suitcases in hand, squinting into the sunlight, trying to decide what’s next. Technically, you’re still a college student, but classes are out. So what now? Hopefully, you’ve secured some kind of job, but there are still hours upon hours of free time before you. Every student feels it’s her own existential issue, but there are patterns of behavior they all follow. 

Almost everyone starts with PSH (Post-Semester Hibernation). It’s a natural biological reaction to months of over-caffeination. When you’ve taken your last final, nothing sounds better than a 12-hour snooze followed by 8 hours of How I Met Your Mother. So, inevitably, in the first few days of break, you take to bed with your laptop, a snuggie, and the contents of your parents’ cupboard, and you mentally depart. The length of this hibernation depends on how taxing your finals were and affects how disgusting you will let yourself become. A week after school ended,  I found myself cocooned in my sheets, cereal flecks and chocolate smears across my pillow, watching my fifth consecutive episode of Lizzie McGuire on YouTube.

After the inevitable hibernation, different students find different approaches to filling their free time. Some spend their days scooping ice cream; others throw themselves into a thankless internship in their field. Becoming compulsive about uniform sprinkle distribution or paper-edge-parallel stapling is a good way to convince yourself you’re achieving something important.

Another approach is the return to study, preparing for a life of scholarship to make up for your inadequacy in the real world. In past summers, I would bring a big tote bag filled with books— Dickens, Woolf, and Austen— to the library; I would read a few pages into Great Expectations and look up as I started thinking about how responsible and academic I was being. I would glance around to see if other people were noticing my studiousness. I’d count a few tiles on the ceiling and then decide I needed to use the bathroom, and really after that I should pop out quickly to get a snack. Before I knew it, I’d have migrated to a comfy chair, eating a donut, fifty pages through a Nora Roberts novel.

I used to think these were the only options: to delay your future or to try to prepare for it, but I’ve realized there is another choice, one that is based in the present. The last option can’t be easily encapsulated in a single term, but is close to the idea of engaging in “pastimes” or “hobbies” (I use hobbies in the more all-encompassing and less finicky, stamp-collecting sense of the word). Basically, doing something pleasurable, interesting, and noncompetitive. The activity could be as large as travelling to Greece to see the Parthenon, or as small as finding the nearest spot of nature and just sitting in some grass, maybe writing a bad poem about it. It could be cooking stews, or dancing flamenco, or reading Latin American poetry.  The idea of this time spent engaging in non-work-related activities is to simply let all the exhilaration, excitement, and clichés of living wash over you. Too often we get caught up in the mindset that if we’re not working, we’re recovering so we can do more work. It’s good to take some time to do neither. Nevertheless, pastimes also have their downsides: even if you can play “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the ukulele and paint a convincing watercolor portrait, these skills alone do not make up an entire lifestyle.

You’ve heard it a thousand times from inspirational posters, but life’s supposed to be a balance of things, in this case of work, rest, and pastimes. What everyone fails to mention is that, realistically, a perfect balance is almost impossible to achieve and most often we fall into extremes. And being young and on summer vacation is all about being unbalanced: you can identify your friends as “the sloth,” “the workaholic,” and “the perpetual dabbler.” As you live through more and more summers, your unbalanced life wobbles along as you spend varying hours in the three categories, trying them all and eventually finding the lack of equilibrium that suits your own needs. In a matter of months, you will have to unsteadily enter the adult world—this may be the last chance you have to obsess over your resume, ponder Plato, or just plain vegetate.

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