I don’t remember the last summer I laid in bed and slept until noon every day for months. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the lack of responsibility or the taste of freedom of a hot, June day. Since freshman year of high school, I’ve been thrown into collegiate summer institutes, volleyball trainings and summer camps. I’ve had to wake up at 7 a.m., take SAT exams and work for eight hours every single day, never taking a rest from the school year.
Being productive every summer since was 13 has almost caused me to burn out. I was only given one week to rest during the summer before starting the school cycle all over again. I don’t hate my past summer experiences — in fact, I loved them. Making friends, polishing those college apps and spiking volleyballs was fun.
Sometimes, I do wish I had been home more. I could have spent more time with my family, vacationing together or simply lounging by the pool with them. Instead, I flew across the country to sit in a classroom and learn skills about a test that is probably insignificant to the rest of my academic career.
Entering college, I was thrown again into studious, long nights and sleep-deprived weekends. As winter quarter drags me back and forth with its midterms and papers, I can only eagerly anticipate the summer. A summer where I can sit by the beach reading a Nicholas Sparks book. Where I can sleep without the worry of having to set an alarm or where I can live in pajamas rather than business attire.
Naturally, in a competitive college campus, this is not the plan for many of my other peers. As soon as fall quarter began to wind down, there was talk of internships and fellowships and jobs. Names like Google, Facebook and other tech companies suddenly emerged in everyday conversations.
Over winter break I danced around the Christmas tree and sang karaoke on New Year’s Eve, completely ignoring any creeping thoughts of applications. I couldn’t escape the inevitable emails about SIG fellowships or SWIB internships for the summer. Info sessions and office hours about opportunities like Cardinal Quarter were sent around in mass email chains. On campus after winter break, the reminder of the importance of doing something meaningful during the summer became much stronger.
Is there anything wrong with working an internship over the summer? Of course not. In fact, it’s pretty remarkable that you can work perhaps 20 units each quarter and still have enough fuel to work for 10 more weeks over the summer. Internships build resumes and experience, and if you’re lucky enough, there’s some sort of compensation involved.
However, there is this unofficial norm on campus that if you’re not doing something this summer, you need to justify your failure to find something of “value” to do, whether that’s a desk job or a European self-exploration journey.
We need to normalize staying home over the summer. We, as an undergraduate community, need to move past raising condescending eyebrows and shocked expressions when someone says they’re not working for 10 straight weeks as a research assistant or marketing intern. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break to be a beach bum or a couch potato.
There has been an overwhelming amount of conditioning to believe that if college students aren’t working somewhere, then they’re lazy. “You’re wasting precious resume space on watching a new Netflix series!” can perhaps be a valid argument, but so is “my mental health is important, so I’m staying home to recharge for the next school year.”
There shouldn’t be any shame associated to having ‘lazy’ summers. Internships, research or traveling to Europe should not be the quintessential image of active productivity or any real determinant of success. Staying home for the summer and taking on the world over fall quarter is real.
So while I write this article, I have to be honest that I still have pending interviews for my own internships. While I still may apply to summer things to do, I should be able to have the option not to. I should be able to say, “no, I’m not selling my soul to a firm in D.C this summer,” without facing incredulous looks from the CS and public policy majors around the dinner table.
Contact Rachel Ochoa at racochoa ‘at’ stanford.edu