There are several ways university students can spend their summers: working part-time, traveling, volunteering, doing an internship, relaxing at home, or even studying. The possibilities are endless. Despite this vast and often competing array of opportunities, there is another option: attending a summer school.

Summer schools, or summer universities – as termed by different organizations – share similar characteristics that make attending one an optimal choice for one’s summer adventures. Rest assured, it is an adventure. Having attended three summer schools throughout my undergraduate years, I can attest to the worth of the experience – though admittedly, some were better than others.

It started off as a question I asked myself after my first year in university: what am I going to do after I graduate? I know, I started early with the hard-hitting questions. In my defense, I was about to leave for Tokyo, where I would be attending a renowned university; there, I could take virtually any class I wanted, bar ones that required exceptional Japanese. And let me tell you, you can graduate from Waseda University having only Japanese classes – that is, language classes where you learn how to speak Japanese, while all your other classes are in English.

Summer schools allow you to explore what it is you want to learn, or verify your level of interest in a subject. That summer before I left for Tokyo, the summer school at Cambridge University did exactly that. In those two weeks, I delved into literature and psychology. These are the two subjects that have always remained close to my heart, even if I have recently decided not to pursue either for graduate-level studies.

Bucharest Summer School 2018 | Ianc Cristian

The second summer school I attended was far more recent. In August 2018, I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship for the Bucharest Summer Program held by the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies in Romania. After the exchange year in Japan, I was relatively sure I wanted to pursue a more business-centric future. At the very least, I wanted to become more business-savvy, in case I decided to follow that path for graduate school. Using the lens of economics, amongst others, the program tackled the theme of Cultural Heritage: Fostering Community Spirit and Sustainable Development.

This is where I learned that I find economics dull and that I could not, for the life of me, go down that route successfully. However, the summer school reaffirmed my interest in social computing and sustainability, thus allowing me to further narrow down my options for graduate school.

Lastly, in September 2018, I was incredibly privileged to have been selected and awarded a full scholarship to represent Ireland and attend the Asia-Europe Foundation Summer School, held in Slovenia and Croatia. This time, the program focused on sustainable tourism, which lined up with my interest in sustainability. Moreover, this program proved to be more of a challenge in some ways and rewarding in a different way.

The first two summer school programs allowed me to test and scope my interest in the fields that most attracted my attention: literature, psychology, economics, sustainability, and social computing. The most recent program empowered me to work on creating tangible solutions for a cause I truly believe in. In short, it gave me practical work experience in addition to the lectures and seminars.

ASEF Summer University 2018 | Sean Lee

Attending summer schools has allowed me to gauge my level of enthusiasm in a field, explore other subjects, and gain some practical experience in an area of interest. And here is the best part: I gained much more than that.

Attending Cambridge Summer University serendipitously introduced me to a participant that took great care of me when I arrived in Tokyo – someone whom I now consider one of my closest friends. Bucharest Summer University ensured that I got to see the very best Romania had to offer, from the famed castle of Count Dracula, to the wonderous paved mountain road of Transfăgărășan. And of course, I have to mention the people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet. Because of them, I not only have a home in Romania, but even as far as Madrid, Krakow, and all the way to Tunisia.

The friendships I’ve made from ASEF have widened my network to managers, CEOs, businessmen, and fellow students – from undergraduate to Ph.D. levels. These people embody the value of standing tall and unyielding, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

So next summer, why not take a chance and apply to a summer school?