Goodbye coveted internship: Students’ summer plans adapt to the changing world

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Hanna Hornfeld and Emma Colacino

Three months ago, Tomoko Hida (10) expected to spend her summer designing and tailoring clothes for a fashion internship, admiring art, and making crêpes in France as part of a French immersion program. Now, Hida and many others have had to adapt their summer plans to the changes brought along by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leah Sepiashvili (10) was going to go on a trip to France with family friends this summer and spend time with her family from Israel, both of which are no longer possible, she said. Similarly, Myra Singh (10) had planned to go to India for a few weeks and teach kids in a school, but that too has now been cancelled, Singh said.

ONLINE PROGRAMS

Many students who were originally supposed to take summer courses will now attend them online. Singh, for example, was accepted into a three week math and finance program at Columbia University. The program lowered its price and offered a full refund for students who chose to no longer participate. Singh still plans on taking the class because it will give her something to do, but an online class won’t be the same experience that she originally signed up for, she said. “The whole fun of a summer program is being able to make new friends and learn in person and now I can’t,” Singh said.

Sonia Shuster (11) is taking two classes for college credit this summer: one on literature at the University of UChicago and one on poetry at Columbia University. Shuster chose to enroll in these classes because she enjoys reading literature and writing poetry and wanted to take advanced classes before her senior year, she said. As part of their program, UChicago will host online workshops for the participants in their pre-college summer session, similar to ones they would have had in person. Columbia is also planning workshops and community building activities, but they have not yet specified how that is going to work, Shuster said.

In addition, Shuster plans on taking free college courses offered on websites such as EdX and Coursera over the summer. She has already taken a philosophy class about existentialism, she said. The College Counselling office recommended Coursera to students, but Shuster had already heard about both websites from her father, who found them online. Although the classes are not for credit, they are good learning opportunities and, if students pay a certain amount of money, provide a certificate of completion, Shuster said.

Mazyar Azmi (10) is also going to participate in an online version of his original entrepreneurship program. “It’s still on, but it’s going to be virtual, except now the virtual versions are a lot longer,” he said. Azmi said that the program as a whole will now be longer as it is harder to teach classes virtually, he said The adapted program will involve online classes with an emphasis on virtual group work.

While an online course is still a learning experience, it does not completely replace an in-person course, Azmi said. “I don’t get to meet anyone new, I don’t get to learn anything about anyone, all I get to do is the bare bones of this program, and I lose everything else.”

Stella Cha (11) was going to spend six weeks performing with a national youth orchestra called NYO2. Cha had been looking forward to going to a camp for the first time and performing with people around the world. Now, instead of traditional orchestral performance, the program will be made up of private lessons, studio classes, and orchestra meetings for discussions and listening activities. The adapted program will also feature a series of “master classes” in which students perform for professional guest musicians and are critiqued and taught in front of a crowd. Performance activities will be individual, with the exception of a few group projects, Cha said.

The company running Hida’s French program, The Experiment, has moved all programs to an online leadership program, shifting the focus away from language. Because of this, Hida does not think it’s worth it to participate. However, she will continue to do her fashion internship online because she has been interning for the company for over a year and can still learn and share her ideas without being there in person, Hida said.

Because her primary form of communication with her boss is now text, Hida finds it easier to casually offer ideas without overthinking them, which has helped her make more meaningful contributions to her internship, she said. For example, on a flight to stay with family in Japan a few weeks ago, Hida filled her camera roll with photos of clouds, icebergs, and small towns in the middle of nowhere. “I immediately texted my boss with an idea of putting pictures of endangered formations of ice sheets and icebergs on sweatshirts for profits that would be sent directly to climate change organizations,” Hida said.

Some students, such as Shuster, have found positive sides to online courses. Shuster’s UChicago and Columbia programs would have overlapped if they were in person, she said. Now she can do both instead of having to choose one. Shuster is also looking forward to forming relationships with professors despite being unable to visit campuses in person, she said.

Though Azmi’s summer program has been moved online, there are also benefits to taking the course from home, he said. “I get to play video games on the weekend, I get to see my family and my dogs, and I don’t have to worry about dorming in a place I don’t know,” Azmi said.

THE COLLEGE PROCESS
With more free time on her hands, Sabrina Freidus (11) sees this summer as an opportunity to get ahead on her college applications before the fall, she said. “I’ll probably put more pressure on myself to get things done, because now there’s no excuse not to,” she said. Freidus is also going to devote time to continue studying for the ACT, although it is unclear when these tests are going to take place, she said.

Historically the summer between junior and senior year has been important to the college process, which has raised concerns for some students. “A lot of my junior friends are especially worried because this is the summer where they can really build their resume, and I remember doing a lot of really exciting things the summer before my senior year, so I feel like they are missing out on that in particular,” Dora Woodruff (12) said.

Executive Director of College Counseling Canh Oxelson understands where this anxiety comes from, because there is a perception that students have to do certain things over the summer to strengthen their college applications, he said. “When all of those plans went up in smoke, people didn’t know what to expect, and that created somes anxiety,” Oxelson said. “The unknown of what you can possibly do and how those things may be viewed by colleges makes people nervous.”

However, Oxelson said that the admissions officers he has spoken to do not expect students to follow specific guidelines regarding their summer plans. “Those things that you’re ‘supposed’ to do don’t exist anymore,” he said.

Instead, Oxelson advises students to take advantage of this time and pursue their hobbies and genuine interests because ultimately, finding a genuine interest will make them into more interesting people—in general and in the eyes of admissions officers. “I can imagine students thinking that this is a missed opportunity, but this is also a new opportunity,” he said.

“What matters is that people make the most of what they have,” Shuster said. “I think if people find ways to fulfill their intellectual pursuits even if their programs are cancelled, colleges will see that.” Because of this, Shuster isn’t particularly worried about this summer’s effects on her college application, she said.

CREATIVE PROJECTS

Oxelson sees this summer as a chance for students to be creative and experimental. “During the school year, you are required to do a lot, but summer is a time when you can be adventurous, flexible, and pursue things that are interesting to you,” he said.

Activities as simple as writing poetry can lead to a fulfilling and worthwhile summer, Oxelson said. Without needing to take any classes, a student who enjoys poetry can spend the summer writing and self-publish their work online. “Those are things that don’t require anything but interest, time, and effort,” he said.

Hida will pursue her own creative interests this summer by working on a project she has wanted to work on all year. Hida plans on interviewing her friends and working to do photoshoots and design pieces of clothing that are distinctly representative of each of them. “The point of the project is just to have something that I really love,” she said. “If I was focused on the French program, I would have wanted to do this, but I don’t think my thoughts could have been so condensed.”

Sepiashvili is also going to spend her extra time this summer on personal projects. Currently, she is building an electroencephalogram (EEG), a device that measures the brain’s electrical activity. Afterwards, she is going to reprogram a few other EEGs in an attempt to remote control a toy car with different intensities of brain signals. When she’s done with that, Sepiashvilli will move on to different build projects.

Cha was going to host a music festival at her local library in August for the second year in a row, but she has been working to move it to a virtual format, she said. Every other week until the end of summer or the end of quarantine, Cha is creating a video compilation of six different pieces with a different theme each week. Her first video, which came out last week, was Disney themed.

Cha feels that moving the festival to an online format could actually be better than a single in-person performance, she said. Additionally, editing the videos together and composing some of the music will give her valuable experience in music production, which she wants to pursue, Cha said.

SUMMER JOBS

Woodruff was going to be a teaching assistant (TA) at a math camp she attended when she was younger, she said. “I was really looking forward to being on the teaching side of things and also helping to get students as interested in math as I had become because of math camps,” Woodruff said.

The math camp is now being held over Zoom, which will provide a very different experience, Woodruff said. “Instead of organizing math contests and things on the weekend, I’m mostly going to be grading tests, so I feel like most of my responsibilities have been diminished.”

Participating in the camp over Zoom also means that Woodruff will be unable to interact with the other TAs. “Some of the other TAs were some of my fellow students when I was there, and I’m still in touch with them, so I was really looking forward to the chance to be on campus with them and spend the summer with them,” she said.

Similarly, Dylan Chin (12) was going to spend a second year as a counselor in training at a creative arts camp he previously attended. “It was up in the air whether or not it was going to be cancelled officially until May 1st, and then it was pretty much guaranteed,” Chin said. “But we knew from the start that it wasn’t going to look the same as previous years.”

Other students, such as Miles Shamroth (10), will attempt to find summer jobs in nearby areas. Shamroth has been looking for a job on either a farm or at a general store with the help of his parents, he said. “I’m not thrilled about the job but I am glad to get back and interact with the outside world instead of being stuck at home,” Shamroth said. “As of right now, we are all stuck in the house, so going outside and getting a job would be a big improvement, but it wouldn’t be a big improvement from what I was planning to do.”

Woodruff has also decided to find a summer job, because her hours of working as a TA at her camp have been decreased after the camp was moved online, she said. She found another TA job, which will also take place over Zoom.

Shamroth plans on finding another summer activity if his original program is cancelled, but the uncertainty of his summer plans has been frustrating. “It’s hard not being able to control what you will be doing this summer because of coronavirus,” he said. “It’s hard just waiting and taking it day by day because you really just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Oxelson is hopeful that this summer will help students realize the benefits of pursuing genuine interests instead of following what they think they should do. However, he is worried that once things return to normal, students will go back to “the old way of thinking,” he said. “I’m hopeful that a sustained effort to get kids to think more broadly will actually help our community think differently about those things.”