Students should try summer study abroad

By Cooper Creagan '13

You wouldn’t know it by looking at the weather, but this semester is coming to an end, and I know a lot of folks are already looking for something productive to do this summer.  Allow me to suggest an option that you might have overlooked while hunting for internships: study abroad for the summer.  I think we’re conditioned to believe that studying abroad is a semester- or year-long event; that is, if you have two majors to contend with or a campus job that requires you to spend the year on the Hill, taking a semester off can be a huge sacrifice.  But with some planning and research, you can get the abroad experience and not miss a day of the Hamilton school year.

This summer, I attended the Associated Colleges in China K-12 Language Teachers Institute, which is a long way to say that I spent six weeks in Beijing learning how to teach Chinese.  This definitely wasn’t your average study abroad experience, and I think that’s what I like most about choosing to go abroad in the summer­—you can find opportunities that don’t exist in the typical stock of semester-long study abroad programs.  I got to work with a small group of graduate students and experienced teachers, visiting Chinese schools, studying new teaching methods, and ultimately making a lot of friends (Chinese and American alike) who will become invaluable resources once I find myself in the classroom.
I bet you thought you couldn’t take a summer abroad because the Career Center said you needed “work-related experience.”  The Teachers Institute showed me that you can make contacts and get experience just about anywhere in the world.  The K-12 program fit perfectly with my interests in language and education, but there are a host of options out there in just about every field—you just have to do your research.  I feel like a lot of people fear that a summer program might be less legitimate than a semester- or year-long program, but that doesn’t have to be the case.  Do your homework and ask around (Carol Drogus is a great start), and you should be well on your way to having an experience that’s worth your while.  The Teachers Institute, for example, provided six instructors for nine students—it doesn’t get much more legitimate than that.

I know you’re probably thinking that programs like these are expensive, and that paying for a summer program on top of your tuition is the last thing you need.  Listen: where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Hamilton provides a number of grants for folks looking to do interesting things over the summer.  And if you’re going into a profession for which there’s a real need, you could be eligible for all sorts of scholarships.  The Teachers Institute, for example, was essentially free.  I’m talking tuition, lodging and a huge chunk of airfare—all taken care of.  Besides a small deposit at the beginning of the summer and paying for food (which can be cheap; in China, my favorite meal was under $2), I was all set.  I know that not everyone has plans to go to China and not everyone wants to teach. My point is that if you’re passionate about something (or someplace), there are ways to make it happen.

Through the Teachers Institute, I studied teaching methods that I’ve used when volunteering through Project SHINE, I learned fun games that I’ve brought back to my friends here, and I formed a network of teachers that will give me a leg up when I start searching for jobs.  And I did it all without missing a day of class on the Hill.  I grant you that I struck gold with the K-12 program, but if you look hard enough, you might have the same good fortune.


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