I like to think of summers as the Oreo filling. At university (or school) we get the backbone, the framework. Summers can be the complementary filling, in terms of work/life experience, trying new roles and new interests, and generally acquiring more life experience not necessarily attached to your study.
I recently read an article about how important it is to be passionate about your job. The writer said passion is important, but what’s equally important is having a good work/life balance. Your meaning in life shouldn’t depend completely on your career – there should always be other areas of equally meaningful things that you find joy in.
Here’s the thing – we don’t often have the time to find what other things are meaningful and enriching. Of course, during university, it’s hard to sign up to pottery classes and go on runs or discover you’re interested in constellations, or classifying animals or that you have a passion for cooking. I have an 85-year-old aunt who just discovered she’s great at painting. She’d just never had the opportunity to finish a painting until now.
Enter the summer:
So here’s a thought, which you probably already know, but is always nice to mull over: use this time to try new things.
Here are some general suggestions:
- Work experience (a.k.a. life experience)
You will have heard this a million times – but every job gives you a new set of skills that will come in handy at some point. I’ve worked in rest homes as a caregiver, in a library, and in hospitality – and each one has taught me things that have served me well at uni.
Whether it’s fiction, poetry, essays, journalism, or the correspondence of artists, writers, politicians, or mathematicians, reading can open up your mind to the imaginations of people who lived decades or even hundreds of years before you, can acquire lifetimes in a few books.
If you like picking your books in person:
Hard to Find Books is great if you’re in Auckland, BookDepository has good recommendations and quick delivery, and the University of Auckland’s libraries are still open and many books are also available online.
You can either go contemporary or classics:
Personally, I love authors like: Toni Morrison and James Baldwin (the Black experience in America), Alice Munro or Virginia Woolf (the inner lives of ordinary people), Patricia Grace (on Māori worldviews and life in New Zealand), Mary Oliver (poetry and prose on nature), and Michael Ondaatje, Philip Roth, and Jonathan Franzen are great novelists. Going through the Man Booker prize list or Nobel laureates and seeing what books have been written is a great way to find quality writing on topics of substance, or you can look for what genres you like and try out different authors. E.g. science fiction, history, biographies.
- Practice/learn te reo
Now is a great time to try a summer course or even just start with online resources.
http://www.tokureo.maori.nz/index.cfm/1,188,0,43,html/Series1.html can help you with pronunciation and spelling, and you can watch te reo TV shows or movies on TVNZ On Demand. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7PKa1785ptBKtQXYScRL2Q (for some basics).
- Hobbies: painting, sculpting, sketching. You can just go to a dollar store and start with the basics and some Bob Ross or YouTube tutorials, and see how you like it.
- An online internship. For personal advice on what internships are available to you, CDES (Career Development and Employability Services) is a great resource. They can help you improve your CV, prepare for online interviews, or get general career advice. They are still running Zoom drop-in sessions.
The more specific your interests become, though, the more you’ll find to work with. I usually start with a book or video and then go down the rabbit hole. Putting your YouTube algorithm to use can be helpful then.
- Watching documentaries can be a great way of figuring out what specific topics interest you
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCn39xgtYYfEmajEgVe0xrJw (National Geographic).
https://www.tvnz.co.nz/categories/documentary (TVNZ On Demand).
Some good channels are the BBC, Al Jazeera.
Other ways could be go to go on a walk and listen to podcasts:
https://www.rnz.co.nz/series for a more local take on interesting topics and important issues, like what it’s like to be the generation growing up in COVID, making sense of the week in politics, inspirational youth from minority communities, and how different the experiences of New Zealanders can be across Aotearoa.
https://www.rnz.co.nz/programmes/getting-better (A Year in the Life of a Māori Medical Student)
The New York Times, Ezra Klein:
This is one of my personal favourites. They’re conversations on controversial issues that many of us often deal with, but between the journalist Ezra Klein and current experts. Researchers’ life work is discussed in an hour and their opinions on how that stands in today’s world, identity politics, the War on Terror, policy, the economics/democracy/technology relationship, etc. Interviewees include Noam Chomsky, Barack Obama, to octopus researchers, historians, and psychologists.
You can find these podcasts on Spotify, just type in Ezra Klein.
More specific interests can include:
(it’s very exciting to go out with a book and hand and somebody else, and try to bring the dots together).
http://stars.chromeexperiments.com/?campaign_id=167&emc=edit_ah_20201016&instance_id=23211&nl=at-home®i_id=127883040&segment_id=41318&te=1&user_id=596510729ee16c99db337939f6f96928 (a simulation on space)
Once you find the Big Dipper, it’s much easier to orient yourself.
Personally, I find math very interesting when I’m not under pressure to do well or to understand it at all, e.g. documentaries on how the world makes perfect sense and understanding why. E.g. (how math can explain nearly anything, the Riemann Hypothesis, the Fibonacci numbers).
(BBC, The Story of Maths. The Language of the Universe).
Documentaries are great resources to digest complex theories and ways of understanding the physical world, things like the theory of relativity, quantum physics, exploring outer space, biology, and so on.
- Another way is to go through the UoA undergraduate courses and just find what you’re interested in, like language studies or logic. From there, you can find books, videos, or podcasts to make it more accessible.
These are all things that can round out the way you see the world and your own background shelf of interests. Once you have time to slow down and pay attention to everything around you, life becomes much more interesting. Now is a great time to figure out who you are and what you like apart from your studies 😊