Thursday, 28 August 2014

A Never Ending Summer: Lessons for the Fall

As the long summer days begin to wane, we find ourselves taking in our last breaths of barbecues, bonfires, and bug spray. Be it a full time job, travelling, volunteering, being a couch potato, or a combination of many, where we spent our time this summer gave us a unique experience –something to learn and grow from. And though some of us may be just as excited to return to the U of A campus (it is a beautiful place after all, especially in the autumn), it is no easy task to transition back into a school routine… but it can be! 

Image courtesy of tumblr.

Speaking from my own experience, I recently returned from my second summer living in rural Tanzania, with some stops in Turkey, Ethiopia, and the UK. In Tanzania I revisited villages I had worked in last year, this time serving as a project manager for health promotion and community development initiatives with the Students’ International Health Association. While away I also had the chance to attend academic conferences, check out tourist sights in countries I had never traveled to before, and hear numerous cool stories from people of various backgrounds.  Although I’ve struggled to unpack my bags since arriving home, I have also realized that there are a number of lessons that I’ve learned during my summer experience that I could apply to the upcoming school year. 

Whether your summer holiday, like mine, was something you will always cherish, or the furthest thing from a relaxing vacation, you’ll see, just as I did, that your summer was secretly rich with tips and tricks to apply to your academic career.  If you take the 4 months that we have had off school as a way of preparing for what is to come, I can (almost) guarantee that you will find yourself more successful in the coming semesters, and even more grateful for all of summer’s hidden lessons.

Allow me to shed some light on the advice your summer may have to offer for being a better student, and a better you!

Remember the stories of the people you met and interacted with, and how they made you feel.

Image courtesy of
While in Tanzania, I had the privilege of working with a passionate and dedicated leader of a local Maasai community.  With his progressive attitude, modesty, and eagerness to learn about how to incorporate safer health practices into Maasai traditions, he changed my perception of many stereotypes I had held about the Maasai. In sharing details about his culture, I grew in awe of his personal compassion and sincerity, which encouraged me to consider the unique circumstances and lifestyles different people may have, and to appreciate leaders of social change. 

Remembering a stranger in your travels performing a random act of kindness, or a difficult customer during your longest shift on the job can remind us to consider that each of us has our own story, journey, and reason for being the way we are. The next time you see someone having a bad day on campus, need to meet an intimidating professor after class, or seek out a student work opportunity, let your empathy guide your interaction, and see how far putting yourself in another’s shoes will take you! People who care about other people are more confident, better net-workers, and suppliers of positivity to any environment.

Think about the times things didn’t go as expected.

Image courtesy of 9gag
Often times in Tanzania, I would expect (and excitedly anticipate) that things wouldn't go as expected. Based on the way distance and culture influence travel time, meetings would usually start about 2 hours after they were scheduled. One particular day while my teammate and I were waiting for a meeting to start at the village primary school, we decided to explore the surrounding area. We ended up coming across a barrel of monkeys and likely could have spent all day watching them leap from tree to tree if not for our late   meeting.

Those times when you were overconfident and ended up looking foolish, or where you were doubtful and ended up being pleasantly surprised, are prime examples of experiences to learn from. Realizing that leaving your preconceived notions at the door can open new opportunities is a great reset for a new school year. Having a predetermined opinion of a certain class you are enrolled to take, or a fixed mindset about a campus club only limits your chances of actually enjoying yourself and learning something new. Having an open-mind and trying to stay optimistic, even when the going gets tough, will ultimately reward you in studying, student life, and life after university. 

Envision the days you were most yourself, and cherish and replicate them.

Image courtesy of Opi Rai
While working on projects in Tanzania, each day we would bike ride roughly 30 km travelling to and from the village. Though the bikes sometimes lacked functional brakes and the roads were sandy deathtraps with impossible hills, lawless motorcyclists and meandering cattle and dogs, biking was something I looked forward to each day. Taking on the road, wind in hair, I felt as though I was meditating and flying, and one with the world around me. Now at home, I want to replicate that sense of peacefulness and accomplishment that I had felt each time that I dismounted my Tanzanian bike… maybe I should get back on one here.

Besides the cheerful weather and time with family and friends, part of the reason we feel so at ease during the summer is the lack of stress we feel to perform and compete with others like we do in a school environment. Sometimes the pressure we face to be the best students we can takes a toll on our individuality, and actually hinders our success. Whether or not this summer was your ideal use of time, the skills you gained in your unique experience set you apart from others. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t celebrate the experiences you share with someone else, or commend another person’s epic summer, but your summer is yours and gave you something exclusive to you. Take your summer “you” as gift for keeps during the school year, and hold tight to the easygoing version of yourself that enjoys and grows simultaneously– you’ll find him quite handy when midterms hit.

Every summer has a story. Honor yours by carrying forward your experience into the new school year!

About the Author


My name is Kiera and I’m a fourth year Biological Sciences student with an English minor, trying to keep life interesting. I like to consider myself a glass-half-full type, and am most at peace spending quality time with loved ones (with a little wine and cheese on hand). When I’m not trying to balance my student group with studying, I am testing out different hobbies, slowly working towards becoming a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

I am drawn to creativity and adventure, which there seems to be an abundance of amongst the U of A’s bright students. I hope to shed light on some of the inspirational individual stories that have resulted from unique campus opportunities, and also hope to encourage other students to tap into one of the many meaningful learning opportunities that are available outside of the classroom. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the U of A’s stories that make our campus community so rich with experience and opportunity. 


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