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Bring back summer breaks

| Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The beginning of the school year bustle has begun. As we return to full-occupancy buildings and attend our first class sessions of the year, we’re reconnecting with friends we haven’t seen all summer. After the hugs, waves and smiles comes the obligatory question: “So, what’d you do this summer?” This is, on its face, a well intentioned and natural question to ask our friends, as we are curious what they have been up to in our time apart. However, in certain circles — and at a school full of ambitious students such as Notre Dame — it can take on a more prying tone. Depending on who asks us what we did this summer, we may feel pressured to impress them. Three months off of school — we better have a lot to show for it. God forbid we rested at all over break!

We’ve developed this unspoken understanding that using our summer “breaks” well means keeping busy for the entirety of them. If we take a day to breathe, that’s a day wasted that could have been used to rack up hours for our resumes. When I was making preparations for how I was going to spend my summer, it included studying for a 7.5 hour exam that would cover material from all the major classes I have taken as an undergraduate. I remember my advisor wanted to make sure I could fit “other activities” into my summer. So, of course, after I took that exam, I spent my remaining few weeks of summer searching for useful things to do. What’s more, this was after an accelerated semester in the middle of the pandemic, full of worry and social isolation and without any real breaks. 

Yes, the typical employed adult works year-round with only a couple weeks of paid leave at their disposal and without the type of substantial break students are (supposedly) afforded. Any of them reading this piece might shrug off my complaints and tell me, “Welcome to the real world!” I understand the inclination toward such a response, but it would fail to address my complaints in two major ways: First, student life is inherently different from full-time work life. The former lasts only a few years, while the latter is intended to be a long-term situation (though I could write an entire separate piece on the unhealthiness of American work culture). For us students, our “work” isn’t confined to the workplace. When we finish attending our classes and extracurricular activities for the day, we spend our extra hours studying, not to mention many of us even take on part-time jobs during the academic year. Therefore, even if a working adult does not need a summer “break,” we do.

Secondly, my grievance is with the guise of a chance for rest. School administrations might argue, “It’s not up to us how you use your summer break! We gave you three months off, but you chose to intern, get a job and do research.” This would be true on the surface. While we have this “break” in name, however, we are pressured not to use it in practice. If you make the personal choice to simply rest and engage in your hobbies or pick up a new skill, you’ll be left behind by your friends interning in D.C. who really miss their family and wish they could spend summer with them but who also didn’t want to be left behind by their friends interning in Berlin. So, if we’re supposed to spend summer break working and interning, say that. Make our school year a trimester system: two with classes and a third for “experience.” But don’t call it our summer break. Call it what it is.

I must make a clarification here: I’m not suggesting that we should waste away for three months and miss out on valuable opportunities for acquiring life experiences. The summer can be a great time for projects, activities or travel we couldn’t do during the semester. And, at one point or another, many of us have participated in summer activities or internships about which we were ecstatic. So, of course we can use the summertime for these special experiences — but we should also rest, socialize and spend time doing the things we enjoy that don’t get documented on our resumes. Unfortunately, many of us have come to view our return to campus for the fall as a chance to rest after a hectic summer! So many friends of mine seem to have spent their summers running themselves to the ground, interning, working or volunteering. And now that “break” is over, they’re tired. The only problem is, now it’s time for a new semester to begin in full swing. As we close the door on this past summer, I hereby demand that we bring back summer breaks — ones that include real, meaningful relaxation. This week, as we get reacquainted with old friends and meet new classmates, when everyone shares what they did this summer, expect to hear everything but rest.

A former resident of Lyons Hall, Eva Analitis is a senior majoring in political science and pre-health. Even though she often can’t make up her own mind, that won’t stop her from trying to change yours. She can be reached at [email protected] or @evaanalitis on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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