How do undergraduates spend their summer? Almost a quarter go overseas every year, but most remain stateside. We asked four undergrads—two who went abroad, two who stayed—to write about one memorable experince of last summer.

Adjustment process: India
Nicole Allan ’09

Fed, rested, and tucked into an orphan's bed, I woke up feeling more refreshed than I had since kindergarten. It was my sixth week in India, and it was nap time.

Anju spoke two words of English: "You eat." Everything else, like "you drink tea" and "you sleep," she acted out. Ever since I'd agreed to do some extra fund-raising work for her as a favor to my boss, an old friend of hers, she'd been determined that I visit the orphanage she ran out of her home. Once I arrived, and ate the first of three closely observed meals, I realized that for those few hours, I was her orphan. The others were at school, except for Tulsi and Rajaram, who were too young, and when I started nodding off in front of a Kannada TV musical, Anju put me down for a nap. Later that afternoon we visited the temple of Shree Sai Sevaram, the guru to which Shree Sai Sevaram Orphanage Trust is devoted. He was asleep.

At first, my long Indian days had been frustrating. I had nothing to do at work, and nobody else even showed up until 10:30. It was too hot to walk and the streets were too crowded, the air too polluted. Anytime I sat down to a meal, I was forced to eat more than I wanted to. I felt useless.

Bored to rebellion during my second week, I read a novel during idle work hours instead of pretending to do research. I woke up later and later each day. By my fourth week, I decided it was OK to be fat, just for the summer. I felt a creeping relief, like I hadn't realized I was frowning until I stopped.

By the time I visited Anju, six weeks into my stay, I'd learned how to sit, eat, and sleep. I'd learned to love not working in India, not traveling in India, but just being in India.


Summer in the stacks: New Haven
Miranda Popkey ’09

The start of fall term is pinpricked with anxiety. But of all the myriad concerns the typical rising junior faces upon her return to New Haven -- moving into an unfurnished apartment, shopping classes that fulfill suddenly onerous major requirements, feeding herself -- none terrified me more than the almost ritualistic question-cum-conversation-starter that inaugurates every single interaction: what did you do this summer?

Because I, in fact, didn't actually leave New Haven; unable to secure the generic New York publishing house internship that is the studious and well-connected English major's reward, I had settled for 30 hours a week of air-conditioned drudgery at Sterling Memorial Library.

At first, I imagined the library job (sort, shelve, repeat) would be ironically monotonous. I am the sort of girl who takes great pride in her note-taking and organizational skills, and has, not quite jokingly, considered (aloud) the possibility of pursuing a career as an executive secretary; when the weather cools, I will no doubt pull out my pencil skirts. So, despite pitying looks and words of warning -- from the charming woman who interviewed me, no less -- I walked smartly (skirt, belt, blouse, pumps) into the basement for training on my first day, prepared for funny-monotonous, or precious-monotonous, or revelatory-monotonous. I was not prepared for literally monotonous. And as adorably self-effacing as it had been to write, on my application, "I like dull work," I don't actually like dull work. Yes, neatly filing syllabi and essays gives me an unusual amount of pleasure; still, as I quickly discovered, this does not mean I will take any particular joy in performing duties which require no more than a working knowledge of Hindu-Arabic numerals and the Latin alphabet. Strictly speaking, you don't even have to know how to read.

Of course, it helps, because some of the titles are hilarious. When a library houses around three million volumes, they can't all be Pulitzer prize winners; some are bound to fall into the "were I stranded on a desert island with this book I would eat it before I read it" category; many, apparently, are bound to be pulpy Czech romantic thrillers. Coming across such gems was often the highlight of my day.

So when the semester started, and my friends regaled me with stories of organic farming in Corsica, or editorial internships at hip music magazines in L.A., I was quick with a rebuttal: did you know that SML stocks a book called Can Asians Think?


Rock the vote: Syria
Matthew Lee ’08

Don't blame me: I voted for Bashar al-Assad.

I didn't have much choice in the matter, really. Neither did anyone else who voted in Syria's 2007 presidential referendum. Al-Assad was the only candidate on the ballot, and the vote was rigged to create the illusion of massive public support for the Syrian president.

Like most people in Syria, then, I planned to greet Election Day with a mixture of indifference and contempt. In fact, I hoped to skip the day's festivities entirely. I needed to catch an early train from Aleppo to the coastal city of Latakia. I arrived at the Aleppo train station, flashed my ticket and passport, and was about to breeze through the security checkpoint when a police officer grabbed me by the shoulder and asked a question I'd only ever seen on stickers in New Haven's public library: "Did you vote?"

I stopped. Maybe he'd mistaken me for a Syrian. Maybe my Arabic was much better than I thought it was, or maybe I'd finally gotten a tan. I tried to look sheepish as I explained that I was American.

The cop just shrugged. No one gets on the train without voting, he said. Anyway, how could I possibly have a problem with supporting a swell guy like Bashar al-Assad? Now, would I please hurry up and vote so he could meet his quota and go home?

I make a habit of being quick to do whatever Syrian police officers ask me to do, for I am fond of my kneecaps and would not care to have them broken. I sidled over to a nearby table, where Syrian voters were trying gamely to pretend as though they really loved whomever it was that they were supposed to love this time, and asked the election officials for a ballot.

The election officials weren't about to break character in front of a white foreigner who just might have been a journalist. They scrambled to hand me a ballot, suggesting that I could fill it out in blood: "We would all love to shed our blood for Bashar al-Assad." Hepatitis rates in Syria being what they are, I respectfully declined. Instead, I dipped my finger in purple ink and scanned the ballot.

"Should Bashar al-Assad be confirmed for a second term as Syria's president?" I had two possibilities to choose from. Fortunately, the correct answer was helpfully circled in bright green. The election officials were also hovering patiently over my shoulder, just in case I had any trouble.

I marked the right answer, flashed my purple thumb at the police officer, and finally boarded the morning express to Latakia. Say what you will about Bashar al-Assad: he makes my trains run on time.


Diva of the dive: DC
Laura Zax ’10

As a music venue, Potbelly Sandwich Works wasn't exactly the Hollywood Bowl. Its ten deli tables could sit, at best, an audience of 30, though the dinner crowd was never much more than half that number. The sound quality at Potbelly was mediocre-to-poor, not so much because of the deafening shrills of adoring prepubescent fans but because of a Sure microphone that dated from before Christ and a talkative blender that worked overtime to satiate America's incurable sweet tooth. And teenaged girls rarely fainted at Potbelly, but if they did it was because of the impossible heat of summer in DC and an air quality forecast that could make even Beijing blush.

Yet, it was here, in this nondescript franchise at the corner of R Street and Connecticut Avenue, that I made my musical debut. My stage was a precarious loft whose only point of access was a ladder that I proved, three days a week for two months, was impossible to climb gracefully with a guitar in hand. From my perch, I could survey a crowd that usually consisted of a modest handful of twentysomethings in business casual, of young mothers with young children picking up dinner after a day at the pool, and of some conglomeration of members of my immediate family. It was difficult to delude myself that I had really made it.

But there was, I reminded myself, that one guy -- the man with the Buddy Holly glasses and the worn-out Knicks jersey, who, night after night, would stand at Potbelly's open window and listen. I had my first fan.

One night in July, my fan finally took his music appreciation to the next level and came inside the shop. He found himself a seat next to a table at which a group of my friends from high school had camped out to watch me perform. He wanted a front row seat, I imagined.

Though I didn't want to stare at my fan, I felt his eyes on me, his ears sifting through the dinner murmur and the grind of the blender to hear the chords that literally made my knuckles bleed. Then he left as mysteriously as he had come, without bothering to order dinner or even a root beer, and I knew that this was the stuff of real fans.

It wasn't until nearly midnight, when my friends and I were at the cash register at a nearby diner where we had gone for our post-show drinks -- milk shakes, of course -- that my friend discovered that the wallet she had used to buy dinner at Potbelly had been stolen. So, it seems, had my stardom.

The comment period has expired.