There are 104 days of summer vacation, and school comes along just to end it. So the annual question for our generation is: How do we spend it in a COVID-19 world?
With COVID-19 still in full force across the world, traditional summer activities for college students like studying abroad, traveling or summer internships have had to shift to a virtual setting. But after spending a year glued to our screens, perhaps we need a break — a true break, one that gets you outside and out of your comfort zone (i.e. the couch in your dorm or parents’ house). Maybe try eco-volunteering at a tropical island this summer. Or spend it constructing houses with a group of students from across America.
Without further ado, here are seven exciting, odd and fantastic ideas to make the most of your summer! Up first:
1. Take an actual break from this COVID-19 academic year. Seriously, you deserve it.
Although it can be tempting to jampack your summers with activities and work experiences to rival your academic year, don’t. You might feel the pressure to do so, especially when you see your classmates bragging about their jobs on LinkedIn, but remember that breaks are there for a reason. A break is a time to rest and rejuvenate so that you can come back to campus in the fall ready to go. And given the isolating and taxing effects of learning remotely during COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to give your mind and body the break it needs.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to sleep the days away. It simply means that you now have the free time to pursue your own personal projects or explore things that might interest you. Make some art and go to museums (local or virtual) for inspiration (use your student ID for discounts!). Take up baking or cooking as a hobby, and start a small mail-order business out of your kitchen if you’d like. Read those books on your reading list. Or learn a new skill, like coding or a language (the Duolingo bird welcomes all).
2. Volunteer at a national or state park during the COVID-19 pandemic
Whether it’s in your home state or if this is the chance for you to finally visit (or even live in!) the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, visiting and volunteering at a park can bring numerous benefits. Namely, the chance to be in the great outdoors while developing key skills that you can add to your resume such as adaptability, problem-solving, leadership, cooperation and decision making. And given how COVID-19 probably isn’t going to let up by this summer, it’s a good idea to spend some time outdoors while doing a low-risk activity.
Some positions may need specialized skills or a background check, but others simply need a desire to volunteer. There are also unique positions, such as working on Amtrak trains and educating passengers on the natural and cultural heritage of a region, while experiencing the unique life of living on a train. If you’re a writer, poet, photographer, musician or artist, consider becoming an artist-in-residence. This program allows you to live inside the park in their cabins or studios, and use the stunning scenery to inspire your own art. You do have to apply for this program, and each park has its own application process and timeline, but given that there are over 50 parks, from Alaska to Hawaii, from Florida to New York, there’s a place for everyone. This experience can prove to be an unparalleled chance to hone your craft outside of an academic setting.
You can find the latest opportunities at volunteer.gov, which is the official site to search and apply for these positions. For example, you could be a visitor service representative at Joshua Tree National Park in California. Or manage the natural resources at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.
And it’s not just limited to national or state parks. Many places of interest are always looking for staff to help during the summer months. For instance, the Route of the Hiawatha, on the border of Idaho and Montana, is currently looking for individuals keen to share the magic of the Hiawatha Scenic Bike Trail with guests. As a guest services-oriented job, you might work as a bike rental tech, help guests be fit to bikes they can then use to explore the trails or as a trail marshal, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for guests. As with most park opportunities, perks (from housing to stipends) vary, so do your research!
Of course, if the woods isn’t your calling, there are thousands of other places to volunteer at, both locally and across the country (or world!). A great database to find opportunities is Volunteer Match, searchable by area code. You can also find virtual volunteer opportunities.
And remember your local community too. You can volunteer at a senior home or at a Red Cross or at a Boys and Girls Club as you help to mitigate community issues, prevent disasters, promote healthy neighborhoods or assist the homeless.
3. Organic farming in Italy (or any other country)
Picture this: golden hills lined with cypress trees, vineyards heavy with grapes, and huge meals eaten around a communal table inside an organic farm. If you ever find yourself backpacking through Europe, living these images can be unobtainable for your budget. But if you have a sincere interest in organic farming and sustainable agriculture or are willing to learn and can commit to work for three months, interning at organic farms might be the summer activity for you.
There is Tenuta di Spannocchia, located in romantic Tuscany, Italy. Or maybe find your zen growing tea in Japan. To find opportunities worldwide, make your way to the website of Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). WWOOF is a worldwide organization that links visitors (WWOOFers) with organic farmers and aims to “promote a cultural and educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming and sustainability practices.”
If you want to stay a bit closer to home, there are also dozens of opportunities available.
For example, Gould Farm in rural Massachusetts provides a glimpse into living the rustic life, as volunteers work in the fields, in the farm kitchens and interact with visitors at their roadside café. You’ll get to live in residence and taste the products of your labor. Hidden Villa, a farm at the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains, is more “summer camp” in that there is also hiking, storytelling, crafting and other collaborative activities. They also offer a stipend in addition to housing and meals. These farms often have a team of volunteers from around the world and is a fantastic experience to meet people from all walks of life. Although, given COVID-19, this might not be the case this year.
4. Work as a lifeguard, basketball coach or instructor on a cruise ship
Ever wanted to live out your life at sea and explore exotic new destinations (if only for a few months?). Working a summer job on a cruise ship might be the way for you to explore these whims. Cruise ships nowadays are becoming larger and bolder in their entertainment offerings, from ice skating to theater to ballet. Whether it’s as a lifeguard, watching over the wave pool as the sun sets behind you, as a rock-climbing instructor or as a backup dancer, there are myriad interesting jobs available. Hone your talents or pick up a new skill as part of the team!
A great place to find available openings is on LinkedIn — try searching “cruise ship” or the names of major cruise lines, such as Norwegian, Carnival, Princess or Royal Caribbean. Many of the job offerings will also detail how they are adhering to public health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — such as limiting the number of guests present in each space and sanitizing surfaces — so you can be rest assured of your safety.
5. Be an English instructor in South Korea or Thailand
As a reader of this article, it already proves that you have the relevant experience to succeed in this job: fluency in English and an interest in being in another country!
Teaching English abroad is one of the most common and popular job choices for foreigners in a different country. These jobs can vary in structure, from teaching in large city schools to leading a classroom in rural villages to private homestay tutoring. Be sure to check out the benefits and requirements of each program. Most programs will include an orientation, a monthly stipend, and room and board, but long-established programs like Greenheart Travel also offer paid vacation and health insurance, airfare and an international travel stipend.
Note that the majority of programs require teachers to be at least 18 or 21 years of age, have a bachelor’s degree (in any subject), and require instructors to be a native of English-speaking countries such as the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. You might also be required to complete TEFL/TESOL certification either within the program or shortly before embarking — either way, courses such as those at The TEFL Academy can be of assistance.
But if you are looking for more academic or career-building pursuits (good on you!), here are some activities outside of a summer internship that can also set you up for success:
6. Think about your fall classes during the COVID-19 pandemic
Okay, sorry to remind you. But taking the time now to think (and prepare) means either more time in the upcoming fall term that you can spend with your friends or an easier time with your courses. Specifically, see if you can get a head start on your classes.
If you know you’re going to take a literature or a math class next year for your graduation requirements, why not start the process now? You can leisurely enjoy your course books and mandatory readings with an icy drink and a sunhat on the beach or in a field, instead of cramming it in at 3 a.m. in the pits of the library in September. You can also take online classes (many are free, or even offer credit) that teach the same material, and basically be guaranteed an A+ later. Plus, this is an activity that’s guaranteed to be COVID-19 safe.
7. Organize your life
This applies to both physical and mental constructs to rearrange. You’ll want to get rid of stuff you no longer need. No, you’re not going to need all 46 T-shirts from your middle and high school days. Sell your old textbooks and notes and donate anything else you don’t need. Clean your laptop storage too, while you’re at it. Dump those Facebook friends you don’t remember accepting. Did you struggle with time management or keeping track of all your commitments while in class? Now is the time to organize your mind, develop good study and sleep habits, and set up those productive systems while you have the time.
If you’ve reached this point in this article and still haven’t found something you like, remember that there are plenty of opportunities out there, from jobs to internships to volunteer positions, with fantastic locations and responsibilities. It just takes a little creativity and some time spent researching.
For instance, there’s always LinkedIn, but another great site to look into is Backdoor Jobs, where you can search for opportunities by location. They also post current and weekly opportunities on the front of their homepage. On CoolWorks, another site to find jobs in great places, you can search by interest or skill, and it will find related results for you. You can filter the search by places, categories, available housing and seasons.