For those of us returning to school, asking the obligatory “How was your summer?” question of 20 acquaintances a day, we are often met with stories that live up to the expectations many of us had coming into Swarthmore — of social justice, community involvement, and intellectual intensity. A summertime Swattie, many times, is about as “Swattie” as one can get, at least with regard to the “hard working” and “do-gooder” reputations the school carries.
A very-Swattie-summer, as it turns out, often starts right here on this verdant campus, usually during second semester. This doesn’t just mean that people apply for and receive summer funding from Swarthmore during that time — though many do, especially for unpaid internships and jobs. Swarthmore’s role in leading students to interesting summer plans can be, indeed, much more dynamic.
Joelle Hageboutros ’16 found out about her summer legal internship with the Philly non-profit Nationalities Service Center through a Swarthmore friend, and held a part-time position there during spring semester last year.
“ … after hearing about her [Hageboutros’ friend’s] incredible experience, she convinced me to volunteer there last semester for one day a week,” Hageboutros explained. After the semester ended, she started in a new summer position working with a lawyer specializing in asylum cases. This enabled Hageboutros to work on a vast array of projects from research to family petitions to client interviews and translation/interpretation jobs.
Sarah Geselowitz ’16 did not learn about her summer internship from a Swarthmore friend, but was instead led to her job at Rainbow History by a class. The organization collects, promotes, and preserves LGBT+ histories through archives and oral histories.
“Last spring, researching a final paper for Dr. Dorsey’s class Black Urban Community, I discovered the Herstory Archives, a collection of materials (including oral histories) by and about lesbians,” she explained. “At this point, I realized I wanted to explore oral histories, both as a way of building community and as a source for academic research. I Googled ‘oral history project DC,’ … and ultimately chose to work with Rainbow History.”
For others, Swarthmore was only involved indirectly in securing summer plans, or not at all.
Rinpoche Price-Huish ’18, for one, did not use Swarthmore resources to plan her summer at Planned Parenthood with the Family Planning Summer Institute, where she participated in discussions relating to women’s health, shadowed at various OB/GYN clinics, and did a research project.
“I previously knew one of the doctors in Salt Lake and had spoken with him about his work with Planned Parenthood and research at the University of Utah, and so when I started planning for the summer I emailed him expressing my interest in getting involved in any way this summer,”
Simon Bloch ’17, also did not go through Swarthmore for his internship. But, after winning Google’s Hack4Humanity last spring with a team from Swarthmore, he felt that the experience primed him for getting a job at Google’s main offices this summer. While there, Bloch had a main project working on an audio-processing module, which is one of the tools that enables Google’s and Facebook’s video chat features to function.
Exciting summer experiences did not stop at the doors of an office or between the walls of a library, though.
Food, it appears, was a major highlight for some hardworking summer Swatties. Bloch fondly recounted an encounter with “ … the best burrito of my life” this past summer. Uriel Medina ’16 also indulged in culinary decadence, but in Mexico City, where he was taking classes and researching at El Colegio de México.
Medina explained, “Saying ‘I ate a lot’ is an under-exaggeration. I spent a huge portion of my free-time exploring taquerías, torta joints, and a good number of fusion restaurants and bars. The culinary scene in Mexico is crazy good, with any and every type of flavor as short as a metro ride or quick walk away.”
Medina also sought comfort and excitement in the joy of being with family.
“Non-academically, a huge highlight was being able to visit my home-state in Mexico where I was born. I was able to visit family I hadn’t seen in over a decade …” he said. Price-Huish also found happiness in the familiarity of people and the diverse landscape of Utah, taking time to hike, camp and bike with close friends and family. Geselowitz, like Medina and Price-Huish, spent time being with people and making friends in D.C. while she was there working.
“My significant other and I … participated in a lot of queer and trans meet-up and support groups, and we made some fantastic friends that way,” she shared.
But the summer was not all fun, food, and friends for these Swatties. The three months in a new environment also presented a rich opportunity to do the “Swattie thing” and dive into the academic, intellectual side of a summer experience.
Bloch debunked his (and the popularly held) expectations of the Google office, saying, “[They] were not what I expected; I was expecting to find slides everywhere and pizza parties every fifteen minutes. Google turned out to be a tech company first and foremost, with brilliant folks working around the clock. All of the perks I had heard about existed to make life at the offices as comfortable as possible.”
While Bloch did take advantage of some aspects of Google’s notoriously fun office environment, he acknowledged that his work came first, as it did for many of his colleagues there. What he came away with, he clarified, was a deeper understanding of his field and how his experience would come to be a part of his academic life at Swarthmore.
Price-Huish spent a good deal of time doing hands-on work, complemented by the research project she did on preterm birth histories and contraceptives in the prevention of recurrent preterm birth. Medina also researched this summer, but was equally excited about time he got to spend in class with Mexican students at El Colegio de México, which boasts class sizes and an environment similar to Swarthmore’s.
“Academically, I was very glad to have the opportunity to challenge myself,” he said. “The classroom experience is different in an American college from being in a class with Mexican university students; it’s a more demanding experience and I had an amazing opportunity to grow in my vocabulary and thought processes within a Mexican-academia framework.”
Geselowitz, for her part, also delighted in the novelty of her intellectual work as she uncovered the more academic and esoteric facets of her hands-on oral history project.
Geselowitz described the importance, structure and dimension of what it means to conduct oral history interviews, sharing, “The strange thing about collecting an oral history is that it’s both deeply personal and weirdly public; it’s a conversation between two individuals, with their own dynamic and relationship and degree of trust, but it takes place for the benefit of a third imaginary listener. … This dynamic made the conversation feel both intimate and important, and I was glad that I had the chance to experience this first-hand.”
And Hageboutros not only employed interpersonal capabilities while working with clients at the NSC, but employed her valuable language skills, too.
“[I] was often assigned to work with French and Arabic speaking clients or on cases that involved translation of official documents in those languages or live interpretation. While I initially felt less confident with my Arabic skills, I was proud of my ability to understand clients and to be understood by native speakers!” she explained.
The second Swarthmore student stereotype — that of the socially-conscious Swattie — held true for some, as well. For Hageboutros, who spent her time working with families in asylum cases, the highlight of her summer was actually getting to help people.
“When the time came to the end of the summer, I submitted and sent off her [a client’s] completed asylum application. It was an incredible feeling to see all my hard work culminate in this submission. It also was rewarding to see that my efforts were making a real difference in someone else’s life and constituted the first step towards their new life in the US,” Hageboutros recounted.
Medina, who was learning alongside a whole new set of students, felt a renewed sense of social and academic purpose, sharing, “This summer has changed the way I approach a lot in my life … Some of my values were challenged and changed and others reinforced. But most of all, I think it was really refreshing for me to engage with university students from all over Mexico to get somewhat of a sense of how youth’s politics and opinions are shaping up, as well as making connections with individuals who can very well become connections and colleagues in the future.”
Geselowitz’s worldview and political imperatives have been similarly shaped by her summer. After helping to create and preserve the Rainbow History Project’s archives and histories, she has new perspectives.
“The landscape of LGBT+ community — at least in D.C. — is changing very rapidly,” said Geselowitz. “The spaces we frequent, the language we use to describe ourselves, the ways we conceptualize our identities, the ways we relate to ‘straight society’ … all of these things have transformed and are transforming.”
For the first week of the new school year, we hear numerous stories like these from friends and peers; of summers full of adventure, of relaxation, of hard work and many experiences in between. And these summers, in many ways, live up to the positive Swarthmore stereotypes that sometimes show themselves and sometimes fall flat when school is actually in session. But perhaps the new year presents a new opportunity to enact the lessons of summer, to use our brains to solve all sorts of problems and to reach out to all different kinds of communities.