Hey, how was your summer?
Great, and yours?
Stop! For the love of originality, I can’t take it anymore.
In the last week, I have begun to loathe that initial question not only for the insufferable redundancy of the reply, but also for my sheer inability to answer sententiously what seems to be the rather straightforward question at hand. Worst of all, it’s not just me. Since arriving on campus, every last one of us has summed up our summers in one often painfully pedestrian adjective — good, fine, great — with varying levels of enthusiasm, depending on whether or not we’re hungover at the time of inquiry.
There’s got to be a better way. We must begin the healing process by appreciating the fact that, for the majority of Yale undergraduates, “Summer” is no longer tantamount to the lazy days and barefoot delinquency of traditional “Sandlot”-style summers. A Yalie’s summer is the annual third trimester in an academic gestation period. It is characterized by work, stress and often deliberately mind-expanding travel, which either compounds or, more often than not, nullifies all which seems irrefutably important during the academic semester.
Every year come May, a young army of undergraduate Yale students venture beyond the hallowed walls of our scholastic haven to come, see and conquer the globe in whatever field it is in which we have chosen to indulge.
Some members of our brave battalion spent the last three and half months voyaging into the deserts of full-time employment, dappling naively with I-banking, managerial authority and paralegal work. Others opted for the jungles of nonconformance, staging “Office Space” inspired mutinies against the special Hell constructed (I imagine) by a horde of sadists with interns in mind — a Hell populated entirely by Xerox machines, Excel Worksheets and a daily dose of the hope-shattering realization that “happy employment” is an oxymoron.
Others of our mighty militia took to the labs, tracking and observing the neural-development of rats, researching the susceptibility of broad-leaf plants to a slew of pollutants, testing the viability of earthquake-predicting technology, and stopping only to swap tales with their white-cloaked compatriots prodding diligently at various samples of the Mad Cow virus across the hall.
Still other Nalgene-laden comrades discovered a part of the world where customs were foreign, where laws were unlike our own, and the local language sounded more like beat-boxing than a series of distinct words. They saw animals whose evolution started and ended on one three-hundred mile square-foot island; they saw beaches that bent into the horizon with the curvature of the earth; they saw the kind of poverty that makes anyone who has ever spent over $50 on a pair of New Balances feel physically nauseous.
Perhaps the metaphor of world domination is a bit insensitive, considering our nation’s novel international policy as of March 2002. But nonetheless, we really cannot ignore how we — the few, the proud, the Yale undergraduates — fan out over the nation and planet every summer, infecting every industry, every career and every field of study like a particularly tenacious strain of Ivy-league pandemic.
It is exactly this diversity of locations, occupations and experiences that renders the question, “How was your summer?” so profoundly difficult to answer. Not one of us shared the exact same experience during our individual summertime conquests, nor drew the same lessons from the events we did share.
My summer was probably like many of yours in that it had its ups and downs. Answering, “great” doesn’t begin to do justice to the vast majority of individual moments, yet it seems strangely accurate in a retroactive, nonspecific analysis of the season. Most of us, for example, did not discover in our summer internships that which we want to spend the rest of our lives doing. And most of us, even despite our exotic travels, have yet to reach some luminous, jarring epiphany about the state of the world and our infinitesimal roles in it.
But, I am willing to venture a guess here: while perhaps one in a hundred of us experienced something life-changing, all of us learned something — however small — that is unique from any other Yalie’s experience and will go on to inform some part of our lives in the future. It is through this individuality of experience that we can find a better answer to the aforementioned question, “How was your summer?”
For the sake of our collective sanities this September, I ask you all to examine your respective summers and decide what it is you learned — what universal lessons might be applied — to your idiosyncratic experience. My summer, in all its tumultuousness, was pocked with bits of universally applicable advice, which in the absence of “great” I hope will suffice as a laconic response to The Question at hand:
Lesson 1: When renting a bed in a developing nation, never look at the mattress.
Lesson 2: If you do look at the mattress, utilize the following mantra: “The deep red marks are cranberry juice concentrate, the yellow marks are orange juice with pulp, and the short black hairs are from a very clean and curly-haired dog.” Repeat as necessary.
Lesson 3: Crusty bread is OK. Crusty meat is not.
Lesson 4: If the locals say its spicy, it’s spicy. Regardless of how robust your Wisconsin-born tongue, you will most likely cry either at the moment of ingestion, or several days later. Act accordingly.
Lesson 5: If someone speaks to you in a language that sounds alarmingly similar to a garbage disposal malfunctioning, cock your head slightly to the right while smiling and blinking with a hint of desperation.
Lesson 6: All insects in tropical nations have been artificially enlarged so that you can better study their anatomy. As a corollary, ants that share the same girth as your big toe ought not to be touched.
Lesson 7: When you have puss-filled, red welts that begin at your knees and seem to move “north” at a rate of six inches per day, do not wait two days “just to see what will happen when…”
Lesson 8: If you haven’t seen either a pasture, a source of electricity, or a cow for several hundred miles, chances are the raw “beef” being sold in the sun on the side of the road is neither fresh, nor refrigerated, nor beef.
Lesson 9: “Montezuma’s revenge” sounds funny. It is not.
Lesson 10: In the famous song, the words “Champagne Room” ought to be replaced with “The Bunk-Bed Room In A Shared Hostel.” Enough said.
Many have sffered for the knowledge disseminated above so that you need not make the same mistakes.
In the meantime, eat outside, sleep with your windows wide open, and whatever you do, don’t answer, “Great, and yours?”
Haley Edwards does not put up with any crap.