The Logic Behind Summer Language School Immersion Experiences
Updated: Apr 2
“Summer school”: the mere juxtaposition of these two words might sound like a contradiction to many people, as we are used to think of the summer simply as the season to relax and be free from any school (or study) obligation. However, this has never been the case for me.
Since I was little, I have always been attracted by the possibility of spending my summers enhancing some of my skills (especially language learning) and deepening the knowledge of my favorite subjects. I was quite a good pupil, and then became an excellent student, although I was surely not the typical overachiever, but rather a particularly inquiring person, ready to raise my hand on all occasions with a variety of unlikely questions. I felt there was never enough time at school to satisfy my thirst for knowledge and, although I would spend a good part of my time reading books and playing the piano, I still needed an active confrontation with people in a shared social context.
It soon became clear that the information and stories that were told to me directly by a person were the ones that stick longer into my memory, that the learning process was a totally different experience when it took place face to face, in the presence of others, especially when it was mediated by talented educators. Predictably, when school was over and summer started, I used to have an ambivalent feeling: on the one side, I felt a kind of liberation from the daily routine, but on the other I was caught by a sense of void, as my days just seemed so boring without any chance of challenging my curious mind.
Contrary to my expectations, during my school years, from primary to high school, my parents never really supported my desire of attending any extracurricular learning activity, such as summer camps that were held in other cities or on the seaside, and I still remember the disappointment and frustration during the long summer weeks that brought little intellectual pleasures.
Luckily, later in life I had the opportunity of making up for this lack, and during the years of my university studies, I soon became “famous” among my friends by virtue of my enthusiastic participation to a variety of summer schools abroad. Back then, information on the internet was quite limited and the first summer school I attended, before I even realized what exactly a summer school was, in 2005, was an intensive summer course on Serbian language at the University of Belgrade provided to foreign students pursuing a degree in Serbian Studies, as the one I was following at my home University in Trieste, Italy. The possibility of attending this summer school, consisting of language classes and several additional cultural activities, had been advertised at the beginning of the academic year by the Serbian language Professor during the presentation of the educational programs, and I, still undecided about my choice of study, saw it as an encouragement for choosing to study precisely that language.
After more than fourteen years since that unforgettable summer, I see how that amazing experience in Belgrade represented the turning point in both my professional career and in my path of personal development. I soon became dependent on that feeling of spending time abroad to improve my skills in a certain language or learn how to put into practice the knowledge I had acquired during my studies, as I did during the two summers I spent at the Konitsa Summer School in Greece, in a small town at the border with Albania, practicing ethnographic fieldwork with students from all over Europe. The friendships I made during those weeks are among the best ones I keep still now, and the self-confidence I gained by putting myself, alone, in a totally new context became the most significant factor to the further development of my successful career as an anthropologist, researcher and traveler.
In the past 14 years I have attended a total of 15 summer schools, that took me to other unusual places such as Prishtina in Kosovo and Valjevo in Serbia. Even if I am not a student anymore, I cannot stop wanting to be one, and this is the reason why I have not renounced my favorite summer activity. Indeed, the last summer school I attended was in August in the beautiful town of Bovec in Slovenia not so far from my home, where I studied the language of our neighbors. I am particularly proud of the fact that I convinced two of my university colleagues, together with the husband of one of them, to take part to this experience with me. The three of them had never attended a summer school before, it was their very first time and they absolutely adored it. In those magical two weeks, we all felt like young students again and enjoyed the cultural and hiking activities offered by the program, while reaching a remarkable level in Slovene.
For what concerns the future, I am planning to attend an intensive course of Mandarin language in the Taiwanese city of Hualien, I am still not sure if it will be next summer, but I really can’t wait for that!
After having spent so many summers taking part to different summer schools in over fifteen countries, I can definitely say that such experiences have contributed in a fundamental way to brighten my educational path, especially in terms of language proficiency (I can speak and write more than 10 languages and can read texts in more than 15) and practice my intercultural skills, all elements that have always been seen as a big plus in the academic context where I have been working. Furthermore, those summers spent studying abroad have also shaped the person I am today: a highly social and empathetic person, an independent woman who is not afraid of traveling alone and have a direct experience of the world.
I am particularly proud of the fact that, over the years, I have also managed to convince other people (friends, colleagues and acquaintances) to join me abroad for some unforgettable summer schools. I believe that everyone willing to challenge her/himself from a social point of view at any age would greatly benefit from such experiences, especially if they feel excited and curious about the idea of devoting some valuable time to the exploration of other cultures and languages. I have also realized that, from a professional point of view, a CV looks definitely more attractive to potential recruiters when it is filled with interesting experiences abroad and attendances of summer courses. Nowadays, in the endless ocean of information on the web, it has become increasingly difficult to figure out what is the right course of you, ad that is the reason why, in order to plan your participation to a desired summer school, I definitely recommend asking advice to specialized portal.
Author: Giustina Selvelli (PhD) is an anthropologist and writer who has taught topics related to diaspora and multilingualism at several academic institutions. She has lived in many countries including Canada, Turkey, Austria, Mexico, Greece and Serbia for personal and professional reasons and is fluent in around 10 languages.