Sarah Davis took a break during her summer internship for Lit Youngstown to be a counselor in the Summer in America program at Youngstown State. We asked her to tell us about her experiences.
Summer in America, a program hosted by Youngstown State University’s International Programs Office, was held from July 12th to August 2nd, 2019 and invited students from other countries to live on campus and experience life in the United States. This year, the program saw an increase in participants from 14 to 68 students and faculty members from China and Taiwan. My time with Summer in America is one that I will truly never forget I got to meet a lot of students who I really connected and became friends with that I will miss dearly.
I moved into YSU’s Kilcawley House just two days before the start of the camp, a bit nervous and filled with a bit of dread because I was still a bit unsure of what to expect from working at the camp for three weeks. My coworker, Devin, and I unpacked and started to make sure the rooms were ready for the students’ arrival just a couple days later. These two days leading up to the students’ arrival were filled with various tasks to ensure that the agenda was set and the program’s events would proceed as planned. Admittedly it was a lot for three people, myself, Devin, and our interim coordinator, Leah, to have on our plates. Nevertheless, everything that needed doing got done and we let no challenge trip us up. Be it going on multiple shopping trips for pillows, or reserving spaces for meals or activities for our massive group, we did everything we could to make sure the camp was ready and welcoming. We very quickly became an unstoppable team, adapting to this new challenge together.
Once the students arrived, my experience changed. My dread disappeared and I wasn’t as unsure, but I was still nervous. From July 12th to 15th we welcomed groups of students as they arrived, some later than intended due to flight delays and cancellations. This meant some late nights for me and Devin, checking in some groups that didn’t get to the campus until after 1 am. Then we had to make sure to get everyone up for breakfast at 8 am. The two of us spent those first few nights busy and tired beyond belief but we had each other’s backs the whole time which made it all so much more doable.
When all the craziness of waiting and checking in had finally passed, that’s when the program had truly begun for all of us. The events were kicking in and we finally had time to actually get to know the participants (the highlight of my experience without a doubt). With each event, I got to spend time with the students and form wonderful new friendships. Our first big activity together was a trip to Niagara Falls. It was the first time I’d ever been and it was even more incredible than I could have imagined. We were up and on the buses bright and early and got back late at night that day. But that wasn’t the only group trip they had planned for us. We also took trips to Cleveland and Pittsburgh that gave everyone time to shop and see the sights and highlights of each city. So we got used to spending a lot of time on buses, often sleeping.
Our life in the residence hall became almost routine. Each day was packed with almost back to back activities in the hopes of really letting the participants take advantage of their time here. They got a chance to see what YSU had to offer in each of its departments, along with Youngstown as a whole. And afterwards, each night, we’d go back to Kilcawley House where they all had free time. They would do things like go shopping, swimming, to the REC, or explore downtown. Meanwhile, Devin and I, along with our honorary student worker, Rose, would get to hang out with the participants which meant getting to chat, play games, join them on outings, bake cookies, tie dye shirts, and so many other activities. It was a blast and a wonderful cultural exchange. I feel like I learned almost as much about their cultures as they learned about ours.
An experience like this made me realize how, in no time at all, anything can become routine. For me, it did. Waking up at 7:20 to be ready for breakfast at 8 am. Going to English and American Culture classes. Meals at the dining hall, and those free times in the evenings. The end result was a cultural exchange that I will never forget. I made friends that I have kept in contact with since their return home, even with the 12 hour time difference. The other workers and I miss getting to spend time with them here. But we can all agree that we’ve created memories that we will always hold dear. As much of a learning experience as Summer in America was, I would do it again in a heartbeat and I know the program will only continue to get better from here.