Come summer, many students are itching to leave school for a season of fresh and fun experiences. But these are just the norms of summer. Oliver Nathan ’17 chose to go the road less traveled by taking a gap year and feeding his wanderlust to roam Europe.
After graduating from the Lawrenceville School, in New Jersey, Nathan chose to participate in a program called the English-Speaking Union, enrolling for a post-graduate year in England.
“I hadn’t traveled [to] Europe, and I wanted to do something on my own,” he said.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Nathan’s gap year was the fact that, with a single Eurail Pass, he was able to journey all throughout Europe—going everywhere from Greece to England. During his travels to many completely new and foreign places, Nathan realized the superfluous excess that pervaded his life at home.
“The most value and fun you have in life has nothing to do with the items surrounding you,” he said.
Out of all the fascinating sights Nathan absorbed during his travels, he was especially fond of the small, esoteric city of Ljubljana in Slovenia.
“I honestly didn’t know anything about it. I just knew I wanted to go,” he said. “And it’s just the most gorgeous city I’ve ever seen. A huge part of [the experience] was the surprise in discovering a whole new world of beauty.”
A year of exploring has also taught Nathan certain lessons he couldn’t have learned in a classroom, such as what it means to be independent.
“I realized how much personal power I had,” Nathan explained.
While traveling Europe might not be a prospect in all of our futures, Nathan strongly encourages openness to new experiences anytime and anywhere. To any budding bold explorer, he offers a word of advice: “The world is a big playground. If you want to explore, start exploring, now. Literally, you can. Right now.”
Emma Lange ’16 knew early on that she was interested in politics. Hence, when she saw the opportunity to intern with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin in Washington, D.C., she was quick to take advantage of a firsthand experience in her anticipated field.
Iowa native Lange applied for the internship, which is open to students around the world, after classmate Peter Bautz ’15 completed it the year before.
While some of Lange’s internship inevitably involved running errands and other administrative duties, most of her responsibilities were related to her interest in legal policy.
Lange worked in an office with other staffers and interns from all over the world who shared her interest in policy. When the senators held briefings or hearings, Lange’s responsibilities included typing up memos for the rest of the staffers.
“I got to go to a hearing on the IRS scandal when that was starting,” Lange said. “I got to see the inspector general and the new commissioner of the IRS after 12 days of being on the job, and it was a swarm of press.”
During these meetings, Lange thoroughly enjoyed watching the presiding officer due to the fact that she currently holds the same position within Grinnell’s student government. However, compared to the atmosphere at Grinnell, the Senate was a far more formal work place.
“Coming back here was so nice—not having to do my hair and not having to worry about being pretty gender normative,” Lange said.
She currently intends to double major in political science and gender, women’s, and sexuality studies with a concentration in technology studies. While this may seem like a full plate, Lange is hopeful that she will be able to combine her interests in women’s activism and policy-making to eventually pursue an active role in Iowa politics.
For her first few years at Grinnell, Emily Mesev ’15 saw herself becoming a physician—taking the required classes and going to medical school after graduation. But after spending this summer doing lung cancer research through a National Institutes of Health-funded internship program at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Mesev decided she is far more suited to the research side of medicine.
“My project centered on the combined use of a virus with chemotherapy to treat lung cancer cells in the lab,” Mesev said via email to the S&B. “After 10 weeks I actually got results I had hoped for and that was a great feeling.”
Mesev applied for the internship through the National Science Foundation’s website and was matched to the Minneapolis laboratory based on her interests in research.
Once there, she shadowed a physician as he interacted with patients. Despite initially thinking that she would practice medicine in the future, she was not nearly as comfortable with the idea when she was reconsidered the great responsibility that comes with being a physician.
“I don’t know how I’d deal with having someone’s life in my hands like that,” Mesev said.
She was still able to see the appeal of such a career despite it not being for her. Instead, it was the research aspect of the internship that truly caught her eye.
“It was really interesting knowing all the background to why we were doing this, seeing this project unfold from start to … as finished as you can get in 10 weeks,” Mesev said.
Much like Grinnell, the small lab facility at the University of Minnesota gave Mesev the chance to interact and get to know her coworkers. She actually quite enjoyed the “daily grind” of the lab, fondly recalling grabbing lunch and chatting about fishing with her co-workers.
The hot summer sun. Meticulous maps of petroglyphs. The Grand Canyon. Elephant snot. Government-hating polygamists. According to Sam Krauth ’14, this was just “another day at the office.”
This past summer, Krauth headed off to Arizona for an 8-week internship for the United States Forest Service. As an assistant to a forest archaeologist, he helped survey lands to determine if there were archaeological sites hidden within wilderness areas and spent a good deal of time recording ancient rock art, or petroglyphs.
As a political science major, Krauth did not have any archeological background whatsoever, but saw the internship, which was facilitated through the Center for Careers, Life, and Service’s GRINNELLINK program, as an opportunity to go outside of his comfort zone.
“There were a lot of things I made connections to. It was cool to see a government agency in action,” Krauth explained. “I understand why people get frustrated with [them] because there’s always a trade-off. You’re always going to be upsetting someone about something.”
Krauth has returned to Grinnell with many stories to share. For example, he and his boss, Neil Weintraub ’86, were perplexed when they discovered that a main site in one of the forests, Keyhole Sink, had been vandalized with acrylic paint. In order to remove the vandalism, they had to use an interestingly named product.
“We eventually found this biodegradable substance called Elephant Snot, so what we ended up doing was hiking into the forest about 15 times,” Krauth recalled. “It was a grueling summer in terms of hiking around.”
From working with archaeologists to mistakably finding himself in the polygamist capital of the country, Krauth has had his fair share of new experiences this past summer. While he admits he can’t quite explain why he was compelled to intern with the Forest Service in particular, he believes in the importance of exploring the opportunities that surround us.
“It’s a time in your life when you can do something that interests you,” he said. “So take a chance. You’re not going to feel like you’re wasting your time.”
All photos were contributed.