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5 Reasons to Join an International Summer School

By Rafis Abazov

Updated March 17, 2021 Updated March 17, 2021

By Rafis Abazov and Aizhan Smailova

An international summer school provides the opportunity to have an exciting experience in a highly stimulating environment and very often in an exotic location. My students usually don’t regret having swapped the beach or home sweet home for summer school, as they highlight that an international summer school is an enriching opportunity both professionally and personally. The study load is often lighter compared to the traditional semester, yet you’ll be able not only to listen to top experts and learn about the latest trends in the field, but also to add new connections to your network.  

Here are five reasons to join an international summer school:

1. Have a memorable international experience

Have a memorable international experience

Extensive international experience is a must for any graduate who would like to become successful in professional life. However, it is not easy to leave your alma mater for a year abroad or even for a semester. And not every person would like to spend a whole year in the environment of a developing country. In this situation international summer schools – which are usually two to three weeks in length – offer a unique means of gaining professional experience and discovering new opportunities.

An example is the international summer school we ran at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU) entitled “Kazakhstan and Central Asia on the Great Silk Road.” Organized by Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) jointly with a group of universities from Almaty, Beijing, Xi’an and Hong Kong, the summer school comprised of two parts: one in China and one in Kazakhstan. It offered the chance to explore emerging economies, evolving regional trends and life in oil-rich Kazakhstan – terra incognita that is little explored even by National Geographic – with its gorgeous mountains and exotic ancient nomadic traditions and cultures. A group of international students learned about Kazakhstan and its position on the Silk Road not only in the classrooms of Al-Farabi KazNU, but also by travelling to the countryside to learn about ancient ways of breeding horses and camels – and even drinking camels’ milk (yes, this is a part of the summer school learning process!).

2. Learn from top academics and professionals

Apple’s Steve Jobs has often repeated that “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” In order to become a leader, it is very important to learn from leaders, and often international summer schools attract experts who are typically busy and often inaccessible during the academic year. Good schools try to attract not just educators and professors, but also experienced practitioners from different fields. In the case of the Silk Road International Summer School in Kazakhstan, the organizers invited practitioners from the UN office, UNESCO, USAID and other international and national organizations and diplomatic missions.

3. Network with like-minded people

Top-notch international summer schools are built around specific themes and target students and faculty who have interest in and enthusiasm for very special issues. Unlike the traditional university environment where students are among those who gained admission to a certain program, international summer schools attract like-minded people according to their professional interests. These networks are very strong and effective, as an international summer school can be built around specific themes like business, innovation, global and regional sustainable development issues, etc.

4. Gain knowledge and transferable credits

During the academic semester students may miss out on interesting courses for a variety of reasons, and in some instances specialized topics are not covered in the regular curriculum. Summer schools are more flexible and dynamic. For example, in the case of the Silk Road International Summer School, students are interested in exploring not just cultures and inter-cultural communication in the Great Silk Road region, but also in emerging ideas and trends about traditional and innovative sustainable infrastructure from China to Europe via Central Asia, and they had interesting discussions on these issues.

5. Gain hands-on experience

American poet and writer James Russell Lowell once said, “One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.” International summer schools provide good opportunities to have hands-on experiences in different formats. These experiences might range from meeting local policy makers and representatives of NGOs, to visiting local businesses and learning how business really works in a specific country, or even rolling up your sleeves to work on small projects. For instance, participants of the Silk Road International Summer School, together with KazNU’s MDP program on sustainability, had a chance to visit a camel farm to discuss the impact of climate change and rainfall patterns on camel breeding.

As an MDP/Global Classroom student from the summer school said, “Ultimately, an international summer school is about learning through traveling, hands-on experience and networking.”

This article was originally published in August 2016 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

Dr Rafis Abazov is a visiting professor at Al Farabi Kazakh National University, Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he also manages a joint program with Earth Institute of Columbia University (New York, USA). He has written 10 books, including The Culture and Customs of the Central Asian Republics (2007) and has regularly contributed op-eds to The New York Times. Mr Abazov enjoys collecting rare books on British exploration of Central Asia and reading travelogues on Central Asia and the Middle East by Eugene Schuyler, Vladimir Bartold and Lord George Curzon. He has also authored photo exhibitions about his trips to Central Asian republics, Turkey and Afghanistan. 

Contact info: Office 1400 Rectorat, 71 Al Farabi Ave., Al Farabi KazNU, Almaty, 050040, Kazakhstan