Upon arriving back to school each year, there is one question that you are undoubtedly asked more than once: “So, what did you do this summer?” While we all recognize the potentially irksome quality of this question, we are still somehow compelled to ask it—after all, it seems that every student has a fascinating summer story to share.

This past summer, Sam Bernhardt ’10 traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, where he stayed with members of his extended family while working to spread AIDS awareness with a top South African AIDS advocacy group called the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).

“As a biology and science in society major I couldn’t think of a better place to be than South Africa, a country where racial politics have exacerbated the HIV crisis more than any other African country,” Bernhardt said.

Bernhardt explained that one of the largest problems with AIDS in South Africa is denial of both the severity of the disease and the fact that it can be helped through antiviral medications.

“The government is run by a president who is an AIDS denialist, meaning he denies a link between HIV and AIDS,” Bernhardt said. “As a result of this, the government didn’t make antiretrovirals [drugs for AIDS] available until very recently.”

At TAC, Bernhardt put together a pamphlet on AZT, a primary retroviral drug, in which he explained biology behind the way in which the treatment works.

“This is important because a lot of denialists put propaganda out there saying antiretrovirals are toxic, so disseminating correct information is critical,” he said.

During his stay, Bernhardt also worked with TAC on a lawsuit against Mattias Rath, a man who sells expensive multivitamins that he claims alleviate AIDS symptoms better than antiretroviral medications do. In addition to his work with the TAC, Bernhardt also made a large effort to integrate himself into the Cape Town community, tutoring high school seniors in geometry for one week.

“All in all, it was a great experience,” Bernhardt said. “I got to meet my family, learn about the AIDS crisis in South Africa, and affiliate myself with nonwestern culture in general. I strongly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to do something similar.”

Noah Hutton ’09 also spent his summer traveling and learning about another culture. Like Bernhardt, Hutton was in Africa for most of his summer, where he and three students from other colleges filmed a documentary about Uganda.

“I got involved with the documentary because I used to work at a movie theater owned by one of the producers,” Hutton said. “So I heard about his project and applied.”

The documentary, which Hutton and the other students will continue editing this fall, portrays many aspects of everyday life in Uganda. The students focused on three issues—AIDS, ex-child soldiers, and water treatment—using the input of other American college students who work on these problems, as well as Ugandans affected by the issues.

Hutton thought that filming in Uganda was a great way to participate in an activity that interested him, while simultaneously learning about a different way of life.

“It was definitely a learning experience for me,” Hutton said. “And the most eye-opening summer I’ve had in a long time, both in the process of filmmaking and in the process of meeting Ugandans and seeing how these issues are affecting their lives.”

While some students participate in activities abroad, one student, Nate Fowles ’10 had a meaningful summer close to home. This summer, the Maine native worked on a lobster boat owned by a children’s summer camp in Bremen, Maine.

“We took out campers and showed them how the traps work, the legal regulations involved, and the wildlife of the Maine coast,” he said.

Fowles loved that his job as a lobster fisherman gave him the opportunity to work with kids and be under the hot summer sun. He also realized that sometimes it is the simplest delights of summer that offer the biggest perks.

“Best part of the job?” Fowles said. “Free lobster.”

Liana Woskie ’10 also stayed in the U.S., but traveled all around the country in a 4,000-mile Habitat for Humanity bike ride.

“Last summer I worked as a managerial assistant for the department of the history of science at Harvard University, very much a ‘desk job,’” Woskie said. “However interesting the job was, I was desperate to find something more meaningful and active to do the following summer.”

Before participating, Woskie and the other riders raised $4,000 each, amounting to about one dollar per mile biked. The participants split into three smaller groups. Departing from New Haven, they rode to San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle. The bikers took a day of “rest” about once a week, during which they helped participate in local Habitat for Humanity house building projects and gave presentations about their cause.

Woskie explained that Habitat’s main objective involves promoting equality through building affordable homes for people from low-income communities.

“Our goal is not one that can be achieved in any single summer,” Woskie said. “It is an ongoing process to which we hope to have given some strength.”

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