In Spring earlier this year, a friend sent me a link to a programme he thought I’d find interesting – a three-week Philosophy summer school located in Pennsylvania, USA. Successful applicants would receive free accommodation in Pittsburgh (a really nice city) and be able to participate in the programme without charge. The topic of the summer school was really well aligned with my interests. Despite the obvious benefits, my initial response to the suggestion was dismissal. I’d never thought myself to be a ‘summer-school type of person’ and imagined that, for one, I’d never be accepted onto the programme, and secondly that all the other participants would be much better (and nerdier) than me. Luckily, I mentioned the programme in passing to a professor who advised me to stop being an idiot and apply – decisions about whether to attend in the case of acceptance could be made further down the line. When I was accepted onto the programme, the idea had assimilated into my mind and it had become clear that rejecting the opportunity would be a bad choice.
A few months later I set out for Pittsburgh. I wasn’t too worried about the trip as three weeks seemed like such a short period. I was far from home, but I was somewhere safe and many things – i.e. schedule and accommodation – were laid out for me by the programme organiser. I think my biggest concern was the content of the course itself. I was worried that I wouldn’t like it, or that it would be too difficult and I’d be out of my depth. The academic aspect seemed, at the time, like a principal reason for going. What I’d really underestimated was the joy of meeting people who had such similar interests to me (unusual considering these interests are kind of niche!). The other participants were also really kind and cool. We explored Pittsburgh together, checking out local bars, restaurants, museums, and gigs, and pretty strong friendships were forged given how limited the time we had was. The content was (of course) interesting too, though my concerns regarding its difficulty were not unfounded. However, this became something to be discussed together with the other students, rather than something to make me feel isolated and unworthy as I had imagined. My main takeaway from the programme was definitely the lateral connections I made with other people and the virtue of being part of a great network of interetsing people from all over the world. I think the whole experience really taught me to take opportunities when they arise, and to throw myself into things without too many expectations.