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“Are you ready for the summer? Are you ready for the sunshine?” This popular U.S. song is sung by the smallest school kids all the way to college-aged students this time of year. As spring semester final exams end across the country, international students have a variety of options to fill the days and weeks before classes resume in the fall.

For some, returning home for a much-needed break to reconnect with family and friends is long overdue. Jude Abu Musallam, a junior at Auburn University (Alabama) studying civil engineering, is searching for an internship close to his family in Amman, Jordan, “because any time spent with them is a time well spent.” Few could disagree with that sentiment.

But for many international students, summer means staying in the United States for a variety of reasons. As they quickly learn, the United States is quite diverse geographically, socially and culturally with much to explore, both near and far from their college campus. Our colleagues at U.S. News & World Report shared an article outlining options for international students five years ago. Here’s an updated approach on what is possible.

Explore local community events

Oftentimes students need look no further than their college’s backyard to find activities to keep them busy during June, July and August. The summer months often provide international students the time to see the community outside of their everyday campus life. Typically, many more activities are available in the local town, city or region than are offered on campus during the summer. As Arjit Singh, a senior industrial design major from India studying at Auburn University, suggests, “If you’re in a small town, there’re always places to go explore and adventure around. In big cities, I’m sure you can find something that interests you!”

Experience Fourth of July celebrations

Perhaps no other holiday represents the United States of America more effectively than Independence Day, held on July 4 each year. This year marks the 242nd anniversary of the day in 1776 when the American colonies declared their independence from the British Empire.

Arjit is looking forward to the July 4th holiday. “Two years back, some of my friends visited a lake and took some pictures. It looked like a good time.” With the fireworks and fair food available during Fourth of July festivities, chances are there is something new to experience and taste.

Get ahead on studies

Many international students whose first semester or year of studies were spent taking English as a foreign language courses and/or other academic preparatory programs are eager to get ahead in their academic degree programs. Many colleges and universities offer summer courses for students. Although he could not secure an internship this summer, Arjit found a four-week chair design course in his major that is proving quite useful. He plans “to have a full size wooden chair by June 20!”

Work/internship opportunities

Two benefits international students have while in the United States on F-1 visa status involve work permission. For students not taking classes during the summer, if on-campus jobs are available, they can work up to 40 hours per week. Because Arjit is taking a course in the first part of the summer, he is working three part-time jobs on campus: “Currently, I work at the Miller Writing Center, the Library of Architecture, Design and Construction, and as a Student Ambassador for Auburn Global. Even though these might not seem like the most ideal jobs related to my major, I believe that I am learning a lot of things from each one.”

For students who have spent a full academic year on campus or who are well into classes for their degree program, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) may be available. If a student’s academic degree program has a required internship course or considers having an internship to be an integral part of the program, students can work and potentially receive academic credit for that internship as part of legally allowed CPT work. CPT can provide students essential work experience in their field of studies before graduation and can lead to job possibilities after students complete their degrees.

Travel around the United States

Perhaps the most common experience for international students in the United States during extended break periods is to explore the country’s incredible landscapes, historical sites and amazing cities. In Jude’s case, he had the unique chance to visit New York and Massachusetts with his parents and brother, who had flown in from Jordan. Jude says he loves visiting museums and historic places. “That’s why I always try to travel during our long breaks. I’ve been to California, Georgia, Mississippi, West Virginia and DC by myself.” Arjit also spent time last summer visiting family in New York. These trips help to give students a much broader picture of what the United States is.

Differences between the United States and home

How do international students compare how their summers are spent here versus back home? While Jude loves his time at home in Jordan with his family, because he hasn’t been in the United States for long, he claims “I feel like a tourist on every trip.” Arjit, on the other hand, says “at home, I would not be as productive. Being here helps me focus on a lot of things simultaneously.”

Of course, summers at home usually mean students can fall into familiar, comfortable patterns. As Arjit remarks, “it’s more relaxed at home because I also don’t have to worry about cooking and other house chores. [In Alabama, away from my family,] I learn a lot of new stuff when I do things on my own. I think it helps me get ready for the real world.”

Final advice

Whatever an international student does in the summer months, there is always something new to learn. When asked what advice he might give, Arjit shares, “Summer is a great time to do some cool side projects or focus more on your favorite hobby [or] on other things you’ve not been able to do during the busy fall and spring semesters. Just don’t sit idle. You can learn something new every day!” Jude agrees: “There’s also a lot of history etched in every place so I usually take a notebook with me to write down anything I find interesting. There’s really no limits on where you could go in the US and what you can do, so try to make as many memories as you possibly can while you’re there!”

Whichever path international students choose for their summer months, they should pay special attention to maintaining their F-1 visa status during this break period. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Study in the States service provides useful reminders for overseas students.

As the song says, “No more pencils, no more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks. No more math and history. Summer time has set us free.” Enjoy the summer!