My name is Melanie and I am a recent graduate of UC Berkeley’s physics, astronomy, and German departments. For many undergrads, spring semester is the time to plan and apply for their summer break. It can be a window for going home, working, staying in Berkeley to do full-time research, participating in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), doing an internship, or traveling – which are all fantastic options. One of the best decisions I made in college was to participate in the International Astronomical Youth Camp (IAYC), and I’d like to share with you why you should consider this program for part of your summer.
I first heard about the IAYC through a Facebook post in a physics group, advertised as a summer camp in Europe for 16-24 year olds interested in astronomy. I was attracted to the idea of being able to combine travel to Europe with my astrophysics major, but when I got there, it became so much more than just those two passions. In just three weeks, I was able to form connections with 70 science students from 30 different countries. We were segmented into working groups, which have an overall topic – such as particle physics, cultural astronomy, rover robotics, and so much more – in which people partner up on a specific project tailored to their educational background. The leaders form their groups while balancing nationality, gender, and age so that each group is a deliberate mixture of identities and backgrounds. At the end of the camp, partnerships write a formal report on their project, which gets consolidated and published in a beautiful report book and keepsake. Though “astronomy” is in the name, it is for students studying all disciplines – including math, engineering, chemistry, physics, and others – who have an interest in the program.
Unlike a summer school or REU, the IAYC maintains a camp-like atmosphere. There is no internet allowed and connecting over games, music, sports, and competitions is stressed instead. We have a rigid daily schedule of eating, working, relaxing, and bonding activities, with two days during the camp that are for a “field trip” and free day. In 2015 in Germany, we visited the Karl Schwarzschild Observatory in Jena, Germany. In 2017 in Spain, we visited the European Space Astronomy Centre in Madrid, Spain. In 2018 in the UK, you’ll have to come to see where we go! My favorite part about the IAYC is the passionate and talented people who attend. On one of the most special nights, people from each country put together a short presentation about their country. It’s a chance to share culture such as dance and dress, show off your country’s food (USA brought pop rocks in 2017), make people laugh, or even share political sentiments, such as from the perspective of a student in a conflict-filled country. During this event alone, I learned more about far corners of the world than I ever did in school.
The IAYC is an incredibly unique learning experience and environment. Everyone meeting the age requirement can apply – there is no GPA requirement, no prior research experience or skills needed, and no letters of recommendation to chase after. The application simply consists of a motivation letter in which you describe why you want to come, how the experience would benefit you, and how accepting you would benefit the camp. Applications for summer 2018 are open at apply.iayc.org until April 7th, and you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions!