Do you remember that terrible week of your summer holidays when you were little, and your parents didn’t know what to do with you? When they would sign you up for a… Summer Camp? Without fail they would get everything wrong: your interests, which summer camp your friends attended, and when they wanted to send you to the cool-and-trendy camp, they were normally lagging behind the actual trends by about a year (or sometimes even a decade). This is a post about a different kind of summer camp, a summer camp that kids can choose to attend and actually enjoy: the Eötvös College Science Summer Camp, which was held this summer for the second year running.
It’s a camp for high school students, and as the name suggests, it’s all about science: biology, chemistry, physics, geography/geology, maths, informatics, you name it. And while a science camp might not sound might impressive, in this case it is: it’s a week-long camp organized exclusively by university students, most of them only just completing their bachelor degree. And by exclusively, I mean exclusively – they really do organise everything: fundraising, practicalities like food and accommodation, advertising, scientific program, ushering the attendees around town, everything. All that would be an amazing accomplishment for any professional event planner, yet alone for students who do this in their spare time.
The camp also stands out, because it is true value-for-money: students pay approximately 60 Euros for a week of science, which includes full board and accommodation, as well as the costs of all activities. Even in Hungary, a country where average monthly salaries are around 750Euros, that’s affordable.
And of course, I should not fail to mention the fantastic science program! The activities are tailored to the students’ interests, and cover a pretty diverse spectrum of topics. Mornings normally include plenary lectures, while in the afternoon students can attend talks, practicals or excursions based on their preferred subject. This year, the program included chemistry, physics and biology experiments, visits to research institutes, science museums and the planetarium, excursions to look at rare plant specimens and even caving in the limestones caves around Budapest. The evenings were dedicated to social activities, from magic tricks, discussions on literature to board games and camp fires. This is not only a broad range of activities, but also gave participants and organizers the opportunity to get to know each other and talk. Moreover, many of the lecturers and tutors also stayed around after their talk to discuss with students. Possibly the only missing item on the agenda was a glimpse at the more subjective side of science and research, in the form of discussion rounds, debates or journal clubs, as well as a demonstration how modern media and online tools are transforming the field.
The almost 50 high-school students from all over Hungary and the Hungarian-speaking border regions didn’t seem to miss such activities, though. During the camp they stayed on-site in the one of the oldest “elite” colleges of Hungary, the Eötvös College, and thus were pretty much immersed by science 24/7. To some extent the summer camp, had a touch of a “recruitment program” feel, and as I’ve argued before I’m not sure I agree with the notion of funneling more youngsters towards a career in science. However, having said that I do also think that it can never be wrong to communicate how interesting, beautiful and diverse science is, which this camp definitely does. I hope the dedication of the organizers lasts, and we will bear witness to many more years of the Eötvös College Science Summer Camp!