Vacation education

(Originally published in The California Aggie)

Ah, winter break. Time to spend half the day sleeping and the other half being slowly eaten by your couch in front of “Jersey Shore” reruns, right?

Not so fast. It may be tempting to spend those three glorious weeks in a vegetative state, but the holiday break actually allows you the chance to earn an education in something other than the fine art of Doing Absolutely Nothing ‘Cause After 10 Weeks of Working My Ass Off I Deserve It, Dammit.

I’m talking about an education in culture. No school means you have time to broaden your horizons in art, books, travel, whatever. It means you have time to interact with people who don’t spend 90 percent of their days either in classrooms or in their bedrooms hunched over homework. Try a couple of the following activities and you’re guaranteed to start off the next quarter feeling refreshed, refined and, dare I say, a little more grown up.

Visit a museum. If the last time you went to a museum was the planetarium field trip in third grade, it’s definitely time for you to try it again. There is a museum for virtually anything: art of all mediums, historical artifacts, cinema, music, famous authors, even candy. It’ll remind you how fun it can be to learn something new. The best part? Knowing you won’t be tested on it, so you can wander, skip over boring exhibits and linger over your favorites as long as you like.

See an indie movie. It’s always fun to see the latest blockbusters, but it can be even more gratifying to discover a smaller film that’s not playing at the local multiplex. This season, look out for Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine and the animated French film The Illusionist. For these filmmakers movies are still an art form and watching them requires considerably more brain cells than the latest from Michael Bay.

Cook a delectable dessert. Nothing combats the stereotype of the ramen-guzzling college kid like a delicious, home-cooked dessert. Find easy recipes for cookies, fudge, gingerbread, cannoli and more at foodnetwork.com and other cooking sites. Conquering a new recipe and feasting on the (sometimes literal) fruits of your labor is just one of those simple pleasures you don’t have to be a professional chef to appreciate.

If you must study, bring your laptop to a coffee shop. Have you ever stopped by Starbucks and wondered what all those business-type people working away while sipping their lattes (in the middle of the day!) are doing? Turns out you actually don’t have to be locked away in your room or the library to get some work done – just charge up your laptop, pack up your books and head to the nearest coffee shop with WiFi to feel like Donald Trump while you work. It may sound silly, but simply surrounding yourself with energetic, motivated people can make you feel smart and accomplished yourself.

Read a book. Sure, it’s what you dreaded hearing your parents say whenever you complained about being bored as a kid, but old-fashioned Mom and Dad may have actually been on to something. If you’re not into novels, try a comic book, memoir, political exposé or even a travel guide. As long as it sparks your interest and doesn’t feel like homework, a book can be a relaxing and enlightening way to spend a few hours.

Go to the beach. For washing away the stresses of the past quarter there is simply nothing better than a day at the beach. Bring a dog if you have one, family, friends or just yourself and soak up the crashing of the waves, beautiful views and laid-back atmosphere. For even more of an adventure, explore a beach town you’ve never been to before. After poking around the art galleries and sampling the local fare, school will be a distant memory. For a little while, at least.

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