When I was asked to write about my experiences with ISSP, the first prompt question I was given was: “Why do you keep coming back?” As I read it, I really hoped that it was asked with a tone of intrigue, rather than with the subtext of ‘why can’t we get rid of her?’, because in all honesty I’m not sure they can. I attended my first summer school when I was 11, I turn 21 this September, and I’m still hanging around. What have I done in those 10 years? I hear you ask. I have attended 2 summer schools, helped at 4, spent a term learning Chinese (I can still say hello, how are you, and sing an off key version of Happy Birthday) and got to spend a few weekends drawing dead pheasants.
So, why do I keep coming back? ISSP masterclasses have offered me opportunities to learn things I wouldn’t have even thought about approaching on my own, and give me access to people, resources and places I wouldn’t have otherwise. In the art masterclass I took in year 11, we were allowed into St. Peter’s art studios, which meant I got to use print making equipment and have my work shown in a space that my own school simply couldn’t have provided me with. Although the things you learn in an ISSP masterclass aren’t going to be things you’re tested on in end of year exams, they really do end up being useful. Lessons I learnt about negative space in the art course I took in that first summer school have continued to inform my choices in illustrations to this day. At last year’s summer school I got to be a part of a course on ‘The Gothic in Literature’, which although it was aimed at a group of students a little younger than myself, actually served to give me a tentative base for an essay written only last term. More importantly, however, more than a few times a year I get to whip out a multicultural version of Happy Birthday.
I’m now going to have to get a bit sentimental with you, so apologies, I promise it’ll be brief. Firstly, the one word that lurks around the sell of all group situations, especially for young people, and that’s friendship. 10 years later, I’m still friends with people I met in my first summer school, I even see some of them around at uni, which is great as I’m a bit of a social recluse. Secondly, we have the warm fuzzies factor. It’s really pretty awesome seeing new groups of young people getting to the things I loved when I was their age, and getting to be a part of making that experience is even better. Although, you do have to overcome the occasional demoralising moment of ‘wow, these kids are so much smarter than I was at (insert age here)’.
On a more serious note, it can be difficult being labelled ‘clever’ in school. You end up with a bizarre complex about failing (because you don’t know how to and no one ever expects you to), the honour of being a pseudo-human-google for your friends, and occasionally a real talent for thumb twiddling. But, however daft it may sound, ISSP masterclasses, workshops and summer schools offer you a place to be ‘clever’ without the baggage. They’re all about finding what drives you to keep working at a subject and then giving you the resources and the push to build yourself into a better vehicle for that knowledge.
That said, I think if you asked me “Why do you keep coming back?” in person, the answer would probably just be “because it’s fun”.