My enjoyable summer on a budget

After years of spending my summers working, like a normal adult, I suddenly had a summer break. A rare, luxurious opportunity that arose after finishing graduate school in May and not starting law school until August. For a brief 2 seconds, I contemplated finding a job during the summer. But I grasped at this chance to completely relax and rest my mind before gearing up for a challenging 3 years of law school. Yes, I decided, relaxation it would be. June was occupied with moving from St. Louis to Berkeley. But I had all of July and most of August to do – what? Law school isn’t known to be cheap. I couldn’t be irresponsible and do what my heart really desired – travel the world – when I needed to save any money I could to pay tuition. So, I set out to have the best, most enjoyable summer I could on a budget. Here are the activities I did and how they ranked (on a 1-10 scale, 10 being a great summer activity I would recommend to anyone).

Yoga in the park – Free

Every Sunday morning, people around the neighborhood gather in the park to do yoga. Sponsored by Lululemon, this event is the epitome of what a leisurely summer morning should be. At 9:30 a.m., the day is at its most perfect temperature as it’s comfortably warm with a cool morning breeze. About 30-40 people gather on a grassy corner of the park. This area has a slight hill, so balancing yoga poses is particularly precarious. Nearby, people are playing with their dogs, who often can’t help but run amongst us as we do our downward dogs. Sometimes, there are people throwing a Frisbee around. The class is taught by a different instructor every week. A benefit to this is that it never gets boring. One week we practiced AcroYoga, splitting up into groups of three and doing more acrobatic things than I have ever done in my life. Some weeks, the instructor prefers energetic music to accompany power yoga. Other times we go at a more relaxed pace. The best part of this is that it’s free. So all in all, yoga in the park is a wonderful way to spend Sunday mornings. Afterwards, I feel both relaxed and refreshed, renewed by the fresh air and ready to conquer the day.

Rating: 10

Jogs through the neighborhood – Free

As someone who has lived through St. Louis summers the past few years – muggy with no relief from the heat even when the sun sets – it is incredible to live in a place where it is possible to even think about jogging outside in the summer. An afternoon or two each week, I crave some fresh air and exercise and thus go jogging. I’m not close to any parks big enough for running, but it is perfectly satisfactory to go up and down the blocks in the residential area where I live. This activity is free, which is awesome. But more importantly, it ranks high on my list because of the satisfaction I feel afterwards of being outdoors and accomplishing something. One thing that makes jogging here less than perfect is that the area is quite hilly. I guess on the one hand, the topology makes for a more intense workout. But on the other hand, I feel exhausted sooner, and it would be nice to be able to stay out longer.

Rating: 9

Reading books from the library – Free

Coming from someone who loves to browse the newest releases at bookstores and then possess my own copies, it was initially hard to contemplate reading worn copies and then having to return them. However, one can’t argue with the fact that it is a lot more affordable. As a result, I set out to the library as soon as I arrived in Berkeley to apply for my card and start reading. The application was super easy. Since I didn’t have my CA driver’s license yet I had to show two documents – passport (photo ID) and mail with a Berkeley address. But even that was beyond simple. Then, you get to pick out what your library card looks like (I chose the Berkeley Marina template). The card is completely free (compared to other cities where I paid $1 for the card). So far, I have read Tina Fey’s Bossypants and begun Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. I highly recommend the former as it is witty and an easy read. The latter is interesting and a bit convoluted, but I imagine I’ll get the hang of it eventually. I definitely will go back and check out some more books. The selection at the library closest to me, which is on the small side, is surprisingly very broad with many current titles, so I am very happy!

Rating: 10

Volunteering – Free

Through the YWCA-Berkeley, I signed up to volunteer for English in Action, a program that pairs international visitors with native English speakers like myself to help them practice their English and learn more about the American culture through conversations. Meetings take place at either the YWCA or elsewhere. For instance, my partner and I love coffee, so our next meeting will be at a café. I have had so much fun with volunteering that it doesn’t feel like volunteering at all! My partner is incredibly nice and friendly, and the learning is by no means one-sided, as I have been challenged with explaining terms I’ve come to realize I don’t actually know the meaning of. Thus, this activity is both a highly pleasant and educational way to pass the time.

Rating: 10

Meditation practice group – $5 suggested donation

A goal of mine this summer was to begin to practice meditation. I thought that it would help me with my anxiety, and with law school being as stressful as it is, it would be best for my health to be calm and focused during the semester. I found a place, the Berkeley Shambhala Center, that seemed very friendly and non-intimidating for beginners. Their Wednesday practice night starts out with instructions for meditation (both for beginners and those wanting a refresher), followed by sitting and walking meditation, and then ends with a reading and discussion. The instructions were very helpful, and I felt everyone there genuinely cared that the beginners have a great experience. My first meditation was hard. I became restless and fidgety within a few minutes and my legs kept falling asleep, but I’m sure practice will help with that. As a mind-wanderer, it was a relief to learn that I didn’t need to shut off all thoughts; it is perfectly fine to have other thoughts and label them as separate from the meditation experience. The reading and discussion part afterwards was a bit awkward and the reason why I did not deem this a perfect experience. I think I approached the discussion more seriously and on a deeper level than others. And as a result, I felt somewhat embarrassed of what I had just shared to a room full of complete strangers. Nevertheless, it was still a great overall experience that I would greatly recommend. $5 for 2 hours of reflection and a new experience is worth it.

Rating: 9

Netflix/HBO Go binge-watching – $7.99/month for Netflix

A summer would not be complete without a lot of TV watching. I have two options – Netflix (which I paid for) and HBO Go (which others paid for), which don’t overlap in content so having both is great. Through Netflix, I finished the TV series Damages, which was fantastic. If anyone is looking for an intense and dramatic legal series with great acting, look no further. On HBO Go, I finished Game of Thrones. It was equally good, with heart-stopping plot twists and delightful dialogue. I also watched countless movies through both. For the amount of money I spend, countless hours of binge-watching is absolutely enjoyable and definitely worth it.

Rating: 10

Flamenco class – $55 for a 6-week series

Through the YWCA-Berkeley, I took a flamenco class. A previous trip to Spain exposed me to the dance and music, and it greatly moved and inspired me. Funnily enough, the activity that costs the most actually gives me the least amount of pleasure. For a 6-week series, it is actually pretty affordable. But, perhaps as a result, the instruction is on a rather average level. For the most part, we’re simply mimicking the instructor’s moves without knowing the technique for the steps. And the mimicking isn’t even great since the steps aren’t broken down, and the pace is incredibly fast for a beginner class. On the plus side, a live guitarist provides the music to our steps, and that’s fantastic. It really sets the mood but can’t rescue the class.

Rating: 5

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