Halloween is but one of the many holidays that triggers childhood memories. For college student Galia Bar-Sever, a Halloween memory marks the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with a place she loves.
Somewhere in The Huntington, a pumpkin is being massacred. Botanical director Jim Folsom takes a discerning look at the crowd of riveted children, and, with a great flourish, eviscerates the pumpkin on his workbench with a chainsaw. Guts fly everywhere, and everyone cries out with screams and laughter. I may be going trick or treating a few days later, but as the poor pumpkin is examined and everyone calms down enough to take in the botany they're here to learn tonight, I know Halloween has officially started.
A childhood spent at The Huntington is marked by such events, be it Halloween, the annual Christmas lectures, or the Elizabethan festival. When The Huntington feels like your own backyard, you are a scientist, an artist, and an explorer. As a five-year-old, the giant magnolia tree next to the Lily Ponds is more like a castle than a plant, with swooping branches made perfectly for an afternoon adventure. My brother and I would run around being leopards or pirates feeding giant monstrous fish and hiding in mysterious bamboo force fields. Whether it was inventing our own games, or using a magnifying glass from a Discovery Cart to examine pond scum, there was always something to do.
The first Huntington Explorers Camp 11 years ago was my chance to plunge headfirst into a summer filled with leaves and paint. By this time, I had eaten disturbingly delicious bugs and walked through the Camellia Forest at night, followed by the ghostly eyes of the statues that line the North Vista. The camp was something new, however, a chance to bond with other kids over exploring the Herb Garden for stevia and writing poems on the lawn on a sunny day. Unfortunately, camp had to come to an end eventually, and we all went our separate ways.
Fortunately, The Huntington has a wonderful high school volunteer program that I jumped on as soon as I was old enough. I helped with events, especially the Explorers Camp. I graduated high school and went to UC Irvine to major in biology, a choice that was in no small part shaped by my time at The Huntington. I had the honor of meeting my hero, Jane Goodall, at an event at The Huntington.
This past summer, the Explorers added a twist: the first intern program. It replaced the high school volunteers and got a truly behind-the-scenes look at how The Huntington creates and manages these childhood experiences that have shaped me and so many others. What you don’t know as a child participating in the program, or even as a volunteer, is how incredibly difficult it is to create these experiences. The amount of work, thought, and dedication that goes into every activity is staggering. As interns, we were not only able to watch and learn from the instructors and staff, we were also able to present our own ideas. The five of us, all from different schools and majors, were hands-on from day one. We each brought our unique experiences and talents to the table and mixed better than I could have hoped. It helped that we all think children are hilarious.
When you work in education, every day brings its own challenges, quirks, and rewards. That dynamic flow is what makes The Huntington so unique. Anything can happen here, and there’s something for everyone in this rich intellectual ecosystem. The one thing I’m sure about is that I’ll be back again next summer.
For more information about how to apply for a Huntington Explorers internship, contact Mollie Swaner, the volunteer programs coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign-ups for kids ages 5 to 12 begin in late winter, so be sure to visit the Education section of The Huntington's website for more information.
Galia Bar-Sever was an intern during the 2012 Huntington Explorers summer camp. She is a student at the University of California, Irvine.