The advantage of going Beyond Academics at university
Countries like the UK, Canada, Australia and the US are very cosmopolitan and diverse, and have been welcoming immigrants and students from all over the world for many years. This is great news for international students as they are likely able to find communities, food and peers from their home country which will help them settle and feel more at home. Indeed, it would be possible to stay quite comfortably within this bubble and complete a degree or a postgraduate programme, but this would be missing the point of a university education which is much more than just gaining a qualification; it is about widening your horizons and challenging yourself.
One of the ways international students can proactively make sure that they do this is to strategically join some of the clubs and societies that number in their hundreds which are available in all university campuses regardless of country or academic discipline. They cover conventional areas such as the academic, cultural and sporting clubs and societies and also the more unusual, such as the Harry Potter Society at the University of Oxford. They have been established and are supported by enthusiastic students who have the same interests and often include a variety of activities and social gatherings. They are open to all and there are no entry requirements such as knowledge or skills levels and in return they offer many potential benefits for those involved.
It would be ideal for any new international student to shortlist three clubs or societies; one can be academic, another sporting, and one could introduce them to something new. This will ensure that at least two of the options revolve around areas of familiarity and therefore strength, whilst the other one will be slightly out of their comfort zone. This will also make the commitment level more manageable as it is a good idea to not overcommit, leaving time for other important academic and social activities. Some of the benefits of engaging in the wider enrichment offerings at university are listed below and are not exclusive to international students. Indeed, even home students will benefit equally from being involved in enrichment opportunities at university.
Extend your social circle
Attending a new university in a relatively unknown country with a culture which may be vastly different than the home one can be daunting and prove quite difficult to get to know new people. Joining societies and clubs in which the participants have an interest in common, is a quick way to connect with people of different backgrounds, cultures and faiths, enriching the overall university experience and also serves to build confidence in meeting new people and learn the skill of networking, so important in many careers.
Develop your confidence and social skills
Being able to interact and speak to people that you don’t know is a crucial interpersonal skill and for many, this is not something that comes naturally. Societies and clubs are safe spaces where students, international or otherwise, will be able to develop, over time, their interpersonal and communication skills that will benefit both current studies and future careers. Indeed, being able to practice introductions, small talk, board room, active listening and negotiating skills will all be possible via this route.
Pursue hobbies, interests and passions
There will be areas that many international students will excel at and have talents and skills. They will invariably find opportunities at university to continue to develop these in a society or club. Skill, enthusiasm, effort, resilience and commitment to improve are universally respected and appreciated and being an active participant in events and activities will help both the society/club, and students.
Develop your leadership capabilities
There are many different roles and responsibilities within societies and clubs and because students are usually on campus for a limited number of years, there will always be opportunities to get involved in leading and managing them due to the high turnover rate. This will enable international students to have influence on the wider university community and also help them in the future; being vice president of the scientific society for instance, will be seen in a positive light by any employer.
Become a role model for other international students
By joining and participating in wider enrichment opportunities and being involved in leading events, activities or the organisation, international students can act as role models for others, and inspire new students to participate as well. Again this can be replicated in the workplace and within society back home.
Being a positive ambassador for your country and culture
In the same way that many international students find it hard to connect and interact with students from the host country, indigenous students can also find it hard to interact with international students. It is therefore important therefore that international students make a real effort to reach out and take advantage of opportunities to present and promote themselves and their home country and culture through their interactions with domestic and other international students, beyond lectures and seminars. Be proud of your homeland. Show it to best effect and do not be deterred by people from the place you are studying in if they fail to understand at first. Give them time. Once they know and respect you as a person, they will listen more carefully to what you have to say.
The points raised in this article are by no means a comprehensive or exhaustive list. Studying, completing assignments and sitting exams are all important but equally important is the need to keep a healthy balance between study and recreation. Very often, taking a small break from academic studies to do something creative, active or relaxing will give individuals added energy, and interacting with others positively will promote mental wellbeing. International students should start as they mean to continue by making full use of the academic and enrichment opportunities provided to them, and the first step to this is to join a few university societies and clubs and actively participate, as this will have a positive impact on their academic and personal development.
Copyright Ⓒ Juvenis Maxime 2023
Author: Susie Gordon