The number and variety of clubs and activities available at U.S. colleges and universities often surprises international students. But these clubs are a great way to build important skills, like leadership, and understand cultural differences.
As a prospective student, I didn't consider the clubs on campus to be important to my choice of school, but they've ended up being a large part of my college experience.
The motivation to raise my hand and get involved came my freshman year of college. The opportunity to hold various leadership positions in different organizations has been one of the keys to my success at Drury University.
Universities in the U.S. offer international students the opportunity to get involved, both on and off campus. Drury University plays a big hand in getting its students involved, which improves their leadership skills. My school has about 1,475 students enrolled, but the university has around 120 student organizations.
[Check out campus resources for international students.]
Getting involved can seem overwhelming at first, so take the following steps to make the most of the activities and clubs offered at a U.S. college.
1. Learn what clubs are offered: My school says almost 98 percent of its students are involved in more than one organization. I was shocked when I heard that, and felt the need to get active.
As a freshman, I decided to attend the student activities fair, with a goal of signing up for two different clubs. Instead, I signed up for five.
Many schools offer these fairs, but clubs will also typically advertise their meetings around campus. You can usually also find a list of clubs on the school's website, so check that list when you're applying to see what a school offers that you may be interested in.
[Learn ways international students can make friends in college.]
2. Be an active member: I did not just sign up, but went to all the meetings and in the process learned more and more about this country. Not only do you learn about time management by getting involved, but you also build communication skills.
A wide number of student organizations provide various opportunities for active members to attend conferences or visit different cities. I visited Kansas City with one of the diversity-based student organizations at my school.
By getting involved, you have an opportunity to help plan club events and build those leadership skills – and you also learn how to be part of a team.
[Discover the schools with the most international undergrads.]
3. Try a volunteer group: Volunteer for groups that need your help. Greek organizations typically have a philanthropy component, and they usually connect with volunteer groups.
Volunteering helps you give back, and might help you find a passion for your community. I have learned so much more than just academics through volunteering. Whenever I volunteer, I think about how many people do not have food to eat or clothes to wear, and I feel really lucky to have both.
Volunteering teams you up with other people, which also helps you learn. I had never thought about volunteering, but did so after joining clubs and learning more about what goes on around me. Even though the U.S. might not be your home country, contributing to the community is a great thing to do.
It does not take much to get involved, whether in college or around the community. My experience was different than I expected, and when I was applying to college I never imagined I would be such an involved individual once I enrolled.
Even if you're not successful in what you do, what really counts is that you raised a hand and tried.
Vikas Jagwani, of the United Arab Emirates, is a sophomore at Drury University, where he majors in accounting, finance and economics.