Students should get involved in organizations with ties outside the university

Josephine MacLean

Last summer I studied climate change and human dynamics in Botswana. While the majority of what I did there is relevant to my resume, some of what I learned I’m unlikely to use again. Feel free to hit me up if you ever need to know about elephant tracking.

Despite the sheer randomness of some of the information I picked up in the scrubby kalahari, my study abroad experiences are still on my mind back on campus. Now I know a different world that coexists with the one I’m in every day.

But you don’t necessarily have to go continent skipping to understand life’s duality. Back in Austin, the volunteering I do in local elementary schools is the way I maintain my understanding of life beyond my bubble.

Whether the second world you find is in another country or 10 minutes down the road, if you don’t get involved in programs and organizations that reach outside of UT, you’ll never understand anything beyond your small existence.

“Students who are at UT don’t get as full an experience with organizations that are just within the school.” Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera’s Cristina Gonzalez told me.  “As soon as I graduated I got a job here two months later, and now we hold workshops and panels at UT, and we try to find a lot of crossover opportunities with student orgs.”

ATCF specializes in leading delegations down to the Texas Mexico border in order to increase awareness and advocate for workers in the factories or maquiladoras. “A lot of people from Austin don’t know the reality of what it’s like to live that way.” Gonzalez said.

Getting involved doesn’t have to mean fighting the system. Students like Jonathan Markel, a junior aerospace engineering major who is currently in D.C., learn how to work in the industry by interning and taking classes through the Archer Fellowship program.

“As far as the experience as a whole, working 9-5 is much more of a skill than people anticipate it to be.” Markel said. He added that learning the ins and outs of a new office culture is an underappreciated skill.

Similarly, mentoring in the East Austin community has helped me build my ability to become comfortable in someone else’s cultural space, a skill that is invaluable to any job. More importantly, I’ve been a friend to a young girl who needs one, and in doing so both she and I have become better people.

UT classes outline the world, but getting involved outside the university gives you experiences to fill in the details. If you can find the patterns that hold across interactions in different places, you become more effective at advocating for your own pursuits or passions.

“It’s been interesting to see how the issues I see on the border play into the Black Lives Matter movement and getting rid of DACA,” Gonzalez said. “I know now it’s the grassroots organizing and listening to those who live the experiences that is going to change the world.”

MacLean is an advertising and geography junior from Austin. She is a senior columnist. Follow her on Twitter @maclean_josie.