At UT, there’s something for everybody. Not only in the course catalog but also when it comes to extra-curricular activities. With over 1,000 student organizations, it is hard not to find one that matches your interests perfectly. Every day, a number of those organizations present themselves on the West Mall. From time to time, there’s a fair where you can learn more interesting stuff than you have time for during the week. There’s just one problem. Many of organizations – or their representatives – express inadequately their organization’s purpose. Asking for that information, the representatives provide answers like this: “We meet once a week and have awesome socials! They are the best socials I’ve ever been to, really. We have pizza, we go on trips and retreats, and we party!”
Hearing that explanation, I always think, “Great, but what do you actually DO?”
As a newcomer to campus, I wanted to find out if there is more to the UT social life than pizza. So I strolled around and had my eyes and ears opened. What I found out: the Austin chapter of Alpha Phi Omega is the best thing that ever happened to the member I talked to because he got to run the Texas Flag at UT sporting events and had a lot of fun with his fellow members (official statement about the Fraternity’s mission: To carry out the full program of service as follows: Service to the student body and faculty on the campus of UT, service to the youth of America and the world, service to the nation as fully participating citizens, and service to the members of the fraternity). The University Democrats are totally awesome because you can walk in and out during meetings as you please and if you find the meetings too stiff, you can just come and eat burgers with them afterward and get to know other totally awesome University Democrats. And Lambda Omega Alpha, a Catholic fraternity, have the best tailgates in Austin – that’s what one of their members mentioned first during his announcement at the Sunday mass I attended.
Of course, there are exceptions to the it’s-all-about-having-fun attitude. Amnesty International told me they were fighting for human rights – and guess what? I joined them even though they didn’t mention any ice cream. And one member of the Elohim Fellowship told me that the earth is a prison (the Bible says so) and if he was given the choice, he would leave the prison tomorrow. Just for the record: I didn’t join the Elohim Fellowship.
I think it’s great to have socials, and to share time with other people beyond official meetings. Looking back on their time at university, no one wants to think that they didn’t have fun. But wouldn’t most people also like to say that they did something meaningful something that shaped and changed them.
So, when convincing other students to join your organization, should you do so by describing parties and retreats and having the coolest photos on Facebook?
Today I found myself on the other side of a table, at the International Student Fair. I talked to people who were curious going to Germany. The first argument of the other international students around me for going to their respective countries was: “Hey, the drinking age is 18 there!”
I told students what possibilities for study and research my German university offered, described the city as beautiful, and explained going there would mean the chance to experience something very different from what can be found here.
And I hope one student will decide to come to my university — the University of Freiburg — because of what I told them about it, not because they can legally get smashed before turning 21.
Our interests and passions reflect who we are. And there is no reason to hide that behind mountains of pizza, ice cream and alcohol. Whether you study the Bible, write for the College of Liberal Arts Journal or meet once a week to fold origami, it’s totally awesome and you should tell people about it! That’s equally true for your home university if you’re an exchange student like me. Be proud of what you do and where you’re from. And if other people don’t think it’s cool enough for them, then your club (or university) is not what they were looking for. That person might also not be what you were looking for.
Hardt is an English major from Freiburg, Germany.