Last Updated: Mar 5, 2019
International students discover a world of opportunity in the United States, and no small number of those opportunities arise from campus activities. Here, take a sneak peek at what U.S. campus life is like through the lens of one school and the diverse experiences of its international student population.
Students from all over the world travel to the United States every year to immerse themselves in American culture and to experience a different approach to higher education. While hitting the books should certainly be your primary focus, getting involved in student organizations is a great way to make new friends, connect with your new community, and enhance your personal and professional growth.
Residential college campuses offer an endless array of clubs and organizations you can join, from groups focused around arts, culture, athletics, and social issues to professional organizations, community service, and everything in between. Whatever you are passionate about, you’re sure to find a group of others who share your interests.
Commanding the stage
“Coming to Ithaca College from China was a big change, but I’ve found my place here. I have learned about opera and performance, and gained a second family in the IC community. They even made me Queen,” says Mengchun Yang, a music performance student at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York.
As Queen of the Night in the College’s theater production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Yang delivered one of the world’s most well-known arias to a packed audience. She stunned the crowd with her pitch-perfect performance, bringing the vengeful queen to life with her commanding stage presence.
For Mengchun, the journey to the IC stage was a long one—halfway around the world. She auditioned in her home country of China and wowed visiting faculty with her powerful soprano. Late that summer, Mengchun packed her bags and was on her way to Ithaca.
Mengchun quickly found her new family: music professors invited her over for home-cooked meals, music school peers helped her overcome the language barrier, and the women’s chorus and choir provided a place for her to sing with new friends. She soon learned of an opportunity to broaden her range: “During my first semester, they had auditions for The Magic Flute. I just went to try. I never thought I would get a role or be a part of the opera, but I got it,” Mengchun says.
She was cast as Queen of the Night, which has one of the most vocally demanding arias in opera. In nightly rehearsals with a supportive cast and crew, she developed her passion for opera. “I learned many things. I know how to prepare a whole opera: to learn the music and then read the dialogue and then the acting, and mix it together with the orchestra.”
When opening night arrived, her music school family helped calm her nerves. “I was very excited and a little bit nervous. My friends and my teachers were all sitting in the audience to see me. That made me feel like family. I felt like, ‘Okay. I can sing to my family.’”
Mengchun hopes to go on to sing opera professionally in China, where it’s becoming increasingly popular. With one outstanding performance already under her belt, she is ready for a promising future as one of China’s next stars.
Accounting for success
Shamika Edwards came to the United States from Barbados to study business administration. With an interest in finance and accounting, she knew she was lacking an important skill, vital to success in the business world: networking.
To expand her social network, Edwards joined the Caribbean Student Association. “They gave me a platform to be involved in the rest of the student body,” says Edwards. “Networking seems less awkward once you know a couple of people, because they can introduce you to others.”
From there, Edwards joined the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) and quickly rose to the top of the organization. She became President and led a team to an impressive second-place finish in the Deloitte NABA NY Case Study Competition, a rigorous national student challenge sponsored by the National Association of Black Accountants and international financial services giant Deloitte. “They said we were one of the best-prepared teams,” says Edwards. “Ithaca faculty were extremely helpful, staying after hours to help us prepare. It was such a valuable part of my education.”
Edwards also took on a role as a peer career advisor to help other students learn to network and grow their own success. Her ability to make connections in the business world led to a job at Deloitte, where people had been impressed by her NABA leadership and competition performance. “I’ll be at a global firm solving global problems in a global world,” Edwards says.
Playing the game
“I Googled ‘best sport media schools in the United States’ and Ithaca College came up,” says Maximilian Rottenecker from Germany. Rottenecker discovered plenty of activities that fit with his academics, including working at the College’s two radio stations, WICB and VIC. “You get the chance to be on the air and on the sports information staff from day one. If you want to get into broadcasting, that’s a great thing. There are unlimited opportunities for students to get involved,” Rottenecker says.
A lifelong athlete, he also joined the College’s football team—American football, that is. “I can’t go through the day without being active for at least an hour, and football gives me the opportunity,” he says.
As a member of the team, he got to experience a local tradition, the Cortaca Jug. It’s an annual game highlighting the school’s football rivalry with nearby SUNY Cortland, and it draws a huge crowd of fans each year.
“It’s 8,000 people screaming, and the ground is shaking. It’s amazing to see that and play in front of everyone. You look into the crowd once in a while, and you know everyone,” Rottenecker says.
As a freshman, Rottenecker was named to the Empire 8 President’s list, an award for Upstate New York Division III student-athletes with a GPA of 3.75 or greater. “At the football banquet, the people with the highest GPA got called out, and I was one of them. I was like ‘This is great! This is motivating me to work harder and harder every day.’ It’s really inspiring,” says Rottenecker.
Following your passions
Students in the United States are not limited to a handful of activities established by their college. On most campuses across the country, if a student is looking for a club that does not yet exist, they are empowered to create it themselves. Many international students establish clubs based on sports or hobbies unique to their home, introducing their peers to a fun and engaging aspect of their culture, and enriching their campus at the same time.
“Whatever is natural and [students] are passionate about from home, they carry it here with them,” says Diana Dimitrova, Director of International Student Services at Ithaca College. “They join clubs with other like-minded people that can help them continue to do that. We encourage students—whatever makes you happy, whatever works for you, never stop.”