The Case for Extracurricular ActivitiesPaul Rebeiz
When I became a student in college, I did not know what my interests really were, a situation I see every day at SWC. Young adults usually do not get enough life experiences to clearly know what they are good at and what they are interested in. They simply have not been exposed to enough experiences to determine what they like and what they do not like. In my case, it took living in an international dormitory called International House on my campus, a place where American students were paired off with foreign students, and where students from all parts of the world could be found, to show me that I liked issues related to different languages and cultures. International House was also a hub for student clubs representing the countries the students came from, with any and all people interested in that culture welcome to join. They would organize events throughout the year, both at the individual club level and also together with other clubs for larger events. Participating in and watching those events gave me great memories of my college time.
That makes me wonder.. what memories are we giving our students of their college experience? Will they remember that one lecture by that amazing teacher? If we are honest, we will probably say “no.” But they most probably will remember the time they played a sport in a competition for their college team or participated in a club activity or trip. This brings me to my point. As important as it is to train our students to function well in the working world, it is equally important to give them a college experience outside of their classes. And it is not just so they can have fond memories of their alma mater. They can benefit in other ways that will complement their time in class and may even contribute to their career choices after they graduate.
There are many different types of extracurricular activities, each with their own benefits. Of course, there is the Sports Complex which provides a place to exercise and participate in team sports. I think it is important for students to exercise their bodies as well as their minds, or at least that is what I tell students when we are discussing the benefits of exercise for an essay. Some take that to heart. Many students enjoy being on a sports team, which teaches them how to work together towards a common goal. However, there are many more types of clubs which explore students’ interests, such as the comix club for those who are artistically inclined, or the clubs which focus on a particular culture, like the Korean and Turkish clubs.
I am the faculty adviser for the Korean Club at SWC. We organize a Korean Cultural Day event every year in the Spring semester, coordinating with the Korean Consulate for assistance with the event. The students work very hard to organize the different aspects of the event, they get to showcase something they are truly interested in, and they do it not because someone told them to, but because they really want to do it. The students also organize their own trips without support from the college to attend other events hosted by the Korean Consulate such as K-Pop concerts, and last year, a Korean food festival in Dubai.
What are the benefits the students gain from these experiences, aside from the great memories? First, they gain the self-confidence to start something on their own, rather than waiting for someone to tell them what to do. I think this is a very important life skill that is not necessarily learned in college classes. Next, they learn to break down problems into their parts and divide the work to get it done, which brings us to teamwork. This is something they DO learn in their classes, but anything that supports that ability is great in my opinion. The big one for me, though, is that they explore an interest outside their normal classes. In the case of the Korean Club, I hope that their experience might some day translate into a job for a Korean company. The country is always striving toward the goal of Emiratization. Would this not be a good way to get local students thinking about other employment opportunities than just working for a government body? I think it is a win-win situation when a Korean company like Samsung or Hyundai could hire an Emirati employee who is enthusiastic because he/she loves Korean culture and so has a positive view of working in that company.
So how, then, does a college benefit from focusing more on extracurricular activities? I think here we have to come back to the “great memories” that college years should produce. I know that student retention rates are important to the College administration. Students leave for many reasons, but if the college experience were more attractive or unique, if there were a special “culture” to the college which promoted not just academics but also the formation of the whole person, with extracurricular activities being a part of that experience (without sacrificing academic excellence, of course), students would be more likely to stick with the program and graduate.
In the end, the college experience is about much more than the courses a student has taken. This experience comes at a transition point in a student’s life from being a “child” of parents to being a self-determining adult who has to make important decisions. They will be better served in their college experience if they have other growth opportunities besides their academic ones.