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As an incoming college freshman, I was a little hesitant to join my school’s cultural organizations. What sort of activities do they even do? Why would I want to hang out with only people of the same background? Will there be any negative stereotypes?

In high school, I was a member of the Vietnamese Culture Club… for a while. After 4 meetings, we had eaten traditional eggrolls once and learned about 2 words in Vietnamese. It wasn’t exactly the experience I was looking for; I was expecting to be immersed in the culture, to give back to the community, and to bond with fellow students over a similar background. Instead, we sat around for the entire lunch period caught in off-topic conversations. It seemed like a waste of time, so I dropped the club only after one month. Fast-forward to my freshman year of college, where I’m roaming around the annual Club Rush. Every single student organization had a booth out on the soccer field, with the goal to reel in eager freshmen to join their club. At first, I didn’t even walk through the “Cultural Organizations” section of the field; I didn’t want a repeat of high school. But for some reason, I was drawn back in…

After a semester as a member of my university’s Vietnamese Student Association and Asian Student Union, I am so glad something drew me back in and made me sign up. College organizations do way more than high school organizations, but just to name a few:

1. Cultural Enrichment and Awareness

I used to be completely baffled by the phrase “cultural awareness”. Okay, so I’m aware that Asian people exist, now what? But the phrase finally made sense after joining my college’s cultural organizations. Through events such as workshops and seminars, the organization raises awareness for cultural issues that affect every single member. For example, one of the organizations hosted a privilege walk (example here), an activity to help participants understand the impacts of social privilege. A different club held a roundtable discussion with faculty to discuss cultural identity and ambiguity in the HAPA (half asian) community. These aren’t small activities like learning a few words of a foreign language or watching a foreign movie (don’t worry, there’s a lot of that, too), but these culturally enriching events truly engage all students to become aware of different racial issues that impact them on a day-to-day basis.

2. Community Service

I wanted to join a community service club, though none of the ones that I saw at Club Rush seemed to be the right fit. Little did I know that many cultural organizations are community service clubs within themselves! For example, many clubs raise money for charities based in their home countries. Club members also volunteer hands-on and give back to their culture’s community; for example, one organization tutors ESL children every week in our nearby Chinatown.

3. “Siblinghood”

Sororities pride themselves on sisterhood, and though I loved the concept, I could never find the funds to join a sorority. Thankfully, I found a “siblinghood” within my own cultural organization. Many have big sister/little sister (or brother) programs that pair up older members with new members. You might be thinking “I’m not going to bond with someone just because we’re the same ethnicity”. I’d say, you should still give it a try! Plus, many clubs try to pair bigs and littles based on their majors, interests, etc. Use your shared cultural background as a springboard to find other similarities. It’s great to have a mentor to get advice about both academics and personal life.

4. Networking and Leadership Opportunities

Many cultural organizations are just one branch of a larger network of organizations. For example, my university’s Vietnamese Student Association is a member of the New England Intercollegiate Vietnamese Student Association, which is one region of the Union of North American Vietnamese Student Associations. There are mixers, leadership conferences, and more events in order to unite our culture’s community on a local, regional, and national level. It’s amazing to have friends all over the country that share similar passions and come from a similar background.

5. Lots and Lots of Food

Where else are you going to find a replacement for your mom’s homemade cooking?

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