Student organizations create a diverse campus and help build life-long memories and relationships. Indian Student Associations are one way both Indian and American students merge culture and student life on campus.
Participants at TAAL 2019, a campus-wide South Asian talent competition hosted by the Indian Students Association at University of Texas at Austin. Photograph courtesy facebook.com/texasisa
American universities routinely rank among the world’s best and are well known for their combination of academic excellence and a strong focus on extracurricular activities. In the United States, a dynamic campus life is crucial to getting the most out of the university experience. Universities spend a large amount of manpower, planning and resources to ensure its international students are well-settled, supported and well-adjusted to start their next phase of life. Student life organizations at universities maintain and develop a culturally diverse campus. From clubs to performing arts groups and volunteering opportunities to spaces for informal hangouts, student life departments and organizations cater to students with varying interests.
For example, the Indian Students Association (ISA) at universities across the United States brings together both Indian and American students and alumni. ISA is usually an umbrella body bringing together smaller clubs and associations that students can participate in. The ISA at University of Texas at Austin, which was established in 1954, is currently one of the largest student organizations on campus with over 150 paid members. The ISA at California State University, Fullerton, also boasts of 200 members and is one of the largest cultural organizations on campus. Purdue University and the University of Michigan also have ISAs geared toward connecting students and building community.
These associations typically hold events like Diwali and New Year’s dance shows that welcome the larger college community. Each spring, the ISA at Purdue University hosts the Crossroads of Bhangra competition—one of its most popular bhangra competitions—which welcomes student bhangra teams from universities across the United States like Yale, Princeton and Columbia. The University of Texas at Austin takes pride in its nationally competing dance group Texas Bhangra, which was formed in 2003 with the distinctive vision of promoting Punjabi culture and multiculturalism.
Indian Student Associations celebrate festivals, organize cultural events, connect students, help build community and assist new students adjust to life on campus. Photographs courtesy facebook.com/isaumich and facebook.com/CSUF-Indian-Student-Association
On large campuses, the ISA functions as a support network and social group for students looking for cultural connections, like-minded peers and familiarity. The ISA at the University of Michigan helps Indian international students as well as American students of Indian descent to get to know each other. The ISA provides students assistance in finding accommodation, hosting welcome events, matching them with peers and advisers who can help them with campus life, and answering any questions they may have. At California State University, Fullerton, the ISA strives to link students with the larger Indian community in Southern California. It also works to familiarize the larger campus community with Indian culture.
Universities in the United States also provide student support services with the sole objective of assisting new students and their families adjust to the new life on campus. From health and academics to financial assistance and safety, these official university support systems are the primary providers of all student care.
ISAs in universities are one example of student organizations that support this goal by providing supplemental student resources to students when they need it the most. The ISA at University of Texas at Austin holds a special drive, called Food For Thought, under which students are served free food during their finals week. Similarly, the Purdue Indian Undergraduate Welfare Association helps incoming freshmen adjust to life in the United States in the summer prior to their arrival.
Needless to say, students in the United States embrace the vibrance and discomfort of a new university lifestyle. Where students ultimately go to college will undoubtedly affect their experience. Those who choose to attend school in a large urban university will have a very different experience than those who move to a small town. Students who thrive on a fast-paced lifestyle and who are accustomed to city life may find a large institution to be the best choice for them, while those who are intimidated by the thought of navigating a subway system and a university filled with tens of thousands of students may prefer the slower way of life in small college towns.
Whatever schools a student may be considering, there are sure to be extracurricular opportunities for all students. If an in-person tour isn’t possible, students should check university websites to learn whether there’s a club of interest, connect with others on Facebook and ask about their experiences. And most importantly, whatever school a student attends, they should be willing to step out of their comfort zone and attend events, because opportunities won’t fall into their dorm room.
Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California.