Benefits of Extracurricular Activities

Why We Should All Enjoy Extracurricular Activities
by Ivy Huang

Joining a new extracurricular group can seem quite intimidating or overwhelming for anyone who is new to the environment – a first-year international student here at Wash U for example. It can be stressful and difficult adjusting to a new culture, and it’s easy to feel frustrated or anxious about building new social relationships. People want to make new friends or develop new skills while they are probably not so comfortable with formal social events or don’t have enough energy to take extra courses just for interest. However, extracurricular groups such as sports clubs indeed provide great chances to relax and learn, to explore something new as well as to gain new insights of ourselves. I feel that the best way to explain this is to share my own experiences with you.

I joined the WashU Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu club last September and have had an incredibly amazing experience that I never expected. It actually started with an email I received from the WashU recreation center introducing the facility, sports clubs and free workout courses. It was the beginning of the semester, and it was actually my first time studying abroad in the United States. Therefore, I felt a little stressed dealing with all kinds of problems related to cultural adjustment, language barrier, course assignments, etc. I felt that I really needed something interesting to pull me away from stress, and since I had always been interested in competitive sports, joining a sports club seemed to be a good option. Therefore, I followed the instruction of the email and found a super cool sport club called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) Club on the Recreation Center website.

It was quite funny at the beginning because I was actually feeling anxious about joining a sport club alone in a foreign country and a new school. What if I could not communicate well with my poor English? What if they think I am just too weak to compete? What if I am the only international student in the club that could not fit in or I become isolated? Now, I have to admit that these are all stupid questions. After I pushed myself to join the first few practices, I knew I had made the right choice. I was amazed not only by the sport itself, but by the people in the club. They are nice, passionate, and patient. They respect their rivals regardless of gender, and they try to make sure no one feels isolated or excluded. From my perspective, these things are exactly what make the club more like an inclusive community.

I am a huge fan of martial arts, and back in China I practiced boxing as a way to release stress but also to build up confidence and just enjoy the sport itself. The problem is, whenever I mentioned my interest in martial arts or my boxing experience in my hometown, most people would just ask me if I was trying to lose weight. And even when I tried to invite more friends to join the Jiu-Jitsu club through a group chat few months ago, there was one person who commented, “It is not a sport for girls, you will get hurt fighting with boys.” I did understand that he was trying to say it for my own good, but I still felt somehow offended. And that is also why I appreciate it so much that everyone in the BJJ club here is treated equally. You will not be considered as weak because you are female or because you are not as tall or heavy as the others. It is all about your skills and effort. When people in the club spar, some say, “I will try to roll with you seriously but without taking advantage of my weight.” And in fact, I do spar with boys too. I lose the fight most of the time, but I still feel happy and respected because they are taking it seriously and not looking down on my poor performance because of my gender.

Another good thing about joining a sport club or any other extracurricular group is that people make new friends! It might take a bit longer for an international student like me to fit into the group and their culture, but worries about being isolated are really unnecessary as long as you are willing to try and step out of your comfort zone. The club itself is more like a tiny community where everyone has the chance to share his/her thoughts, feelings and experiences, where people can be really open-minded and helpful. I actually made my first friend here in the U.S. in Jiu-Jitsu club! She is a graduate student in the medical school and helped me a lot to get through some of the cultural barriers. Other club members are really nice too. They drive us back home after practice in the evening, and I feel great when we tease each other or just attack someone with a ruthless arm-bar by surprise.

For me, joining an extracurricular group like a sport club means finding a new wonderland to explore, to develop new skills, meet new people, to learn how to communicate and fit into the culture, to relax and release the stress, to enjoy new adventure, and also to find out who you are, what you want or who you could really become within all these experiences. It is intimidating for an international student to fit into a new culture, but it might not be as hard as we thought to embrace a new environment full of adventure. Extracurricular groups and clubs can provide a new start, but more importantly, we should never stop exploring the outside world as well as our inner potentials.

Ivy Huang, an international student from China, is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Social Policy at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.