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Extracurricular Life is the Best Part: Comparing America and Ukraine

This story comes from our sister blog, Альма-матер (translated as Alma mater), a Russian-language version of the Student Union. Its author, Natalia Shibalkina, is from Ukraine and currently studies at George Mason University.

When, at the end of the last summer, I finally got the scholarship to study at an American university, I was excited. I even didn’t know where exactly I would study, but I already imagined colorful scenes from my future life. After I found out the name of the university and its location, I was even happier, because it was very close to Washington, D.C. As it turned out, my happiness was not in vain.

Having lived here for more than eight months, I can say with confidence, that this is one of the best places to be in America. Now it’s very difficult to count all the places and events which I managed to attend. Among them are local attractions, museums, conferences, forums, volunteer projects, festivals, parades and so on and so forth. All in all, life here is in full swing!

Today, I want to share some interesting facts about how American students spend their free time. It should be noted that most students live on-campus and always have the opportunity to take part in university events. In addition, there is one more factor that influences students’ free time: it is every student’s personal schedule.

In America, the students’ schedules are much more manageable than those of students in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other post-Soviet countries. Because every student creates his own schedule, it is easy for him to take into account all his activities, including both work and entertainment. I remember when I was studying in Ukraine, I had only had enough time to study and to take a couple of private lessons!

If someone were to ask me today what I think about the pastimes of local students, I will not be able to answer very quickly. Actually, it is amazing! Every student has its own professional activity. For example, someone is a player on the basketball team, someone is the Economic Society President, someone is a trainer of the dancing group, and someone else is a fraternity or sorority President, and so on. Sometimes I even wonder at how many activities there are in our world! Besides professional activities, everyone has a hobby: ballroom dancing, playing the guitar, rock climbing and even origami or juggling. These activities are not considered to be embarrassing here, and every attempt is respected by others.

[Read more about the different ways students define identity through extracurricular pursuits]

The university greatly supports students’ initiatives. There are three big sports complexes on-campus that work almost twenty four hours a day. Sometimes it happens that I go to my classes early in the morning and people are already working out; I go back from the cinema theater late in the evening – people are still working out. One of the complexes has professional and non-professional swimming pools, a sauna and a Jacuzzi. It’s up to you to choose whether you want to be a professional swimmer or to just relax a little bit after a stressful week.

The special pride of the university is the Center for the Arts. The performances there are put on by George Mason students and also by outstanding artists from all over the world. The admission, by the way, is free for full-time students for almost all the performances. Being so far from home, it brought me great pleasure to watch “Romeo and Juliet” performed by the Moscow Ballet.

[Watch a fun video on arts and cultural life at a U.S. college]

In addition to the great support from the university, students here do a very good job by themselves. They get up early, go to classes, and then somehow manage to have free time to do what they want. I really have a lot to learn from them. If I were a professor and taught a class on time management, I would give everyone an “A”!

There is nothing ideal in this world. My story is probably too “rosy,” but there are many drawbacks too. First, not all of the students are as active as I described (but believe me, most of them are). Second, everything that I see takes place in the university environment, which not everyone can be a part of because of the high tuition fees. Money always plays its role, both at home and here. However, education here is a very profitable business, and the university can allocate more financial resources to student activities.

In Ukraine, as is most likely the case in Russia, most emphasis is placed on the educational process. In my opinion, this is not quite right, as sports and amateur artistic activities play a very important role in the development of one’s personality. I am not saying that we don’t have sports and activities at home – we have soccer teams, musical ensembles, dance companies and youth theaters. Unfortunately, though, only a small part of the young generation participates in them, while the other part is just walking on the streets. What do you think?

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