Social life for a graduate student can be very different than for an undergraduate student.  Gone are the days of dorm and fraternity parties.  In my experience, happy hours are a new pillar of social life.  Happy hours easily fit into a grad student?s tight schedule, help build community amongst students who otherwise only interact in the classroom, and create opportunities for networking with academics and professionals in one?s field.

OAS Happy Hour

And, perhaps most importantly, any light-walleted and heavily-indebted graduate student can appreciate that, for a couple of hours on certain days, certain drinks will be offered at significantly reduced prices - sometimes for more than half-off the usual price.

A lot of student groups will organize events around happy hours or daily drink specials.  For example, the Graduate Student Forum, the largest student group at the Elliott School, is responsible for organizing a range of academic, professional, and social activities for graduate students.  I would estimate about 75% of their activities somehow involve going out to a local bar.  They host their popular ?Thursday Night Out? at a different hotspot every week, and they take pains to point out weekly drink specials in their many reminder emails.

The Organization of Asian Studies (OAS), the student group with which I?m most involved, also arranges happy hours every few weeks. These happy hours bring together students with similar interests in Asian studies and culture to get to know each other and swap stories over food and drinks.  They?ve allowed me to get to know students who I otherwise might not ever see outside the library, which has been a great experience.

Editor's Note: More on social life on a U.S. campus and how international students fit in at our Question of the Week

At last week?s happy hour, I traded teaching stories with a classmate who, like me, had lived in Asia for a few years and met an undergraduate who studied abroad in Korea and is thinking about moving there after graduation. I also fortuitously started chatting with an acquaintance who had attended the Middlebury Chinese Language School, which I had been uncertain about applying to this summer - talking with her convinced me that I should definitely go for it.

International students also check out the OAS happy hours.  Last week, a girl from Taiwan attended the event.  The happy hour before that, I went with a classmate from China, and there was also a visiting professor from Hunan.  The mindset with these kinds of events is absolutely ?the more, the merrier.?

It might seem odd to organize activities around the availability of alcohol, but for me it?s always an added perk because I enjoy drinking socially with friends and colleagues, and I do think most of the people in my program are at least casual drinkers.  No one would ever get drunk at a school-sponsored event, but drinking is a table setter for a lot of interactions.

In addition, whereas extracurricular activities and clubs are the source of many friendships for undergraduate students, there are fewer extracurricular opportunities for graduate students. Plus, they tend to have much more of a life outside of school than undergraduates, so are less likely to take part in extracurriculars anyway.  Happy hours are one of our main sources of community-building.

Happy hours have also provided the backdrop to a number of my interactions with professors.  The few times that I?ve met with professors outside of class or office hours, it?s usually been at a bar near campus.

I?ve been to the same Irish pub with my former Russian literature professor a few times now.  The drink specials are reasonable, and the clientele is of the tweed jacket wearing variety, at least in the afternoons, so the place suits our needs pretty well.  The off-campus, out of office and out of classroom setting made it easier to engage casually and chat about random things like, say, Polish science fiction, obscure Russian philosophy, or my professor?s experience as a child actor in Soviet Russia.

Does all this mean you can?t build social relationships or be part of the grad school community if you don?t drink?  Absolutely not! One of the great things about happy hours is that you don?t necessarily have to drink to go to them. Taking advantage of happy hours and drink specials, at least in the context of school, is about cultivating community and developing relationships with colleagues and classmates in a more laid back social setting.  The half price beer is only an excuse to bring people together.