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Decoding Generation Z at college: Student organizations

By Liu Hui | | Updated: 2018-09-13 08:27
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Editor's note: Here is the third part of China Daily app's special report - Decoding Generation Z at college, providing a broad picture of campus life for Generation Z, or the "post-2000s", and what they will face, as most are college age.

The previous two installments touched on military training (click here to read) and dormitories (click here to read). In this part, you can look at how they spend their "after-school time" in student organizations.

Don't miss it: You will have a chance to win a gift if you share your experience in college student organizations.

Try and explore your interests

To Chinese students, entering college means they can finally escape from the harness of study-oriented high school routines, and get a nod from parents and schools to spend more spare time on their interests, especially in student organizations.

Freshmen can be awed by the diversity of student organizations a university can offer. There are 144 student organizations at Chengdu's Southwest Jiaotong University. An unprepared freshman can easily get lost in the wide range of choices: The powerful, ubiquitous student self-governing body Student Union, political talk-dominated Model United Nations, voluntary activities, entrepreneur associations, and hobby-based clubs, like music, dance, and sports.

Corporate-style management

Students manage such organizations by themselves, while under the charge of school authorities. Run as a small nonprofit company, an organization usually has departments shouldering different responsibilities, like event planning, news releases and public relations.

Each organization also has a career ladder that runs top to bottom as a corporation. Management posts - the president and ministers - are elected and usually taken by senior members. The president, normally a third-year student, is in charge of the organization as a CEO, while a minister, often a second-year student, each oversees a department.

As the academic year opens, September is recruitment season when student organizations scramble for freshmen's attention.

Some organizations are free to join, while some charge one-time membership fees up to 100 yuan ($15) for the next four years.

These non-profit organizations face certain financial pressure while planning an event, for example, a competition, a lecture or a concert. The public relations department would come to the rescue by raising funds from companies.

Expand the resume

Facing a tough job market, college students in China are very conscious of the importance of a good resume.

They believe that experience in student organizations can be solid evidence of their abilities to work with a team and leadership skills.

They also see event planning as an opportunity to network and build relationships that may help them when they look for a job.

"The professional knowledge is important, but the future employer may also take your team work and communication abilities into consideration. I think the experience with student organizations can be bonus points on your resume," said Wei Yixuan, who studies automation at Tsinghua University, and is the minister of the Student Union's public relations department.

Besides the career-oriented benefits a student organization can offer, a student's connection with such an organization can be deeper and more personal.

Learn more about yourself

In a heartfelt interview with China Daily website, Wei tore down the stereotype of a STEM student – introverted, pedantic and eschewing public attention.

"I'm not a people person," Wei admitted. But he chose to change this part of his personality, taking the challenge from the Student Union's public relations department that requires a people person more than any other department.

Now he's the leader of a 50-member team.

The prestige of Tsinghua University also comes along with an intense class schedule and overwhelming homework. It's hard to imagine how Wei pours the same passion into a second organization, a photography club, while already squeezing time for Student Union work.

The photography club Wei Yixuan is working for. [Photo provided to]

"I just want to take some breaks from study," he said.

He's expressive, showing no sign of "not being a people person" and clear signs of a good communicator.

He also has created and run his own public account on messaging and calling app WeChat, posting moments from his busy campus life.

Self discipline

Niu Zixuan handles responsibilities that may face tough opposition from his fellow students.

He is the president of Student Self Discipline Committee of Shandong University of Arts, managing the dormitory, including checking sanitary conditions, counting heads at night, and checking for illegal electrical equipment.

Student Self Discipline Committee of Shandong University of Arts recruits new members. [Photo provided to]

Like what happened to Wei, Niu also changed himself from a shy person to a good coordinator, by taking a job that requires the utmost patience and supreme communication skills when he has to confront defiant rule breakers.

"Most of the students can understand our job, sometimes there are opponents," said Niu. "We can understand, for example, some students want to cook noodles in the dorm. We usually choose to negotiate first."

"Online game addicts should work for a student organization," Niu said, trying to give advice as a fourth-year student. "They can learn to behave themselves."

PowerPoint aficionados

Few people can question the rarity of a club for aficionados of PowerPoint, the office software.

The club at Southwest Jiaotong University caters to students' desire to polish their PowerPoint-making skills. It has created two templates graduates can use in the presentation of their dissertation.

The PowerPoint club at Southwest Jiaotong University. [Photo provided to]

Yang Yuyan, a third-year student in charge of the club, manages it with new marketing ideas.

A recent fan of popular short video app Douyin, Yang is fully aware of the power of the app and has already created the club's official account there.

Face the music

"I heard that some students enter this university for our music club, which deeply moved me," said Zhou Weilan, the president of X-Free music club at Shanghai International Studies University, and a junior majoring in accounting.

Zhou understands how young music buffs are eager to find a place where they can share their love of melodies together. Amazed since discovering music 6 years ago, he taught himself in high school and had a band.

X-Free music club stages a concert at Shanghai International Studies University. [Photo provided to]

"There are limitations in student activities in high schools," Zhou said. "My parents neither opposed my playing music nor supported it. They didn't send me to any guitar classes."

"College is a better and freer platform to do what you like," Zhou said. "College life is finding the major you are interested in, things you are interested in, and sticking to them."

Now Zhou is the leader and lead guitar player of his band and he also composes music, which he plans to continue as an avocation in the future.

With a seasonal campus concert, instrument classes, music recommendations and song cover activities, Zhou hopes more students can enjoy music and make friends in the music club.

Volunteer: to witness and to help

"People may have a broader view on the top of the mountain, but can't watch the real faces," said Liu Luping, a vice-minister of the Chinese Young Volunteers Association at Sun Yat-sen University, while talking about her experience as a volunteer.

Studying at school may prevent us from watching real society. However, the volunteers association gave Liu a chance to go to the "villages in the city" - the undeveloped areas in the city, the hospitals and the retirement homes.

"The city has not only a glamorous city center, but also is struggling for livelihood," Liu said. As a journalism student, this provides her a view of new aspects of society.

The Educational Assistance Association of Southwest Jiaotong University helps children in remote countryside areas get better education. [Photo provided to]

Tian Xinyi is the president of the Educational Assistance Association of Southwest Jiaotong University. Nowadays, educational public welfare is very popular, she said. Many people voluntarily go to remote areas as teachers on short term assignments, even if some think there are too many coming and going.

Children may think it's disturbing rather than helpful to them because many volunteers stay for a short time during summer and winter vacations, not for a year or two.

"Sometimes we question ourselves whether we can truly help or not," Tian said. However, the children's warm reactions always makes her feel what they've done is meaningful.

"We provide scholarships to children, but we seldom sponsor any one of them," said Tian. "We hope they understand they earned it by themselves."

Share your perspective or experience about college student organizations! If you are waiting to enter college, tell us your expectations.

As a reward, we will give out a China Daily mini panda speaker to five commentators at random.


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