(46)Any discussion of the American educational system would be less than complete if it did not mention the emphasis that many colleges and universities place upon the nonacademic, social,“extracurricular”aspect of education, often defined as personal growth. Perhaps a useful way of viewing the notion of personal growth would be to picture the very large and general term“education” as being all-embracing, including as subsets within it academic and nonacademic components.
This may be one of the most difficult concepts to convey to someone who is not intimately familiar with American higher education. Few educational systems in other countries place the same emphasis on this blend of academic and personal education. The majority of colleges and universities in the United States make some attempt to integrate personal and intellectual growth in the undergraduate years. (47) If the ultimate goal of undergraduate education in America were simply to convey a set body of knowledge, the term of studies could undoubtedly be reduced. Yet the terms of studies are extended in order to give students a chance to grow and develop in other ways.
Numerous opportunities are made available to students to become involved in sports, student government, musical and dramatic organizations, and countless other organized and individual activities designed to enhance one’s personal growth and provide some recreation and enjoyment outside of the classroom. (48)Experience with campus organizations and off-campus community involvement can be highly valuable in preparing international students for future leadership in their professional field upon their return home.
The typical American college’s support for extracurricular activity is perhaps unique in the world, This special educational dimension, beyond the classroom and laboratory experience, does not mean that extracurricular participation is required to gain an American degree. It remains an entirely optional activity, but (49)it is noted here because Americans have traditionally viewed success in one’s role as a citizen as closely linked to a “well-rounded”life that incorporates a variety of social, athletic, and cultural activities into a person’s experience.
A great many American campuses and communities have organized special extracurricular activities for students from other countries. (50) On most campuses, one can find an international club, which includes Americans, where students can get to know and learn socially from students from other countries, as well as Americans. International students are almost always invited, through organized hospitality activities, into the homes of Americans living in or outside the academic community.