For Penn students with international backgrounds, cultural organizations make home seem a little closer.
While clubs such as Penn Persian Society, Penn Arab Student Society, Penn Taiwanese Society, Wharton Middle East North Africa Club and UPenn Italian Club may be unknown to students who do not share any of these backgrounds, students involved can find peers with the same heritage and remain connected to their culture.
The clubs, however, have different ways of accomplishing their goals.
During general body meetings, club members often perform ice breakers to facilitate conversation and social connection. Outside of GBMs, activities vary based off of the purpose of the club. MENA, for example, is more oriented around establishing professional connections by hosting speaker series and networking events, while PTS and Penn Persians focus on creating a nurturing environment where students can look to other students for support and mentorship.
Members of the Italian Club, on the other hand, venture off of Penn’s campus and into the heart of Philadelphia to seek connection to their culture. For example, the club visited the Italian Market in South Philadelphia to learn about the century-long history of Italian Market shop owners and indulge in its native cuisine. Members also had the opportunity to practice speaking Italian.
For Penn Persians, GBMs are the bulk of their activities as a club. While the club also participates in conferences with other cultural organizations, the main purpose is for Iranian students to meet and get to know each other.
“The club acts as a support group for Persian students looking to find others who share a similar cultural identity,” Penn Persians President Vahid Hoshmand said.
In addition to the events that they plan as individual clubs, all of Penn’s cultural organizations come together for an event called the Night Market, in which they unite over performances and cuisine. Each year, nearly 300 people attend.
Another common activity during GBMs is to discuss the current events in their home country and their implications on the Penn and global perception of their native country.
“We also try to discuss some aspects of Taiwanese culture, as well as broader issues that Asian Americans face, both in the college context, as well as in the greater context around the world,” PTS Co-President Will Wang said.
Penn Persians focuses on how they can promote awareness on the complex relationship between Iran and America.
“We separate Persian culture from politics surrounding the Iranian government and thereby show people what it is like to be Iranian American,” Hoshmand said.
The cultural clubs also provide an academic and professional support network. In the UPenn Italian Club, members exchange information about Italian courses. MENA fosters connections with alumni that are CEOs or consultants for firms in the Middle East.
All of the cultural clubs emphasize that they are not limited to students of that particular background. In order to truly promote understanding and exude pride for their heritage, clubs unanimously agree that it is important to include students of all backgrounds and cultures in their club events.
Ray Pomponio, president of UPenn Italian Club, confirmed that his club is not limited to Italian students, saying “we do our best to introduce aspects of this culture to Penn students in a way that is enjoyable and gratifying.”
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