Besides College Orchestra, the one organization that's been a constant in my life at Oberlin is CSA, the Chinese Students Association. Now granted, I didn't join CSA until halfway through my sophomore year, but since then it's been a fantastic part of my life: I've met amazing people, made good friends, and had the opportunity to explore a part of my heritage.
CSA, as a nonpolitical organization, exists to raise awareness of Chinese culture. We hold our New Year's Banquet and other smaller events such as a Chinese food Fourth Meal and Asian Pop Night at the 'Sco. Additionally, we try to integrate with the surrounding community, working with local Chinese organizations. We're also trying to get some service trips to Cleveland organized. Basically, we make every effort to hold events that are fun and educational both for members and for Oberlin's community in general.
Now, Zoë, you may be thinking. What's that nonpolitical word you used? Go back to that. Well, nonpolitical means exactly what it sounds like. There are various political organizations on campus, such as Asian American Alliance, whose goals include "establishing an Asian American Studies curriculum at Oberlin College; fostering Asian American student leadership; acting as an umbrella/support organization to other Asian/Asian American groups on campus." As their Facebook page further states, they "have a history of radical, progressive activism and will continue to advocate for social change on campus and elsewhere."
In contrast, CSA is about culture, Chinese culture, and therefore isn't country-specific. We're also not about advocating for political or social change, except in terms of helping the general public to understand more about Chinese culture. We're not about advancing the views of Taiwan just like we're not about advancing the views of the People's Republic of China. Instead, we reach out to the community in other ways.
The fact that we don't have a political agenda means that we fill a different niche than organizations like Asian American Alliance. We serve as an organization where people with multiple viewpoints can coexist. We have members who are international students, we have members who are Chinese Americans, we have members who (like me) have familial ties to other Asian countries, and we have members who aren't even Chinese. This diversity of backgrounds creates an accepting environment for learning.
For me, CSA has provided a place where I could spend time amongst others who had similar backgrounds as me. However, it also provided me with an environment in which I could branch out and learn more about Chinese culture than I'd ever known before. I learned how to cook dumplings and how to lion dance. I learned that storing freshly spray painted lanterns in your room is usually a bad idea and I learned how to eat chicken feet. This is why CSA has been good for me: it was a place where I could explore many different views of the world applicable to my heritage, and then pick which ones I wanted to carry forward in my life. It introduced me to new life experiences. And, most importantly, it introduced me to a fantastic group of people who I will miss greatly a week from now when graduation is over and I'm on my way back to Rochester.