Ethnography of the University / Ethnography of the University: Focus on Politics 2018 / Undergraduate Ethnography

Blog Post 2: What is successful and what is a good club event (Ethnography of the University 2018: Focus on Politics)

By Yiran Li

This blog post as part of a series by the students of the University of Toronto Anthropology course ANT473 and ANT6200 Ethnographic Practicum: The University, taught by Prof. Tania Li at the University of Toronto in 2018. Click here for the syllabus.

You are a Chinese student and this is your first year in Canada. One of the first choices you might have to make is whether or not to participate in a Chinese student event, and which one. There are big student associations holding events and provide services, and also interest-based clubs to help you make friends. The results are very much depended on your network and your interests, sometimes the previous factor takes the dominant role. You have a group of upper years holding a grand meeting, telling you how to build a successful future step by step. You may join a luxurious ferry party, following the formal dress code and performance the scenes you could only watch on movies. There are also group trips to the tourist sites nearby, perhaps to Algonquin when the leaves are red, or to the Blue Mountain when the snow heavily falls. When it comes to traditional festivals, such as the Chinese new year, there would be grand performances, where you would see not only students but even Chinese celebrities. Don’t worry if you miss one of them, because most events will reoccur next year and many of your friends on WeChat would become active advertisers.

The student clubs make up a crucial part in many Chinese students’ university lives. Some of their events, such as the ferry parties and grand performances might seem extravagant compared to the other student club events at U of T and seems to reinforce the idea of “crazy rich Chinese”. But on the other hand, these events could be understood as opportunities to practice, since the preparation process involves certain business skills including negotiation and attracting financial resources. In fact, the ability to hold big events has become a great source of pride for many Chinese student clubs and to attract new executive members. It is interesting to consider this with a common idea on success among the Chinese students:  having a good job or business that earns great money. Some students like to make student clubs a space to practice business skills, and one way to express their satisfaction to their clubs is: “our club is just like a company”. If we consider the club events as a platform for personal development, it might be easier to understand why Chinese students are attracted to certain clubs within the Chinese community.

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