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Breakdancing and underwater hockey: Campus activities leave no time for boredom

Academics are all well and good, and when Yoon Kim '09, a math and economics major from Melbourne, Australia, transferred to Cornell from New York University three years ago, Cornell's scholarly reputation was undoubtedly a factor in his decision.


But, he admits, so was Cornell's extracurricular scene -- one element of it, in particular.

Kim was at NYU when he saw a video by Absolute Zero, Cornell's breakdancing club. "That was one of the big reasons for transferring here," he said. He joined the club when he arrived in 2006 and hasn't looked back.

"The first year, you really don't know what you're doing -- you try a lot of moves, and you get hurt a lot," he said. "But the second and third year, things start to make sense, and you sort of get it. I guess your body gets used to it."

If it sounds like one of the more painful ways to spend a study break -- well, Kim and his clubmates cite the benefits -- a creative outlet, stress reliever, source of admiring fans -- which are far more important, they say, than the occasional sprain.

Habitat for humanity workers

That's not to say bboying (i.e., breakdancing) is for everyone, of course. Good thing, then, that the Student Activities Office cites more than 800 active student groups and subgroups: one for nearly every nationality, ethnicity, religion and inclination. (For example, a group for Jewish scuba divers. Why? Members aren't really sure -- but who can resist a club called Scuby Jew?)

Of those hundreds of clubs on campus, many have sensible appellations. For avid readers of Old Norse, for example, the Old Norse Reading and Discussion Group is an obvious choice. Athletes with a taste for the exotic might consider the Ithaca Underwater Hockey Club or the Cornell Quidditch Club; while the professionally oriented might prefer the campus chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Investment Banking and Capital Markets Club or perhaps the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners.

But some organizations prefer a touch of mystery. Hence DUCT TAPE, or Dorks United to Create Through Theater Arts, Problem Solving and Engineering; Snodgrass and Wigglesworth, the club for entomology undergraduates; and, for shameless admirers of lowbrow culture, the simply titled Guilty Pleasures.

Change gears to pleasure sans guilt, and you'll find organizations geared toward community service, political and social activism, public health, scholarship and religious fellowship. Cornell Greeks unite every spring for the annual Day of Demeter: Last year's event drew nearly 400 fraternity and sorority members out to restore community parks, natural areas and playgrounds. And Big Red Relief features campus performers and outside speakers to support causes around the globe.

Organizing campuswide events is a skill unto itself, and members of the Cornell University Program Board cite the satisfaction in pulling together all the elements that go into bringing a national figure -- think Stephen Colbert (last year) or Howie Mandel (booked for this fall) -- to campus for sellout shows.

"It's really neat to put all that time into planning an event and then have 5,000 of your classmates come and enjoy a show that you've essentially built from scratch," said Tara Tavernia '09, the board's executive director.

Others choose to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, learn about African cultures through the Coalition of Pan-African Scholars or -- well, the list goes on. And on. And on.

So for the moment, take Kim's word for it. Whether it's breakdancing or composting, writing poetry or singing a cappella -- extracurricular activities can be as important as the academics themselves.

"It's the best thing you can do," he said.

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