The UBC Intercultural Alliance connects different student cultural groups
UBC’s Vancouver campus is home to students who come from 150 countries, one of the most diverse academic communities in the world. It’s one of the reasons students say they choose UBC. Yet once here, people still tend to mix with those who share a similar ethnic, national or social background.
The UBC Intercultural Alliance aims to change that. The student organization connects cultural clubs on campus and hosts dialogues on intercultural issues. Last March they organized UBC’s first ever Intercultural Fair.
Karen Dhaliwal, a UBC political science student and founding president of the UBCIA, won the 2014 Provincial Nesika Award in the Youth category earlier this year for her efforts to promote multiculturalism in British Columbia. She talks about the UBCIA’s efforts, and shares her perspective on diversity at UBC.
What are the goals of the UBC Intercultural Alliance?
We create a safe space for students to experience other cultures and to meet new people who they may have otherwise not spoken to out of fear or unfamiliarity. For example, if you’re part of the Russian Club and I’m part of the Singapore Students’ Association, I might feel uncomfortable going to a Russian Club event and vice versa. If our clubs hold an event together, I can experience your culture and you can experience mine, and everyone feels OK to be there.
Why do cultural gaps sometimes develop between student groups?
When people come to UBC, it’s a new place. You find comfort with people who are from the same country or culture as you. You get stuck there. I think another big issue at UBC is class and that intersects with culture. I’ve seen at times a clash between domestic and international students who come from a society of hierarchy and they bring that culture with them. A lot of domestic students don’t understand that and a divide is created. If we have more cultural exchange, there will be less of that.
How does the UBCIA measure success?
When clubs take the initiative and decide to collaborate. The first one we saw was between the Arab Student Association and the Caribbean African Association. When we went to the event, we thought there would be two sides with one group on one side of the room and the other group on the other. But they weren’t separated. A lot of students came out of that event saying they had made a new friend. After a while, some of the clubs that initially showed resistance to the UBICA are now e-mailing and asking to join.
What is your advice for first-year international students?
Be open-minded. Don’t just hang out with people from the same country as you because you feel comfortable with them. It doesn’t make any sense for you to come halfway across the world and hang out with people who grew up in the same city as you. Make friends across different cultures. Talk to people. I’ve learned more having a conversation with someone from a different country than I have in some of my classes.