Alden Habacon, Senior Advisor Intercultural Understanding

The following message is sent on behalf of Dr. Sara-Jane Finlay, Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion.  It is for the attention of UBC Deans, Directors, Managers and Administrative Heads of Units.

A message from Sara-Jane Finlay, Associate Vice President, Equity and Inclusion:

In the New Year, Alden Habacon, Director of Intercultural Understanding at UBC will transition his position to a consultant role, primarily working with the Equity and Inclusion Office.

Alden’s intercultural understanding strategic planning work, which brought him to UBC five years ago, has been for the most part successfully completed. This included consulting with the UBC community around their intercultural needs and developing and initiating a strategic plan, inspiring both campuses around intercultural initiatives, and growing self-sustaining capacity throughout the university.

In short, UBC has seen real culture change and a growing momentum around intercultural perspectives, approaches, skills development, and relationships—producing more intercultural learning, student experiences, research approaches and community engagement. The demand for training and professional development is now greater than one person can supply and it is time for a different approach to the work.

Although Alden won’t be as visible on the UBC campuses, I want to assure you that the intercultural understanding work at UBC is not finished. Alden will retain the title of Senior Advisor, Intercultural Understanding and the focus of his work will shift towards growing capacity at the local level to respond to the needs for intercultural understanding, skills and education. This change will enable him to intensify work within a handful of units.

In the last few years, Alden has also been engaged with many great organizations across Canada. The demand for his time outside of UBC has outgrown what he is able to provide and he aspires to share his knowledge and strategic vision with other universities across Canada.

If your unit is interested in opportunities to build intensive intercultural capacity and skills development, contact the Equity and Inclusion Office at, or contact Alden Habacon directly at

Alden and I would like to thank the UBC community for its enthusiasm, collaboration, healthy skepticism, advice and, most importantly, engagement with intercultural understanding.


Sara-Jane Finlay
Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion
Equity and Inclusion Office
University of British Columbia

Nepal Symposium – Thursday, September 24th

The Centre for India and South Asia Research, UBC Nepali Students Association and Institute of Asian Research invites you to:

”SYMPOSIUM ON NEPAL: Reconstruction and Regeneration After the Earthquake”

Join us for a discussion of Nepal’s experiences with relief and reconstruction after the devastating earthquakes of April and May 2015. Speakers will give brief presentations highlighting economic, engineering, linguistic and socio-political dimensions of earthquake response in Nepal,with a focus on Vancouver-linked initiatives.Followed by discussion and dialogue: Open floor. All are welcome

UBC Nepali Students Association will be selling homemade momos (Nepali dumplings) as a fundraiser for ongoing efforts in Nepal after the discussion. Kindly RSVP.

Thursday, September 24, 2015
Time: 4:00-7:00 pm
Location: Conference room #120
C.K. Choi Building, 1855 West Mall


Dr Tsering Shakya,Institute of Asian Research, UBC


Dr Bishnu Pandey, Civil Engineering, BCIT
Dr Sara Shneiderman, Anthropology and the Institute of Asian Research, UBC
Dr Ratna Shrestha, Economics, UBC and Nepali Heritage Charity Foundation (NHCF)
Dr Mark Turin, Anthropology and First Nations and Endangered Languages Program, UBC

Divergences and Convergences of India: China Contemporary Relations – Wednesday, September 30th Ahmad Zahir Faqiri is a former Diplomat for Afghanistan and is going to be delivering a lecture in Room 120 of the C.K Choi Building, 4pm to 5:30pm on Wednesday September 30th. This lecture will focus on the dynamics and driving factors of the China -Indian relationship are with particular focus on maritime security, economics, energyscourge of regional terrorism and bilateral dialogue. Since the 1962 China -Indian War, there have been competitive elements within the China-Indian relationship.

Prior to his official visit to Beijing Prime Minister Modi in a press briefing highlighted with confidence that “My visit to China would be a new Milestone for the entire Asia”, which begs the question: What does Modi really want to bring to Asia? Mr. Faqiri has thoroughly researched India’s relationship with China and would like to share his expertise.

This is a free and open lecture to the public, so please feel free to join us. No RSVP required.

Source: Institute of Asian Research UBC

Eid-al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) | September 24, 2015

This Thursday September 24, along with millions around the world, hundreds of UBC’s students and many UBC faculty and staff will be celebrating Eid-al-Adha, one of the two significant holidays in the Muslim calendar.

The word “Eid” means “festival” or “holiday” in Arabic, and can refer to a number of Muslim holidays, but is most often used to refer to Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and took place in July.

To mark Eid-al-Adha, the UBC Muslim Students Association (MSA UBC) will be hosting a morning prayer on campus, so that students don’t have to miss their morning class. That said, many students may not make their first class, so as to attend morning prayers with their family. Information about the morning prayer is below.

Eid-al-Adha Morning Prayer
8:00 AM

Totem Ballroom
Open to anyone who wants to participate in the morning prayer.

There is also a dinner party which will take place on the following Friday:

Eid-al-Adha Dinner & Party
6:30 PM

Old Sub Ballroom
Open to everyone.
Tickets are $10, available at

Why do Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha?
Eid al-Adha “commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to Allah – and Allah’s mercy in putting a lamb in Ishmael’s place at the last moment. ‘Muslims believe that the very moment Ibrahim raised the knife, God told him to stop, that he had passed the test, and to replace Ishmael with a sacrificial ram,’ explains Al Arabiya. Eid also marks the end of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.”


(Above excerpted from:



What does ‘Intercultural Understanding’ actually mean?

With the on-going feedback of the UBC community, we have recently updated the working definition of intercultural understanding to make it clearer for those who are new to the concept:

Intercultural understanding refers to the profound sociocultural difference understood by individuals or by groups that reflect

(1.) social positions and statuses (including, but not limited to ethnicity, race, religion, age, gender identity and expression, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, immigration as well as academic, employment or professional status);

(2.) the cultural histories, creative practices and faith perspectives of various social groups; and

(3.) the dynamic power relations that shape the interactions between dominant and non-dominant cultures, including the undercurrents of difference found within these interrelations.

As summarized in the following:

An understanding of the social positions, practices and power relations of sociocultural difference understood by individuals or groups within a society.

Continue reading

Persian New Year Celebrations Begin

*This post was from last year. We updated the time of Norouz – it starts at 3:45pm (Vancouver time) today.*

Norouz نوروز, the Persian New Year, takes place at 3:45pm today. The Persian New Year begins in tandem with the Spring Equinox, and the customs associated with Norouz also relate very closely with nature and the hopefulness that the beginning of Spring embodies. Many people outside of Iran, particularly residents of surrounding regions such as Afghanistan, also celebrate this holiday. The most significant symbol of Norouz, which has its origins in Zoroastarian traditions, is the haft-seen هفت‌سین table spread. The haft-seen traditionally includes seven (haft) edible items that start with “seen” (س ) an “S” sounding alphabet.  Each household normally creates a decorative haft-seen and this is left up throughout the New Year season, which lasts for 13 days.   Continue reading

Lakehead University mandates Indigenous content in all faculties

Lakehead University is moving to make it mandatory for all undergraduate students to take indigenous education.

Taken from

Starting in 2016, studies about indigenous people and issues will be incorporated into courses in every faculty on campus.

Yolanda Wanakamik with the office of aborginal initiatives LU
Yolanda Wanakamik with the office of aboriginal initatives at Lakehead calls the move to make indigenous studies mandatory, unique. (supplied)

Yolanda Wanakamik, co-ordinator of graduate and external relations with the office of aboriginal initiatives, said it’s part of the university’s over all strategic plan.

“The idea is that any student in an undergraduate program will graduate from Lakehead with one half credit having significant indigenous knowledge,” Wanakamik said.

Teaching tailored to each student

The teaching will reflect a student’s area of study. For example, Wanakamik explained,” in natural resource management at Lakehead you will have a lot of foresters graduating that are going to have to engage First Nations communities, so they will need to understand what treaties are.”

Wanakamik pointed to graduating engineers as well, who need to go north and would have to learn about where they are going and the culture of First Nations.

Beyond raising understanding of indigenous people, Wanakamik said the intent of making these kind of studies mandatory is to talk openly about the issue of racism.

“There will be conversations in the classroom. Most people will be talking about stereotypes people have about indigenous people in northwestern Ontario, in fact across Canada,” she said.

Wanakamik called the move towards mandatory indigenous education unique, with Lakehead in her estimation being the only Canadian university that has done this, so far.

As a a former aboriginal student at Lakehead herself, Wanakamik said she’s proud of what the university is doing.

“People have responded to it. People are excited. This is a boost for students.”

The UBC Graduate Students’ Society Present: International Celebration Night

Taken directly from the GSS website.
The Facebook event link can be found here

Date: Thursday, January 29, 2015
Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Location: GSS Thea’s Lounge (6371 Crescent Road, Vancouver)
Tickets: $5 UBC grads, $10 UBC non-grads
or in-person at the GSS front desk

It’s a world of diversity! Join your GSS for a night of globe-trotting through the senses:

  • Savour ethnic cuisines from around the world
  • Watch videos that showcase cultures from across the globe
  • Challenge yourself with trivia questions and win a prize
  • Mingle with fellow students and celebrate diversity
  • Know a video that highlights your homeland? Email us links to videos from your home country that showcases the cultural aspects of it or portray its natural beauty.


Linguistic diversity at UBC – A Ubyssey Article

We all make assumptions about those that speak differently. Researchers refer to this phenomenon as linguistic profiling, or the identification of a person’s social characteristics, such as level of intelligence, based on aspects of their speech.


Taken directly from the Ubyssey (link here).

Letter: “I can’t understand my prof”: Linguistic diversity at UBC

By: Victoria Surtees

Around this time last semester, I stumbled upon a Ubyssey article listing reasons to drop a course. One reason in particular, “I can’t understand my prof,” evoked the many challenges of linguistic diversity at UBC. As a student here, I have heard many hurtful comments about the way instructors, profs and TAs speak, particularly about those who were not born in Canada. With the drop deadline approaching, I decided to see what the research said about why people sometimes react negatively to different ways of speaking. What I found was both interesting and practical. I share a condensed version of the findings here in the hope that students will take a step back and think next time they can’t understand a prof.

We all make assumptions about those that speak differently. Researchers refer to this phenomenon as linguistic profiling, or the identification of a person’s social characteristics, such as level of intelligence, based on aspects of their speech. In the university context, linguistic profiling often surfaces in the form of negative attitudes towards instructors who speak non-standard varieties of English (think Texan English or Chinese English). Raisler (1976), for example, found that 730 students rated lectures delivered by a prof with noticeable accents as less convincing than the same lecture delivered by a standard speaker. In a similar study, students rated exactly the same science lecture as more difficult to understand when played beside a photograph of an Asian man as opposed to a white man (Kang & Rubin, 2009). What this tells us is that when we don’t understand, it’s not always about the prof — our unconscious expectations and attitudes about what “good language” sounds like and who normally speaks it also play a role.

Recently, Kang, Rubin, Lindemann (2014) found that students’ ability to understand different accents was improved through critical discussion and exposure. With that in mind, here are a couple of practical tips to take away with you as you consider which courses to keep this semester.

Put your assumptions on hold: when you first saw your instructor, what did you expect? When they spoke, what did you think? Now put your ideas aside for a moment. Give you and your instructor the benefit of the doubt: they work at UBC because they are leaders in their field. You attend UBC because you’re an amazing student.

Remind yourself that it’s useful to understand other ways of speaking: learning to communicate effectively with a variety of English speakers is one way to tap into a vast transnational network. Viewed this way, linguistic diversity is not a burden, it is an additional opportunity that UBC provides. Take advantage!