Category Archives: AMS

Five Rules for UBC

As I pack my bags to leave campus this week, I think about the past five years at UBC and what I’ve learned.

Inspired by Five Rules for Life, a website that collects different people’s five “rules” or guidelines on how to live a life, I decided to try and sum up my own guidelines for making the most out of your time at UBC.

Everyone’s journey is different and this is not meant to be any kind of exhaustive list or dictum, but these are the principles that I wish I’d known to follow when I first got here. Some of these are principles that worked for me; others are what I wish I’d done. I’d be happy to hear what you think of these guidelines below, and any suggestions for what you think would make for a satisfying, memorable time at UBC.

1) Whenever possible, study a subject that you love.
This is one of the most amazing experiences and privileges that a university education has to offer, so take advantage. Even if you aren’t able to pursue your preferred subject as your major, do your best to at least take an elective that you like — when you enjoy your studies, you are more likely to do better in class, struggle less with the material, and feel more confident about your abilities.

  • Not sure what your options are? Take a look at your faculty’s page on the UBC Calendar and find a full list of degrees conferred.
  • Don’t know what you can do with a specific degree after graduation? Speak to Career Services and check out suggestions for what you can do with your major.

2) Get involved. Find your niche.
UBC is a big campus and it’s easy to feel lost and alone amidst a sea of thousands. Combat the temptation to stick solely to your books (especially for commuter students) and find out about engagement opportunities. Try these out until you find a community of like-minded people you are comfortable around. If you don’t find your niche on the first ten tries, keep trying until you get there.

3) Try one or two new things every year.
Whether it’s taking a class in an unknown subject, a new volunteer opportunity or an original project, make a point of trying to push yourself beyond your comfort zone at least once or twice a year. University is a rare time when you’re at liberty to try different things with little risk of consequence, so make the most of it. Give yourself the chance to have mind-expanding, ‘woah’ moments.

  • A program for your radar in second year and above: Student Directed Seminars (not mentioned in the CSI list).
  • If you can afford it, seriously consider going abroad for a part of your degree, whether for an academic exchange, research, or international service learning. Visit Go Global for travel and funding options.

4) Work, study and play in moderation.
Get work experience before you graduate — this is what counts most when you’re looking for a job. At the same time, don’t burn yourself out: after working almost non-stop for the last five years while a full-time student, I wish I’d given myself more breaks. If I could do it again, I’d either work full-time during the summer and study full-time during school with no part-time work, or worked part-time while at school full-time and taken the entire summer off.

  • The UBC Learning Commons gives good guidance on questions like time management, effective study methods and presentation skills.
  • Find out about co-op opportunities in Arts, Commerce, Engineering, Forestry, Kinesiology and Science at the UBC Co-op website.

5) Be good to yourself.
Your time at UBC will not be all rainbows and sunshine. Hard times happen. When they do, don’t be afraid to reach out and get the support you need, and don’t beat yourself up for it. Fellow Blog Squad member Miriam once wrote a letter to first-years that I think sums up everything I want to say.

  • Do you have concerns about your physical or mental health? A list of resources you can access is available here.
  • AMS Speakeasy is a confidential peer support service where trained student volunteers will listen to your concerns about anything and will point you to both on- and off-campus resources as needed.

To all new and returning students, I really hope you enjoy your time here. I’ve had the great good fortune of being part of the UBC Blog Squad since its inception in 2007 until now. As the Blog Squad moves in new directions and as I move on to the next chapter of my life post-graduation, I hope these last comments function as a useful closure to this blog. It’s been grand.

For those of you wondering what’s next for me: I’m moving off campus this weekend and am wrapping up my contract with the UBC Arts Co-op Program, which ends the first week of September. After that, I’m going to travel Western Europe for a few weeks and may visit Asia again before I come back to Vancouver to hunt for a more long-term job.

And with that — goodbye, good luck and have fun!

In classic Speakeasy tradition

We wrote gratitude notes to each other at our year-end event on Friday and left them in each other’s wine glasses.

Thank you guys for the notes, the card and the signed weekly planner. It’s been a grand four years and this year has probably been best of all. I’ve loved being part of the service with every bit of my heart and will miss it so much when I’m gone.

But since I’m not gone yet, I’m going to enjoy the last three (non-coughing!) weeks as much as I can. And with that promise comes snacking materials for y’all.

For those of you wondering…

AMS Speakeasy peer support service is operating during exam period (Tuesday, April 10–Wednesday, April 27).

Volunteers are trained to provide a listening ear, confidential one-on-one support and resources for a wide range of issues including, but not limited to: exam and academic stress, relationship concerns, LGBTQQI issues, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

If you’re the least bit worried about something or just need someone to talk to, approach one of our volunteers on shift at the information booth. I promise they are some of the kindest, most accepting people you’ll ever meet.

AMS Speakeasy
SUB Main Concourse (north side, facing Brock Hall)
Open Monday–Friday, 9:30 am–4:30 pm during exam period

AMS Minischool

This is the last Saturday night I will spend in the office, I swear. I’ve been saying this for the last four weeks, but the difference now is that I actually don’t have to. No more interviewing, preparation or training weekends until January. Hurray!

Instead, I will spend my time like a good student and actually attend to my studies. I’ll eat and sleep at regular hours and even make a little time to play. It’s really quite exciting.

Speaking of play, now that Rec Shopping Week and Clubs Days are over, the next thing to look at when asking, ‘What (else) can I do at UBC?’ is, of course, the AMS Minischool! Offering a range of non-academic classes such as wine tasting, pole dancing, sign language, guitar, magic, crochet, and First Aid and CPR, it’s pretty safe to say that there are enough courses to cater to many different people. Check it out if you’re still looking for something new to do this term.

I’ve already signed up for one course and am trying to control my urges to join another. The Chocolate 101 class looks so yummy…

Volunteering for AMS Speakeasy

‘Speakeasy is like your boyfriend,’ a friend complained a few months ago. ‘Every time I want to hang out with you, you’re already doing something with Speakeasy.’

Aside from my objection that I do too(!) take care to spend regular time with friends even when I’m dating, the comparison isn’t so far off the truth. Ever since joining this AMS service in 2008, I’ve been spending more and more time every year doing whatever needs to be done to keep it running smoothly, simply because I love it so much. My friends are used to booking me at least three to four weeks in advance during the school year because I’m usually so busy with class, work and volunteering.

Before nattering on about my experiences, though, here’s a run-down of what Speakeasy is, for those of you who don’t know about it:


What is Speakeasy?

(AKA ‘Tell me about him/her!’)

AMS Speakeasy is a free, confidential, student-run peer support service for the UBC community. We provide a safe space in which students can come and discuss whatever is on their minds. Common topics include (but are not limited to): relationship concerns, academic stress, anxiety, depression, suicide, substance abuse, eating disorders, loneliness, and more. Our volunteers are trained to listen without judging and to help students work out what they need, working from the philosophy that every individual is the expert in his/her life. We provide resources and referrals to other organisations, many of them within UBC, as well as off-campus ones.

Most people know us unofficially as ‘that information desk on the north side of the SUB concourse’. During the school year, you can generally see volunteers staffing the desk from 9 to 5 on weekdays, giving directions, maps and general information to the many students, staff and tourists who come by.

Peer support is done on a drop-in basis, which means you will generally get the support you need when you ask for it. Once in a while, there will already be someone in the peer support room, in which case you can come back after an hour, but this doesn’t happen very often. To get a peer support session, all you need to do is approach one of our volunteers and say that you would like one. The room itself is tucked away in a corner to provide some privacy.

Our support sessions are offered on a one-time basis, as our volunteers are not trained or accredited to provide more than one session at a time. We can, however, offer referrals to organisations that do provide ongoing counselling if this is appropriate.

We no longer offer a crisis line (this was suspended in 2008). Our reception desk phone number is for general enquiries only; we cannot provide peer support over the phone.


Why I volunteer(ed) for Speakeasy

(AKA ‘Why do you like him/her?’)

As is abundantly clear by the length of this post, I can go on and on about Speakeasy once started. This is due in no small part to the community of amazing individuals we have each year, and everything I love about the service we provide.

1. First and foremost is being allowed to sit with someone and listen to their concerns.
It’s a privilege to be confided in, and to provide a measure of support. Although we get a few drop-ins each week, spaced out over 48 volunteers, that means as individual volunteers, we may only have a couple of drop-ins throughout the year. It’s quite uneven: a few unfortunately never have a drop-in, while others have a fair number. Each drop-in I have got has reaffirmed my belief in the importance of having a peer support service at all.

2. The skills and training I’ve received from Speakeasy has broadened my understanding of other people like nothing else.
I have learnt far more about being a good support person, about sexuality, mental health, depression and suicide prevention, than anywhere else — all of which I’ve needed in non-Speakeasy contexts. Ironically, I’ve given more support to the friends and acquaintances I know outside of Speakeasy than in an official peer support capacity; being here has taught me how to better be ‘there’ for the people I care about.

3. We get such a wonderful community every year.
Speakeasy was the first organisation at UBC in which I felt a real sense of community. It’s no surprise: everyone who joins is a caring, generous individual who genuinely wants to help their fellow students. If you want a warm and fuzzy feel-good place to be, this is one of the best candidates for that position. Many are the times I walked into the volunteer lounge intending to walk straight back out and ending up chatting animatedly for three hours (or more); I have met several good friends through Speakeasy and have loved the weekly bonding sessions with my shift partners over the years. Also, given the nature of what we do, it’s like having a ready-made support network when you need one!

4. I like answering questions at the desk.
Yes, that’s right: I actually like drawing places out on maps, telling people that the washrooms are down the hall on the left (then watching them go right), and trying to help someone who doesn’t speak English fluently. Part of this is because I remember how incredibly lost and foreign I felt when I first arrived in Vancouver (although I spoke perfectly good English), and I know exactly what it is to live in a place where you don’t speak the local language fluently (which was most of my life). Mostly, I like to smile and ask someone how I can help and wish them a good day. These are tiny things, but no matter what else I haven’t done in a day, it makes me feel good to know I did something for someone, however small.

So what’s up with the past tense in ‘volunteer(ed)’?

Well, having been together for three years (so to speak), and having moved from being a general volunteer to being a Team Leader for two of them, I’m happy to announce that Speakeasy and I have taken our relationship to the next level and I am now working as the Assistant Coordinator for the 2011/12 academic year. It’s all approved by the Co-op office, too, and I now have hope of finishing my co-op requirements. Hurrah!

(Actually, I started this job two months ago, but I didn’t feel like making it official back then. Ha.)


What does volunteering for Speakeasy entail?

(AKA ‘What do you guys do together?’)

Volunteer expectations vary year to year depending on the Coordinators of the service. This year, it’s going to be:

1. Desk shifts (2 hours every week)
The most visible part of being a Speakeasier, when you sit at the desk to answer questions, provide maps, directions and general information to everyone who comes by. This is the time in which you will do a drop-in peer support session, if anyone comes for one.

2. Team Leader (TL) meetings (1 hour every other week)
Ongoing, in-depth training in a smaller team of 7 or 8 (out of a total of 48 volunteers), headed by one of our volunteer Team Leaders, to continue practising your peer support skills and expanding your knowledge of how to handle and refer a range of issues.

3. Project meetings and project work (approximately 2.5 hours every week)
This is a slight variation on the way things were set up last year, but essentially, there will be two main divisions within the overall organisation:

  • External: Promotions, outreach & collaboration with other groups
  • Internal: Ongoing training materials, internal resources & internal social events

Once a month, there will be an hour meeting in which each division will meet to discuss, review and plan projects relevant to their portfolios. 3 Team Leaders (TLs) are assigned to each group. Once projects have been identified, it is up to volunteers and TLs to work out further meeting times to work on these projects.

(Past projects have included: booths in first-year residences, a Speakeasy Photo Booth, creating informational pamphlets on issues such as self-care, anxiety and depression, and our own twice-monthly social events.)

4. Training retreats (mandatory)
We have a major training retreat at the beginning of each term. On account of all the training volunteers need to receive in order to provide peer support, attending training in full is mandatory.

This year, our training will be:

  • September: Thursday 16th (UBC, 5-7 pm), Friday 17th (Gambier Island, whole day), Saturday 18th (Gambier Island, whole day), Sunday 19th (Gambier Island, until 4 pm), Saturday 24th (UBC, 9-6 pm)
  • January: TBA, most likely second weekend of term

We’re working on acquiring letters to excuse students from class on the Friday if you need it (sorry about that). On the other hand, we’re going to a really lovely camp on Gambier Island, and there will be free time to go kayaking, toast marshmallows and yes, do your homework if you are so inclined. But at least there will be time, which we haven’t been able to do in past years.

Note: As I write, the times for Saturday 24th September aren’t yet set in stone; we’re still working out the details of that day.


If you’re interested in volunteering for Speakeasy…

(AKA ‘If you’re interested in sharing the current love of my life… the more the merrier!’)

The 2011/12 Volunteer Application Guide and New Volunteer Application Form are currently available on our website. Round 1 application deadline is on August 19th and Round 2 is on September 8th (please read the Guide for details on the difference). Interviews are currently in progress and I am so keen on meeting our new volunteers — we’ve already hired and trained an excellent group of Team Leaders, and the year is promising to look very, very good.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment, email me at, or the Coordinator at (I promise never to talk quite so much about this again!)

Logging in to vote for AMS Elections?

In trying to be a responsible AMS citizen, I have actually been trying to pay a little attention to current AMS elections.

I feel like I have failed, because I don’t know where my login details are.

They could just be running late, which wouldn’t surprise me, but I thought it would be worth asking if anyone else has received their logins?

Update (Tue 18 Jan, 7 pm): Just checked my email and got my login details. Happy voting!