Category Archives: Your Voice

We are more than labels

Guest post by: Jorge Garcia, BSC

In the last couple of decades, our society has made great progress when it comes to racial discrimination, and although we still have a long way to go, we can slowly see improvements with each new generation. However, there is another side to this issue that is often ignored or minimized. It is what we call “White Privilege”.

In short, white privilege can be considered to be the other side of racism. It is that immense list of everyday conflicts that some people have the privilege of ignoring simply because they are “white”. It is the privilege of being considered an individual and not just another member of a specific group or race. It is the privilege of being a voice, and not just a stereotype or a set of labels.

“We Are More Than Labels” is a series of portraits that intend to expose some of the invisible labels that people are given simply because of their color. It is an exploration of both the prejudices that people of color have to go through, and in the counterpart, the lack of these labels on white people; which result in the privilege of not being judged based on their skin color, the privilege of doubt, and the privilege of trust.

We Are More Than Labels_1 We Are More Than Labels_2 We Are More Than Labels_3 We Are More Than Labels_4

On exchange, but didn’t even leave the country

Written by Mirabelle Arodi, 4th Year Biochemistry Major

” I’m going on exchange,”

” Oh cool! Where?”

” Montreal!”

” Oh…”

Even before they said it, I knew what was coming next: ” But that’s not really exchange. It’s still Canada,”

This is a conversation I’d had countless times— with friends, acquaintances, eavesdroppers– in the months before the fall semester. It always began with excitement, which immediately changed to either confusion or disinterest, once I told them that I would be going to McGill University for the fall semester. The fact that I wasn’t crossing borders on my journey abroad somehow seemed less impressive.

As an international student, coming to Canada for university was in itself ‘going abroad’.  It is an experience I have enjoyed so far, and what has been most enriching for me are the different people, cultures and ways of thinking that I have encountered in Kelowna. I have learned just as much, if not more, outside the classroom as I have inside lecture halls. One of the things I learned outside class, is that the province of British Columbia alone is twice the size of my home country, Kenya. To say that this new knowledge-bomb blew my mind would be an understatement. Sure, looking at maps (and the fact that a flight from Toronto to Kelowna is as long as a flight from Kenya to South Africa— nearly half the length of the African continent), I knew that Canada was a big country. Putting it in relation to Kenya, however, is what made me really understand just how big. And it got me thinking–if I can have such a wealth of experience and diversity in Kelowna, how much more must there be in the rest of Canada? I would love to explore all of Canada. But as I have already established (and probably beaten to death), Canada. Is. Big. I can’t explore it all at once. But I can start somewhere. It was a foregone conclusion when I looked a the Go Global partners schools, that my destination for exchange would be within Canada— and Montreal, Quebec, it was!

[That was the response I would have loved to give to all those people that were less impressed with my location choice for exchange. But I reckon it they would not have endured that longwinded justification.]

I probably could not have chosen a place more different from Kelowna. Montreal is on the opposite side of the country, predominantly French speaking, more multicultural, always awake, and has a subway system (which I am not the biggest fan of—such a gloomy place). Coming from the small town Kelowna, I definitely needed time to adjust to my new home for the next four months. I had studied French for over 5 years, so I thought I had the language part covered. What they didn’t teach me in class, however, is the blistering speed at which French speakers talk. Every interaction with a sales associate in a store, the teller at the supermarket, or barista, went the same way. They say something in French, to which I respond ‘pardon?’ with a blank look on my face as I try to process what they just said. They then swiftly repeat what they said in English, just as I had computed the French version. But by then it was too late– I had to carry the rest of conversation in English, all the while thinking, “I understood it the first time, all I needed was some time to process- honestly! Just give me a chance. Je parle Francais!!’ What is seriously impressive is how almost everyone in this city speaks at least two languages, sometimes three or more, and the ease with which they switched back and forth depending on who they are talking to. Two shopkeepers will speak to each other in Arabic, answer a customer’s question in French, and tell another customer his bill sum in English, all in one breath. I want to get to that point too, one day. (#Goals)

Something else that took me aback is how spoiled for choice one is in Montreal. There are countless cafes to study in, variety of cuisines to sample, and a range of clothing stores—from thrift shops to designer boutiques. Maybe this explains why Montrealers are ALWAYS dressed to the nines, whether it’s for class or a night out. Their fashion game is strong! I am yet to see anyone dressed in sweatpants outside of the gym. (But then again, it isn’t exam season yet). Even with so many options though, there are still hidden gems in in this city– like the grocery store where I can buy a week’s worth of produce for under $20, or the cozy little cafe that serves Tanzanian tea in your own personal tea pot.

There seems to be something for everyone in Montreal. Bars that have live jazz bands playing every night, nightclubs that have more of a pop-music sound, water fountain displays and outdoor temporary art installations. My personal favorite is taking walks; to the top of Mont Royal in the morning where I am rewarded with a panoramic view of the whole city, and around the interconnected streets downtown at night, where I am guaranteed to see something out of the ordinary—people salsa dancing on the sidewalk, buskers singing their lungs out, or a colorful graffiti mural so large that I have to look at it from a distance of 10 meters.

As I am writing this, I am exactly halfway through my exchange experience. I am finally settled in and had a taste of Montreal life (croissants and crepes included). But I feel that I have so much more to see and do. For instance, visiting Vieux Port in Old Montreal, shopping at the renowned farmers markets, and of course, indulging in some legendary poutine from La Banquise. I’m pretty sure that’s obligatory when one comes to the birth place of one of Canada’s greatest contributions to the [food] world.

Yes, I am still in Canada, and no, it is not all the same. I believe it is both dangerous and a disservice to assume that Canada is homogenous, and that living in one place means you’ve experienced all there is to Canada— that it warrants looking beyond it’s borders to find something new and exciting

And yes, it does count as going on exchange.





Walking down Discovery Avenue,
I am dumbfounded by the avenue,
that is a college education; this oh so glorified education.
The road to scholarly liberation.
Yet is this truly liberation,
If I am perceivably in need of salvation,
Salvation which led my motherland to procrastination;
and poverty; the malnourished child plagued by starvation…

Am I but a dumbfounded youth?
Cascading through these undulating truths;
Lost in the sound of maroon leaves,
and cold feel as the summer leaves.
The cold feel that is winter’s presence,
marked by hot chocolate & spine chilling breeze.
I wallow in this university centred adversity,
perplexed by animosity and academic controversy.
I traverse the Okanagan in search of serenity.
What Serenity?! Am I a lost cause? Am I…?
… hope is my only escape,
I only hope it can save me.

– Nene Azu

Where(s) are you from?

Why is it that home is expected to be a single location, rather than a series of familiar experiences?
Why is it that home is expected to be a single location, rather than a series of familiar experiences?

Written by Himaini Sharma, 4th year Biochemistry/Psychology major.

How many of you know what Third Culture Kids  are? It’s very possible there is one sitting next to you in lecture right now. They sound like an outlandish species, don’t they? An exotic, privileged, strange breed of hybrids?

Well, they’re not your typical international students, but they want to fit in just as much as you do.

Before reading my lengthy process of self-reflection, please read the article that led to me finally being able to voice my thoughts to understand the plethora of emotions that have been in turmoil in my mind since 2012:


My name is Himayini Sharma, I’m a 20-year old Science student, and I am a Third Culture Kid (TCK). I was born in Stockholm, Sweden. Since then, I moved to a new country every three years: Turkmenistan, Texas, Mexico, India, Croatia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Zambia, and now, Canada. My father is Indian, my mother is part Mexican and part Sri Lankan, and we speak four languages at home. But, where am I from? That’s the problem. I don’t know.

Coming to terms with this problem after moving to UBC gave me a hard time. Before coming here, I’d always been at international schools (and if not, I was in a country like India where nobody questioned my ethnicity/identity). After moving to a place where the majority of people aren’t third-culture kids, however, all of this started happening really fast…

Let’s start with the white lies I personally told and tell on a daily basis as a TCK. When I’m in India, I say I’m Indian and I’m never questioned. Likewise, I say I’m Sri Lankan in Sri Lanka and Mexican when I’m anywhere in Latin America. Sometimes I get a slightly confused “are you fully actually this ethnicity?” look when I’m in those places – maybe because I look a little different – but not too often.

When I’m in an African country, I immediately say I’m either from Zimbabwe or Zambia, because I’ve lived there recently, feel a part of the countries, and just don’t want to have that “but if you’re from those other countries what are you doing here” conversation because it’s too exhausting.

When I used to live in Europe, which was from birth till grade 8 – with a couple of years elsewhere in between – I used to say I’m either Indian or Mexican because, although I felt very much at home there, I didn’t speak any of the local languages (Swedish, then Croatian), and I obviously look (and sound) like a total foreigner.

Prior to moving to Canada, whenever I was on vacation somewhere, let’s say the US, I, again, either said I’m Indian or Mexican – leaning more towards Mexican in the US because that way people ask me fewer questions about what I’m doing so far from home.

Heaven forbid I actually meet a stranger (or another international student) from India or Mexico or Sri Lanka who gives me a suspicious or disapproving look just because I don’t look or sound Indian or Mexican or Sri Lankan enough – i.e. don’t speak English with an Indian or Mexican or Sri Lankan accent or don’t completely immerse myself in Bollywood or Telenovelas or don’t particularly choose to majorly associate with people of the same ethnicity as me the way many foreign students tend to feel comfortable doing when in a new country. That was one thing that always made me uncomfortable – not “looking” or “sounding” like I belong to my countries of origin. Belonging yet not belonging to the community that is my identity at university – the international student community.

After moving to Canada, I still haven’t gotten used to being an international student in a predominantly domestic population. It’s enough cause for (although usually pleasant) surprise that someone at UBC is from a foreign country, so you can only imagine the panic I feel when someone asks me where I’m from: “it’s not only because we’re unsure ourselves, but also because we’re unsure of the reactions we’ll get.”

In first year, I would proceed to answer that question with my typical “Half Indian part Sri Lankan part Mexican” answer. Little did I realize that people who haven’t been around TCKs have a hard time imagining how someone can be from more than one place. I distinctly remember a turning point – when I answered someone’s question with my typical answer, and the person laughed at me and responded with, “no, I mean, where are you really from?” – possibly expecting to hear a typical answer like “Vancouver” or “Kelowna,” to which I just responded with a blank look of confusion and annoyance and an eventual “no, I’m an international student.” That didn’t mollify the person who continued to look incredulous. “Riiiiight,” they said with raised eyebrows and narrowed eyes. I began to sweat.

Did I really sound that outlandish? I started to feel self-conscious about my origin and avoided answering the question whenever I could. From then on, if someone asked me where I’m from, I would just say “India” or “Mexico,” and add “international student” after that, to which I got surprised yet accepting nods.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t always get the same reaction. Sometimes, people are genuinely curious and I’m glad to explain the TCK lifestyle to them. But there are other times, like the one I described above, that just leave me feeling more awkward than ever.

Come second semester of first year, I realized a second thing. If you say you are from somewhere, people will automatically assume you were born there and have lived there since then. Now, that’s totally typical and fine of many, many, many people I have met and befriended and gone to school with throughout my life. However, it added an extra layer of discomfort for me, because I could meet someone, tell them I am Indian, only to have them bring up the topic of high school… Riiiight, I didn’t go to high school there, I went to high school in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Which brings us back to square one.

Or hometowns. Like the “hometown” section on Facebook. What the heck am I supposed to write there? I was born in Stockholm, Sweden, but I was so young when I lived there that it didn’t significantly impact my life! Right now I practically have no affiliation to the place (unlike my parents’ cherished memories of the beautiful city) – but how do I explain that in a few words!? Do you now see how messy this gets? At this point I would just panic whenever someone asked me where I’m from. Why does it matter anyway!? I’m in the here and now and that’s what matters to me!

Facebook constantly reminds us that it will always help us remain connected to the rest of the globe. However – ironically – we can only list one hometown on our timelines. Once again, the fact that society expects us to call one place home is reinforced.
Facebook constantly reminds us that it will always help us remain connected to the rest of the globe. However – ironically – we can only list one hometown on our timelines. Once again, the fact that society expects us to call one place home is reinforced.

Once sophomore year began, whenever someone asked me the dreaded question, I would just say “Zambia.” It’s where my family lived at the moment, it’s where I graduated high school, and it’s ONE country. Little did I (then) realize that would set off a whole new series of questions regarding race and ethnicity. “If you’re from Zambia, why are you like… Not black?” Or, “Oh, I thought you were black.” One thing I have heard countlessly in the past year: “Your English is perfect.” Dear God, would the questions, assumptions, and incredulity never end?

Not that I mind explaining demographics in the slightest to people I am having a decent conversation with. It’s just… what do I say to a person I have just met, e.g. a stranger sitting next to me in a lecture or on the bus? I can’t say anything without taking up 90% of the conversation and getting typical reactions. And that makes me anxious.

I told myself I was done with these white lies. At a campus as small as the Okanagan campus, people who have me as a mutual friend or coworker are bound to come across confusion regarding where I’m from while I’m not there. I didn’t want that to happen because that just leads to more anxiety-inducing questions. Or worse, people could think I’m lying. I started saying, “Indian/Mexican by origin, grew up in Europe and Africa.” This worked well enough for me – until people asked why I have moved around so much and I had to explain the fact that my parents are diplomats.

Many people don’t know what diplomats are, and many who do assume we are beyond rich because we are “practically on vacation forever.” This thought has crossed my mind more times than I would like to admit: “I think people assume that I am uppity or like to brag about myself when it was just the truth.” I hate this assumption. I’m dying of nerves and anxiety at being accepted yet I am seen as a show-off. My parents and I are a typical middle class family. My parents have boring desk jobs in offices with 4-figured salaries. I didn’t get my own cell phone till 9th grade, and my own laptop till university. We belong to embassies. Embassies are representatives of foreign governments in each country. We don’t pay the ridiculously high private school tuition fees worldwide – the embassy does. Not all international students are filthy rich. True, we pay really high university fees, but you don’t know that my parents are struggling to pay my fees and that I have a merit-based scholarship to UBC. Many of us are like that. It makes me uncomfortable that our struggle is downplayed or ignored or declared as non-existent just because we get an “international student” stamp branded on our foreheads the second we answer the dreaded “where are you from” question. Can you believe that “withdrawal from social situations, and an inability to fit in are all common to TCKs, overwhelmed by their lack of national identity?” I can, now.

But that’s not my main point. Where were we? Oh yes, I was done with these white lies. I was done with a simple question and answer dictating my whole day, not to mention being met with responses that made my head spin. Sure enough, these white lies became less white. I started just responding to the question with an expected answer: “Vancouver” or “Kelowna.” My answer was met with a friendly “alright” or nod. I breathed out. Life was easy again.

Junior year rolled around and I became more involved on campus than I was before. Reality hit me like a Mack truck. Why am I lying to people? Just because I don’t want to have a conversation? That’s ridiculous and self-centered of me. Nobody cares about my life story. Why am I getting so worked up over nothing? It’s just a question. Answer it. There are people with real problems out there. They asked. It wouldn’t do for the President of the International Student Club to lie about their own international background, would it?

I pushed my discomfort and distaste aside. Anyone who asked me where I’m from got a “Indian and Mexican by origin, lived in Europe and Africa” as an answer, with an immediate “diplomat parents, yes I am an international student, and no I’m not rich” as an afterthought with an accompanying smirk or wink. And hey, it’s not a perfect answer, but it works. It works as long as I keep an open mind to honestly answering genuine follow-up questions driven by curiosity and not disapproval. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable anymore (except when I’m introducing myself to a circle of new people at an ice-breaker, where I just resort to humor or “it’s a long story” to mask my fear). It makes me feel accepted, and makes me appreciate how many people at UBC and in Canada have open minds. It makes me wish I had pushed my awkwardness away earlier so I could enjoy my first two years more. But I don’t have any regrets, as this was a period of learning and growth for me. And it all started because of a simple question: “where are you from?”

Nevertheless, the fact remains that “within the Third Culture Kid (TCK) community, distaste for the ‘Where are you from?’ strikes a common chord. It’s indicative of the confused identity that comes innately with a TCK status.”

I respect and appreciate people who would honestly like to know more about the TCK culture – who keep an open mind and understand that we are people who want to be accepted too. We didn’t choose to stick out. And it’s okay to be amazed or awed. Our own parents don’t fully understand what it’s like to be us: “what separates us from immigrants or casual travelers” is that “instead of developing our identity and worldview in one locale and then leaving, we develop these characteristics while in constant transit.” We were born to this life, whereas our parents (mostly) were in one place for the first 20-30 years of their lives until they went overseas. We don’t know a life that doesn’t involve home being equivalent to three years here then there and on and on.

I will continue circling “other” under “ethnicity” and “origin” on every questionnaire I ever fill out. I will be frazzled with nerves every time I am asked where I am from. However, I wouldn’t change my TCK upbringing for the world. Nor would I change my UBC experience for the world. I would, however, prefer it if stating where we came from had less of a prominence in introductions.

We are caught in a dichotomy of wanting to go back home, yet knowing that we are home. Time – the present – is the first and best home we’ve ever had. The intangibility of home is the price we pay for having known and loved throughout the globe.
We are caught in a dichotomy of wanting to go back home, yet knowing that we are home. Time – the present – is the first and best home we’ve ever had. The intangibility of home is the price we pay for having known and loved throughout the globe.

Refugees at your doorstep

The world is facing a grim reality today. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing abject persecution, war, and famine in search of a better life; a basic human right entitled to every individual. But in our world, there is a price these people have to pay for something that is their right.

People from Asia and Africa are squeezed into dinghies and boats, that can barely accommodate 50 people, by smugglers in order to cross the treacherous oceans where they must continue their journey on foot for hundreds of kilometers to cross borders. And if lucky, they will reach their destination. But, what if luck doesn’t work out? In that case, these men, women, and children risk losing their lives on this perilous journey or being stranded on the borders of countries, counting the days when the neighbouring nation opens its borders for them to enter. How long will this wait be? No one knows.

Refugees from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, to name a few, are arriving on the shores of Europe in hundreds of thousands. This indicates the largest refugee crisis Europe has seen since World War II. The journey across the Mediterranean has already claimed the lives of over 3,000 people so far, which is more than the total number counted in 2014. However, this crisis is not only limited to European shores. What has not been highlighted as much on the mainstream media is that many are also crossing the Indian Ocean to make it to Thailand and Malaysia, such as the Bangladeshis, Rohingyas of Myanmar (the largest persecuted stateless minority in the world), who risk their lives for a more promising future. Being a Bangladeshi myself and having read about this in our local newspapers made me realize the gravity of this refugee crisis, how agonizing the experience is for these people and how more awareness needs to be raised.

Many countries such as Germany have embraced these refugees with promises to help them build a new life on their land. It is such leadership which defines humanity, gives the world hope that in the coming days these refugees will find a new home and not be left alone, stranded in the sea or on borders. The world needs to hear the voices of these people and help them tackle the threats that compel them to become refugees. But the questions remain-when will this crisis end? How feasible is the resettlement and integration of refugees in their new homes?

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The Global Spectrum

I am the sound of radiant colours,
An impression of diverse waves,
The prodigy of multiculturalism,
Reconciliation of better days.

      I am the possibility of cultural understanding,
A conqueror of stereotypical thinking,
The Caesar to inter-culturalism; my Cleopatra,
On this winding road: a universal adventure.

 I am the echo of Mahatma Gandhi,
An embodiment of Nelson Mandela,
The fearless leader of the Cherokee Nation,
Revolving around this global spectrum.

I am the continuum of diversity,
A piece in a world filled with controversy,
The introspective pawn traversing a chess table,
Maneuvering a tale that is far from stable.

      – Nene Azu