Bridging the gap: How international students find community at UBC

International student Alliya Luzano first joined the UBC Kababayan (KABA), UBC’s Filipino Student Association, after moving from the Philippines at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interested in the prospect of making connections at a time when students were restricted to online classes and in-person interaction was limited, she sought out KABA, where she hoped she would be able to find others with similar backgrounds and experiences.

Her connections within the club helped streamline her transition to UBC, allowing her to more easily build friendships, as well as gain valuable guidance from other students in the club who had previously been in her shoes as a new international student from the Philippines.

Navigating a new learning environment can be daunting, especially when moving to an entirely new country. Whether it is to remain connected to their heritage, to learn more about a culture different from their own or simply meet people and immerse themselves in new experiences, students often turn to cultural clubs in order to feel at home.

Among the myriad of clubs offered at UBC, there are several groups that have found their calling in providing students with a community where they can celebrate their culture and identity, each offering their own unique blend of events that cater to a range of interests, from food to games to music.

Luzano, now president of KABA, describes her experience in the club as nothing short of a “home away from home.” She highlights the club’s tight-knit sense of community as a reason she’s stayed involved with KABA, years after she first joined.

“[Though] I was away from home, I could still keep my identity as a Filipino and not [lose] touch with that,” said Luzano. “KABA had so many events each month that even if I was homesick, I could always have a place to go to and be reminded of my culture… Even if you go to an event alone or you don’t know a lot of people, you come out of it having that community.”

Luzano said she would like to continue to foster a welcoming, inclusive environment for all members of the club. By holding events in English, the club aims to make events more approachable for those who are not fluent in Filipino. They still preserve Filipino culture and language on social media through weekly initiatives such as Fun Fact Friday, where the club puts the spotlight on a Filipino phrase or word.

Luzano’s positive experiences at KABA are common among students in cultural clubs on campus, which tend to lend themselves to community-building.

Shreya Shomoyeeta, a third-year anthropology student and co-president of the Bangladeshi Students’ Association (BSA), echoed Luzano’s reliance on cultural clubs as a support system to cope with homesickness. Having started at UBC online from Bangladesh, she didn’t have much time to adjust to life in Canada before being thrust into her second year.

Upon arriving in Canada, she initially stuck to a small group of friends and it was through the BSA that she was able to expand her social circle.

Shomoyeeta said joining the BSA helped her form a deeper connection with her culture than ever, because “in Bangladesh, everyone’s from the same culture.”

“It’s not really something you [typically] think of doing,” she said, emphasizing the importance of actively putting effort into learning about and celebrating certain cultural practices. “In Canada, since you’re so separated from it, you have to consciously connect to your culture.”

Collaborating with other cultural clubs is common for the BSA, which hosts events ranging from large Bengali New Year celebrations, to more intimate board game and open mic nights. Shomoyeeta said the group loves to invite members of other clubs to the BSA events.

“We interact with them at Clubs Day [and] we interact with them when we see them around the campus,” she said. “It’s really fun to get to talk to them, invite them to our events and go to their events as well.”

Clubs like KABA and BSA seek to bridge the gap between students and their respective cultures, while also inviting the larger student community to learn more about who they are and what they represent.