On March 23rd, AIESEC UBC hosted Exploring Diversity, an event featuring guest speaker Alden E. Habacon, the current director of Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development at UBC. He addressed the topics of cultural identity, multicultural fluidity, and intercultural fluency.  Big words, I know, but these topics are issues that we will likely face often, if not at least once in our lives.

“What are you? Where are you from?” are questions I am asked often. If I am overseas or in Vancouver, I respond with either “Vancouver” or “Canada”. With a puzzled face and a quick laugh, the person I am speaking with will re-phrase their question: “No, where are you really from?” Sometimes I get frustrated, but other times I understand their confusion. I do not look like a “typical” Canadian. We are in a new generation where we have “Cultural Identity 2.0”; in other words, it is more likely for people nowadays to have a diverse ethnic background. Believe it or not, “butter chicken and sushi are mainstream,” as Habacon jokingly said, referring to Vancouver’s culture. However, the issue is that not everyone is on the same page.

Habacon noted that UBC is a multicultural place, but not an intercultural one. What is the difference and why does it matter?  On the surface, we appear to be diverse with many students originating from a variety of different backgrounds. However, can you claim that you truly understand their background? We lack multicultural fluidity, which is the ability to coexist with another culture. Habacon explained that in order to fully understand a culture, you have to do more than to learn about it—you have to experience it. With experience comes self-reflection, and that cannot be replicated in any form other than travelling. The importance of travelling to a foreign place is to explore diversity first-hand and to bridge the gap between different cultures.

Intercultural fluency is the ability to communicate with different cultures. It has 3 factors:

  1. Awareness: take the time to appreciate and accept the values of others.
  2. Capacity: be open to learning about other cultures’ manners to show our acceptance.
  3. Social Competence: talk about our own story: it can entirely change someone’s perception about our culture.

How do we exemplify this? To begin with, think about applying for global internships. Exposing ourselves to other cultures will truly change the way we think. If not, try joining a new club; the amount of knowledge we can learn from others is truly amazing. To conclude, I would like to pass on Habacon’s challenge: “Travel around the world and never have to stay in a hotel. Hopefully, by the end of your university years, you would have made enough friends to be welcomed into their homes.”

By Rachel Wong, Talent Management