Themed living communities help UBC Okanagan students feel at home

Nearly 1,700 students live in residence at UBC’s Okanagan campus. With many of these students in their first year of university, Integrated Living Communities (ILCs) have been created to help new students feel at home.

ILCs are still a fairly new concept at universities across North America, but at UBC Okanagan six of the nine residence buildings have been designated with a theme, and like-minded students are housed the same building. The ILC themes are:

- Expressive Arts
- Indigenous Community
- International Community
- Healthy Living Community
- Leadership and Civic Engagement Community
- Sustainable Leadership Community

When students apply to residence, they can select an ILC of their choosing. While no placements are guaranteed, Residence Life Manager Alex Reid says UBC staff work hard to make as many matches as possible.

“ILCs provide an opportunity for students who share common interests, or have a unifying identity, to choose to live in a community together,” says Reid. “An ILC will have small- and large-scale programs and community initiatives that match the theme of the living community, and give students something in common even before they have met each other.”

Peter MacLeod, who lives in Similkameen Place, loves music. Now in his third year, MacLeod is a Residence Advisor and encourages people who love music and the arts to be a part of the Similkameen Place residence. Designated the Expressive Arts ILC, many of the students have a love of music, performance arts, or theatre.

“When I heard there was an Expressive Arts building, I said ‘that’s me! That’s where I want to go,’” says MacLeod. “It’s a great outlet and we have a very vibrant community in Similkameen.”

Kristyna Hribalova came to UBC’s Okanagan campus from York University in England, but is originally from Czech Republic. When she heard there was an International ILC, she put her name on the list, knowing it would be a good opportunity to meet other international students.

“International students tend to stick together because we are from different countries and it’s easy to create a strong bond because we are all living together,” says Hribalova. “I think it’s great that I’m living with people from Kenya and Romania and oddly, we have a lot in common because we’re not from Canada.”

Along with shared meals and recipe exchanges, Hribalova says the international students enjoy learning together about Canadian culture and differences between their home countries.

The theory behind the ILCs runs a bit deeper than just shared leisure activities and friendships, says Reid.

“While we want our students to feel at home the entire time they are on campus, through our very specific programs, UBC Okanagan’s ILCs provide out-of-classroom learning, broaden the university experience for our students, and empower them to contribute to defining the culture of their own community.”

And they are about giving back to the broader community.

Mirabelle Arodi, Residence Advisor in the International ILC, says most residences will organize a fundraiser and donate money to a local or international charity. For the past two years, the residences have organized a dessert lounge, making a full range of desserts and selling tickets to other students.

Money raised from this event has gone directly to Sopar International, an organization that uses donations to improve living conditions in India’s poor communities. Last year’s donations helped develop a well in a village in Andhra Pradesh.

Rejoice, the final ILC fundraiser for this academic year, is a cultural fashion show featuring clothing and costumes presented by international students. Funds raised will go towards Inn from the Cold, a local organization that focuses on responding to the needs of people who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness.

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