Patty Wellborn



International students enjoying a meal

UBCO faculty and staff have been invited to host an international student and their families over the winter break.

While Christmas can be a joyous time of being together, making new memories and enjoying festive meals, it can also be lonely. Especially for people who live far away from their homes and families.

With this in mind, UBC Okanagan’s Global Engagement Office and the College of Graduate Studies are testing a pilot project to match international students spending winter break in the Okanagan. Host for the Holidays connects graduate students with faculty and staff who will invite them into their homes for a meal during the break.

Dale Mullings, UBCO Associate Vice-President, Students, says when he heard about the program, he quickly signed up and will host two graduate students in his own home at Christmas.

“For my wife Erin and I, we saw this as an opportunity to open our home to students who may not be able to be with family over the holiday season, just as we would hope someone would do for one of our children,” he explains. “We feel very fortunate to be hosting two students, one from India and one from Turkey and hope to learn about their academic research, life abroad and their plans for the future. It will be exciting for our young children to learn about their experiences.”

UBCO currently has more than 1,350 graduate students, and about 40 per cent of them are international students. Host for the Holidays was introduced to graduate students as a pilot project, mainly because it is a smaller cohort, explains International Student Advisor Nora Lambrecht.

“This is the time of year when we need to reach out and ensure our international students do not feel isolated, especially with their own families so far away,” Lambrecht adds. “But this is also a great opportunity for the hosts to learn about the rich culture international students bring to our campus and community.”

Each host has offered to welcome between two to four students to their home, and this year, 29 people, including partners and their families, will be hosted by faculty and staff. This is the first year UBCO has tried this initiative, and Lambrecht hopes it will continue.

Sebastian Kolesar, UBCO International Student Advisor, is a dual citizen of both Brazil and Canada. He says he’s happy to participate as someone who strives to learn more about other cultures. Not only has Kolesar studied and volunteered overseas, but has also worked in international student support for more than five years. He can poignantly remember moments of feeling homesick while away from his family and has witnessed it while working with students.

“During my time as an international student, I experienced isolation, homesickness, loneliness, dislocation, and issues related to adapting to the culture in the host country where I was an uninvited guest and settler,” he says. “Additionally, as someone with a transnational identity, I often sought out opportunities to engage with cultural food, music, and traditions that reminded me of both my paternal and maternal homes.”

Graduate student Tanmaya Karmarker left her hometown in India in August 2022 to come to UBCO to work on her master’s degree in computer science. Her eventual goals are to complete a doctorate and work in research or teaching at a university. Karmarker looks forward to meeting her hosts and is happy the invitation has been extended, so her two sons are also welcome.

“I was excited to hear about this program because I would like to know more about the Okanagan, and this is a perfect way to interact with local residents,” she adds. “I would like my sons to do more than just study, socialize, and learn about Canada and its people. This seems like a perfect opportunity, and it is a good idea for UBCO to start this initiative. It is also nice of the hosts to make us all feel welcome here.”

Meanwhile, Kolesar says he also looks forward to introducing the international students to his partner and their two kittens.

“I will be hosting two students, who will be welcome to join my family to share food, stories, and company. We hope to explore shared experiences and learn more about each other in a comforting environment,” he says. “It is always a privilege to extend hospitality to those who may not have the same support system in their host communities. As a UBCO employee, it’s a remarkable privilege to learn from and alongside the incredible students we work with daily.”

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A photo of graduating students throwing their hats

UBCO is hosting a unique fall graduation ceremony Thursday. Students who graduated in 2020 and 2021 will now have the opportunity to toss their caps in celebration like these students did in 2018.

They’re baaack!

This week UBC Okanagan’s campus will be filled with students, now alumni, who graduated and were celebrated with a virtual ceremony during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 600 are returning to campus to take part in a special ceremony on November 10. The event will recognize the accomplishments of those who didn’t have the chance to experience that iconic opportunity of crossing the stage to receive their degree at a live graduation.

This will be the first time UBC Okanagan has hosted a fall graduation ceremony and it’s a special event for those who graduated in 2020 and 2021, says UBCO Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr. Lesley Cormack. Those graduates were surveyed and many indicated they were interested in coming back to campus for a make-up graduation ceremony.

“These are students who completed their studies during a particularly difficult and disconnected time,” Dr. Cormack says. “While UBC honoured our graduates during the height of the pandemic with virtual ceremonies, nothing can compare to the distinction of an in-person event, complete with student speakers and a gym full of proud family members.”

Each ceremony will be complete with speeches from students and special moments to recognize people who received honorary degrees during the pandemic.

Evangeline Saclamacis, who graduated with an applied sciences degree in 2021, is currently working with an international renewable power generation business in Vancouver. She says there are a lot of emotions flowing as she looks forward to returning to UBCO for the ceremony and connecting with former classmates.

“I’m excited to see how the campus has changed since I was last there, and also inspired to see how much I have changed since I first started as a student in 2016,” she says. “UBCO was a place that not only allowed me to grow as an individual, but also allowed me to connect with people with similar aspirations and goals. I’m really excited to return and walk the stage, closing the chapter on my bachelor’s degree.”

Aneesha Thouli, who graduated from UBC Okanagan’s Health and Exercise Sciences program in 2020, is now back at school and is currently a third-year medical student in the Southern Medical Program based at UBCO.

“While this ceremony will look different than any of us expected, I’m grateful we have the chance finally to celebrate,” she says. “I think having been alumni for a few years gives us a unique perspective on the ceremony overall and gives us an opportunity to celebrate our successes in a totally different way than previous classes.”

Three ceremonies will take place on November 10, the first starting at 8:30 am with School of Engineering graduates. Following that, graduates in the School of Education, Faculty of Management and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science will cross the stage. The final ceremony takes place at 1:30 pm where graduates in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Health and Social Development and the Faculty of Creative and Critical studies will be celebrated.

Rain Inaba graduated with an undergraduate degree in microbiology and remained at UBCO to begin his master’s in biochemistry and molecular biology. Inaba is excited to reconnect with the many friends he made while living in residences and says Thursday’s ceremony will allow his fellow graduates to relive past moments and finally celebrate with their families, friends and faculty members.

“With these ceremonies, alumni from all faculties are welcomed back to the campus we all called home for many years,” he says. “This is a day of deserved festivities and a moment of recognition for our graduates. Let us make the ceremonies loud and memorable for each of our classmates as they cross the stage.”

As they have already technically been conferred as UBCO graduates and are officially UBC alumni, these ceremonies will be slightly different from spring convocation. However, Dr. Cormack says every student, especially those who persevered with their studies online, should enjoy the moments of being celebrated at their own graduation ceremony.

“While different, these ceremonies will include many of the traditions of graduation to honour the profound achievements and celebrate the resiliency of these students,” Dr. Cormack says. “We’re proud to have these incredibly engaged alumni who are going out of their way to come back for their graduation. I’m looking forward to congratulating each and every one of them in person.”

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