Intercultural Understanding at UBC

Alden E. Habacon - is the Director, Intercultural Strategy Development at UBC

Alden E. Habacon

Alden E. Habacon is the Director, Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development for UBC. You can follow him on Twitter: @aldenhabacon

Alden is an accomplished diversity and inclusion strategist, and leading thinker in social sustainability. His work is focused on creating socially sustainable and diverse communities and workplaces. He provides leadership to solving complex intercultural issues, and is experienced in helping large organizations to not only resolve barriers to inclusion, but harness diversity to achieve their strategic goals and convert diversity into innovation.

In 2010 Alden was appointed the Director, Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development for the University of British Columbia, where he leads the development and implementation of UBC’s commitment to intercultural understanding.

Read UBC Intercultural Understanding Mid-Level Strategic Plan: The Intercultural Promise.

Alden can work with your unit to present a variety of intercultural fluency workshops.

Overview of the Intercultural Understanding Mid-Level Strategic Plan

The Aspiration

UBC aspires to provide a learning experience and university environment that:

  • Equips students with the intercultural skills needed to be more effective leaders, bigger thinkers, exercise more empathy and contribute more in the increasingly complex societies of today and the future;
  • Fosters more dynamic interaction and greater levels of community cohesion across UBC’s diversity of faculty, staff, students and alumni;
  • Produces a deep understanding of the diversity of cultures, worldviews, language and intellect at UBC, ultimately leading towards greater innovation and social sustainability.

The above aspirations around intercultural understanding are essential for achieving UBC’s vision around research, learning, engagement with local and international communities, international orientation, and towards being a place of innovation. The above also take fuller advantage of the diversity of UBC’s student body, the University’s relationship to Musqueam and proximity to the Asia Pacific.

+ The Immediate Need

The following reflects the findings of the needs assessment conducted in the development of The Intercultural Promise.

Faculty and Staff
Faculty observed the following as the top intercultural challenges they face working at a highly diverse university (described in further detail in Appendix I, page 31):

  • A growing cultural gap between faculty and students on academic expectations;
  • The increasing demands of complex intercultural teaching environment;
  • Insufficient incentive for excellence in intercultural teaching and service; and
  • The lack of cross-cultural connection between students and faculty.

Overall, faculty expressed that UBC has diversified (especially as a result of rapid internationalization) faster than it has given faculty the time or resources to adapt, resulting in a decline in their enjoyment in and quality of teaching;
Similarly, staff expressed a need for greater intercultural skills, cultural knowledge and interpersonal capacity to adequately support the diversity of the student body and the changing needs of faculty (as a consequence of the increasingly diverse student body).

Both faculty and staff both expressed that management needed greater intercultural aptitudes and skills. Moreover, many faculty and staff felt that UBC was a difficult place to establish and grow meaningful “high-quality peer relationships.”

Students and Alumni
Students identified the following intercultural issues:

  • Cultural misunderstanding in the classroom (sometimes developing into conflict);
  • Cultural difficulty and/or barriers meeting new people in class;
  • Self-segregation in class across culture, ethnicity or race;
  • Inability to engage in “difficult conversations” (about cultural differences); and
  • Not knowing how to engage instructors and profoundly different students.

Student focus groups also identified a list of intercultural anxieties found in the Intercultural Promise (Appendix I, page 32). The most acute intercultural issue amongst undergraduate students was identified as a growing tension between Canadian-born (or Canadian-raised) students and students that are new to Canada (either as international or new immigrant students), especially of the same ethnic group.

= The Strategic Framework and Goals


Drawing from this strategic plan’s needs assessment, the first three goals target the root causes of UBC’s intercultural challenges. In extensive consultation with faculty, staff and students, three core issues surfaced as the root source of UBC’s intercultural struggles. They include:

  1. To be a campus where students, staff and faculty more easily form meaningful social relationships by fostering a culture of dynamic interaction across cultural differences and disciplines;
  2. To grow the capacity for students, faculty, staff and alumni to engage in difficult or courageous conversations about and across social and cultural differences;
  3. To experience intercultural understanding as classroom content, through curriculum, pedagogy and/or student intervention.

The next three goals target the organizational adjustments or habits needed to effectively and meaningfully embed intercultural understanding into all aspects of the University experience, in a concrete and lasting way.

  1. To employ intercultural understanding as a means to advance academic and operational excellence;
  2. To be at least the sum of our parts by tightening the connections between existing expertise and experience; and
  3. To enhance our leadership expectations and support of UBC staff through leadership and staff development, in ways that are structurally effective and innovative.

Faculties, departments and units are invited to concentrate on 1 to 2 strategic goals, per set, varying on their needs, assets and constraints, in a staggered sequence.


It is recommended that as a minimum, Goals 1 and 4, be integrated into existing initiatives as the “primary activity” for Year 1 and Year 2, followed by “sustained activity” (activities that sustain these goals, as opposed initiating them). Goals 2 and 5 become the primary activity for Year 2 and Year 3; and likewise, Goals 3 and 6 become the primary activity in Year 3 and Year 4. By Year 5, all strategic goals have been initiated and are in a phase of sustained activity.


Intercultural Understanding Highlights 2015/2016


  • Resources and tools for faculty and Academic Heads on the implementation of the intercultural understanding mid-level plan (identifying and sharing of promising classroom practices that foster intercultural learning);
  • Expansion of Intercultural Promise: integration of UBCO’s unique strategic needs into existing mid-level plan;
  • Refresh of existing plan, aligning with emerging vision for UBC.

The following reflect activity, as they pertain to each strategic goal:

1. Fostering a culture of dynamic interaction

Activity Community Engaged
Fostering a “culture of dynamic interaction” amongst students, staff and faculty through initiatives such as the “Hot Lunch”; Staff, Faculty, Students
Community engagement: engagement with Chinese-speaking residents (Civic Engagement Committee) in the University community; UBC residents
Fostering space for spiritual wellbeing and faith identity: development of guidelines for the provision of faculty and staff mediation and interfaith prayer spaces throughout campus. Faculty & Staff


2. Growing the capacity to engage in difficult or courageous conversations

Activity Community Engaged
Supporting student engagement and dialogues: supporting student-lead initiatives to foster cross-cultural connections between cultural student groups and dialogues on intercultural issues; Undergraduate Students
Intercultural Facilitator Training (in partnership with G&PD). Graduate Students









3. To experience intercultural understanding as classroom contentActivity Community Engaged
Existing Curriculum Course coding: surveying course offerings and coding for intercultural content (may lead towards intercultural and diversity core course requirements); Administration, Faculty
Internationalization of curriculum pilot: a classroom participation pilot designed to encourage student contribution of international course content. Faculty

4. Employing intercultural understanding as a means to advance academic and operational excellence

Activity Community Engaged
Development of a Course Evaluation for Faculty: aimed at measuring where faculty are needing support in delivering a more intercultural classroom experience, or in teaching highly diverse and international classes of students; Administration, Faculty
Library Diversity and Inclusion Team: Active participation in the development of the Library’s central diversity committee, and in the development of the Library staff development plan. Faculty, Staff

5. Tightening the connections between existing expertise and experience

Activity Community Engaged
Supporting and coordinating initiatives related to intercultural understanding across both campuses. Staff, Faculty, Students
Asian Canadian Community Engagement Initiative (ACCE): bringing together subject-matter expertise (faculty and staff) in Asian Canadian community engagement, development of best practices, guidelines and University-wide resources; Faculty, Staff
Social Sustainability Working Group: engaged in the coordination of efforts around social sustainability and social wellbeing throughout UBC; Staff
Engagement and/or support of intersecting staff/faculty committees: including the Pasteur’s Quadrant Working Group, the Provost’s Advisory on Equity and Diversity, and the on-going development of an intercultural understanding community of practice. Faculty, Staff

6. Leadership and staff development, in ways that are structurally effective and innovative

Activity Community Engaged
Management Training: Launching and support of the intercultural stream of Managing@UBC; Staff, Faculty
Intercultural fluency workshops for faculty, managers and staff (both campuses); Faculty, Staff
Intercultural workplace readiness: soft skills training for students (Career Centre, Sauder Career Centre, MMA Program, Jumpstart, English Language Institute, Vantage College). Undergraduate and Graduate Students