James Timperley is a fourth-year English major, and the 2015 recipient of the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Leadership from the UBC Community to Beyond. In his second year, he began developing an inclusive Vietnamese community at UBC, representing all Vietnamese students in Western Canada. James discusses his experience reviving the Vietnamese Student Society (VSS), and shares his tips on getting involved.
Tell me about your experience reviving the Vietnamese Student Society.
Having Vietnamese heritage myself, I’ve been involved with the Vietnamese community throughout my life – but I couldn’t find any Vietnamese student clubs at UBC. In my second year, I came across an old Facebook group that no one had been posting in for months, so I met up with the former president and another student to start the club again. Our club started with three people, then grew to 15, and then it snowballed over the years to over 100 members today.
What kinds of obstacles did you have to overcome during the revival of the VSS?
Gaining traction in the beginning was the biggest challenge, because it was like creating everything out of thin air. We mostly reached out through word-of-mouth when we started out. Back when Facebook used to have a filter function in the search engine, I looked up the six most common Vietnamese last names and sent out hundreds of personal messages inviting people to join the VSS.
We heard from people who were extremely interested, kind of interested, and ones who would consider coming to our events. Building momentum was a big challenge working with just three people; it was tough without any organizational framework. Even so, we learned as we went along and built relationships by connecting with everyone personally.
Tell me about the Union of North American Vietnamese Student Association (UNAVSA) conference where you represented Western Canada. How did the experience impact you?
I was invited to attend their conference in Seattle and it was amazing! I was President of VSS for two years and though I had a team with me, a lot of times I felt kind of alone in my leadership. I always have these ideas to make the community better through volunteer and charity work, and I realized at the conference that I’m not alone in that. There are hundreds of people across North America doing similar work and trying to make a difference. The conference spoke to what I was passionate about, and I decided to get involved.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in getting involved?
When I first started getting involved with residence life, I was like any other student. I realized, as I got further into my degree, that extra-curricular involvement was where I found my passion. I love working with other students who are also excited about community-building.
Just be confident in what you do and know that as a student, you’re not going to know everything. What was important for me was realizing that I could ask for advice. With VSS, I couldn’t reach out because we were the people who started the organization. After getting into UNAVSA, there was a network of people who gave me great input about community-building. Bottom line, be confident and reach out for support and advice. A lot of people want to help us as leaders, but sometimes we don’t realize it.
What was your most memorable involvement experience?
I would have to say it was the first event VSS ever held. It was the icebreaker event that took place three months after all the other clubs had started their icebreaker events. I remember getting so nervous, standing in the basement of Irving K Barber Library. I had put together a Prezi presentation after just discovering Prezi earlier that week. This was something I cared so much about, and I had worked on it with all my heart. I was nervous because I wanted people to like it! When I stood at the podium and spoke, people laughed at my jokes and really listened to my presentation. After, we had food, activities and giveaways. It was such a rewarding feeling to see an idea come to life like that.
If you could redo your UBC experience, what’s one thing you would change?
I wouldn’t change a thing. I try to learn a lesson from every experience, and I’ve had so many incredible experiences throughout my UBC career. I actually started out in the Faculty of Science, but I loved English and intended to minor in it. Then I took ENGL 220 with Vin Nardizzi, someone I really admire, and I decided that I wanted to make it my major. I felt that as long as I was doing something I was passionate about, I would grow more as a person. I went from having a hard time staying motivated in my studies, to becoming really inspired and passionate. I was so happy after the transition, especially as I began to integrate business courses into my studies. I felt that Arts was where I found my home and it was the best decision I made at UBC.
What are your plans after graduation?
I’m really passionate about writing and business, especially marketing. I’m interested in making a difference in the community and hope to pursue a path supporting that in the future.