Kien Nguyen: ‘My first year at UBC was part exciting, part overwhelming’

Kien Nguyen is a 5th-year psychology major who works as a research assistant for the Social Health Lab and he is currently working on a study, partially funded by the AMS through the Impact Grant, that aims to understand the experiences of LGTBQ+ students during their first year in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts. Remembering his first steps at UBC he tells us all about his own experience. 


My journey to Canada 

After high school in Vietnam, I moved to the US for a year to study music and theatre (two of my passions). Then, as my family decided to move to Canada, I spent some time working as a waiter while figuring out what I wanted to do as a career. I had intended to major in Psychology as I’ve always been interested in this field so I applied to UBC. Then, as certain personal things unfold in my family, I realized that counselling was what I wanted to do to help people and bring awareness to mental health issues. 


My first year at UBC 

It was part exciting and part overwhelming. I discovered that I had a lot to learn and that academic standards here are much higher than high school. Thankfully, I did my first year in another college before transferring here so the switch wasn’t too disorienting.


Getting involved in research 

As I identified as gay, I thought that the project run by Dr Gu Li and Dr Frances Chen (link) dealt with LGBTQ+ issues that were relevant to me. Also, it was another way for me to be more involved in research and understand more of the LGBTQ+ issues that students face as I had not been very involved in the community in the past.

So far, all students involved in the project have responded positively. We conducted another project similar to this one last year and overall, it was quite successful. We received a few compliments from faculty and department advisors as well as feedback from other students as to how to improve on the research. There seemed to be an unmet need to address LGBTQ+ specific mental health concerns and this study seemed to meet that need.


Making new friends at UBC and Vancouver 

I used to think that it was quite difficult to make new friends on campus. However, it was only a matter of being willing to step out of your comfort zone, join new clubs and take up new activities, which I am becoming more comfortable doing too. Personally, I have not been involved in the “scene” here so I can’t say much about that but some of the few friends I’ve made was from an LGBTQ-related event on campus so I would say UBC had been doing a great job.


Tackling loneliness 

Loneliness is a pervasive human experience, even more so for the LGBTQ+ community, that no matter the amount of support it will always surface under certain quiet moments in one’s daily life. I’ve noticed a few attempts to tackle this loneliness issue by the administration, yet these attempts have often been either platitudes or done under the valence of toxic positivity, and that’s something I felt did more harm than good.

I think that UBC counselling does not receive enough funding. Counsellors are overworked and underpaid. Allocating more funds to UBC Counselling would be a good start.

Volunteering in a helping position and exercising daily could be good options to fight loneliness for students. For example, I visit the aquatic centre often and am involved with the BC Crisis Centre, which has given me new perspectives on self-care and helping. Helping others is also a way to help yourself.


You can get involved too 

If you would like to be part of the research and help to shape future generations of students at UBC, I recommend all students to participate in this survey to share how you experienced your first year at UBC. And, you might win a prize too! 


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