Most Outstanding VSA of the Year: University of British Columbia Vietnamese Student Society
What are the purpose and goal(s) of the VSA, and how has the VSA met or exceeded those goals?
The Vietnamese Student Society (VSS) holds a firm foundation in our vision-mission statement; to promote Vietnamese culture, leadership and comradery. Overall, this community has provided a window into the diversity and cultural richness of Vietnam, opportunities for young VSS members to develop personal and community leadership and build strong bonds with local and international VSAs. This past year, the VSS team has experienced the fruition of these goals in spectacular ways. Growing from a community that is a mosaic of many backgrounds into a family that is tied through not only the strengths of these differences but through an increased understanding of our similarities.
Beginning in the early stages of bonding and establishing the executive team, we reviewed and reflected on the purposes of our founding principles. As a team, the goals established to contribute to the VSS mission statement included a focus on raising awareness of Vietnamese culture on campus and beyond, while increasing membership interest and cultural diversity. Our challenges in these dreams was the relatively small presence of supporting external organizations in the community as well as the stigma against culturally based campus clubs.
VSS hosted many more social events with open invitations to other cultural clubs and organizations to increase not only awareness and membership interest but also cultural diversity. Our event planners very consciously ensured that the activities and locations of these gatherings were inclusive and diverse, ranging from foodie adventures and cozy home gatherings with nostalgic Vietnamese past-times. One of the most tangible results of these many goals was our 2nd annual Culture Show. Based on numbers alone, we grew from approximately 100 to an estimated 250 attendees.
Although these qualities already speak volumes to the growth of VSS, it is the internal bonds and friendships that have formulated a renewed passion and hope for the future of the VSS. Not only are our young leaders confident and willing to carry on the legacy of VSS, but they are excited to expand beyond the budding presence of Western Canada on the UNAVSA front.
Address how the VSA was outstanding in the following areas: recruitment, marketing, outreach to campus community, use of resources (financial, etc.), officer training and event planning.
Working against the stigma against cultural clubs on our campus, we were able to a large and diverse student population, gaining members that are not only Vietnamese-Canadian, but also Vietnamese international students and non-Vietnamese-identifying individuals. VSS has grown to serve as a medium where students can connect with each other through more than just a shared ethnic and cultural background. Members and officers collaborated to facilitate an inclusive and warm environment that welcomes any individual to become part of the VSS family. This environment breathed life to our events – because it is definitely our members that provided the love and energy that kept people coming – and also encouraged others to seek out higher leadership positions. Reaching out to the skills and connections of our officers and members, VSS gained support through other campus organizations such as the Japanese Student Association and every other Southeast Asian club . Promotions for recruitment and events were a shared effort between all of us spearheaded by the VSS executives.
Additionally, without any grants or funding for clubs in the university, VSS had to work with a limited budget based on savings from previous years of fundraising in order to breathe life to continue the legacy of the first Cultural Show on campus. VSS officers endeavored to gain sponsorships door-to-door in the community and sell tickets, leading to a revenue after the event that enabled us to contribute to the Collective Philanthropy Project for the first time for our region. VSS continues to gain momentum as students feel supported and driven enough to take on officer roles and invest in succession planning and personal development with the guidance of our alumni.
With VSS members becoming further involved in the international UNAVSA world, we have also expanded these relationships across borders and have felt the love that is associated with VSA life ten-fold. Being able to put in the work to achieve our dreams as a team and community allowed doors to be opened and bridges to be built between generations of Vietnamese, Vietnamese-Canadians and Americans.
How did the group work to establish responsibility and accountability among its members?
A Tet Committee was established, headed by one of the VSS officers, to oversee members in the organization who wanted the opportunity to get involved and have an impact on the Cultural Show and event planning. The VSS officer was responsible for facilitating the group and ensuring that discussions were focused and productive. Tasks were delegated afterwards and the VSS officer in charge would check in with members to make sure these tasks were completed. In turn, this officer would report to the general officer meetings about any progress, successes, and obstacles.
Executive meetings were held once a week to discuss event planning, leadership development, and administrative deadlines. The president would oversee the entire process and check up on individuals who had difficulties completing tasks, reaching out to other members of the team to communicate and support each other. Alumni would also occasionally inquire about annual events and deadlines to see if the team was on track or needed help.
Among members, individuals took the liberty to contact each other to encourage everyone to attend. They would frequently inquire about the progress of certain events and continuously offered to help out in any capacity possible.
It was through the passion and dedication of these members at all levels of VSS that we were able to execute a successful event. Most of the members of this committee went on to pursue their passions in VSS by running for officer roles for the upcoming year. These individuals now sit on the executive board for 2017-2018 and continue to carry on the goals and values of the organization.
How did the VSA work together to maximize strengths and overcome weaknesses?
As a small VSS with little year-to-year support from community organizations (as many of our city’s Vietnamese-related organizations are fragmented and do not have a strong presence), VSS has endeavoured to become the leading Vietnamese-related organization in our city for students. A strong bond and mutual understanding was cultivated between our members and executives to cover for each other when needed throughout the year. Being students with many other commitments, it was important to communicate with each other when someone was feeling overwhelmed and support them with the workload. In this way, we were able to be productive consistently throughout the year regardless of academic, personal, or external commitments. The diversity of our membership base became a huge strength that we played off of due to the many other organizations that we were indirectly connected to or knew. VSS sought out its officers and members to network with other organiz ations to make up for our smaller size and branched out to utilize all the available external resources possible.
We drew off of the experience and knowledge we had gained from participating in and leading all the Southeast Asian organizations in leading annual food night markets with the Institute for Asian Research to plan and execute our own Cultural Show that was expanding into its debut second year. Additionally, we spoke to many representatives and officers from VSAs in other regions to acquire ideas and learn from their experiences. We took in feedback from the year before and suggestions that others had to turn the inexperience of our own Cultural Show into the highlight of the year.
Provide specific examples of how the student group demonstrated growth and development in the 2016-2017 academic year.
In 2016-2017, VSS has expanded its membership base and created new leadership positions for its members, including Cultural Chair – the officer spearheading the Tet Cultural Show Committee. In addition, to keep up with the growing number of members, VSS solidified its succession planning and brought in two new first year Junior Executives, who were able to develop their personal and group leadership alongside the more experienced officers. These experienced officers served as mentors for the Junior Executives, and gave them the skills and confidence to plan and run events on their own. These Junior Executives were so driven that they won the election for President and Internal Vice-President for the 2017-2018 year, resulting in the youngest leadership team in the history of VSS.
Alongside the great growth in leadership opportunities for officers in the organization, our events have substantially grown in numbers: the number of attendees to our Tet Cultural Show grew over double from its first to second show this year – 100 to over 200 attendees! The Cultural Show has broadened the number and diversity of individuals in the community who are interested in Vietnamese culture and want to invest their time and energy in VSS. Our participation in the Southeast Asian Food Night called ‘Of Rice and Roots’ with the five other Southeast Asian clubs of campus has also grown throughout the years, where it now brings in hundred of students across campus to taste the diverse food options that we have to offer. We have also began to branch out to the international community, seeking to establish our name among UNAVSA constituents.
Intimately, our members are also now more connected to each other than ever, actively seeking each other out outside of VSS events to hang out, study, and talk, creating a tight-knit community on campus.
At all levels of involvement – from new and old members, to past and current officers, to local, national, and international organizations, UBC VSS strives to grow and improve continuously and promote its core