Our Campus: Al-Hassan Al Shaibani is UBC’s Renaissance Man

A degree from UBC consolidates years of study at the institution. For Al-Hassan Al Shaibani, however, receiving his degree will also signify the end of five years of intense involvement with the campus community.

Al Shaibani hails from Baghdad, Iraq, and is now completing his final year of study at UBC. However, he has spent time in various countries around the world, and considers himself a truly global citizen.

“Growing up, I didn’t spend more than two years in one country. I was always moving around, and got to experience a lot of international places. I also picked up a few languages along the way.”

Jordan, Panama, Switzerland, South Africa and Dubai are some of the places Al Shaibani has spent time in. Having completed high school in Dubai, Al Shaibani spent a gap year in Montreal and came to UBC.

“Before coming here, I had no idea what I wanted to study, but I did know I was interested in biology. I entered the Faculty of Land and Food Systems studying animal biology, and going into vet school was my intention.” But BIOL 112 influenced Al Shaibani to such a degree that he decided to change majors.

“I just realized that I love viruses and bacteria.”

However, Al Shaibani's academic interests diversified in second year, and he is now graduating with a double-major degree in microbiology and English literature.

For Al Shaibani, the 2014/15 academic year has been what students affectionately refer to as a ‘victory lap’, a year spent studying at UBC for more than purely academic reasons. “There were a few things I needed to do before I graduate in order to feel complete.”

That Al Shaibani felt certain tasks were left unfulfilled at the end of his fourth year is quite ironic. During his time at UBC, Al Shaibani has been extremely involved.

It all began in first year, when Al Shaibani was a first-year living on campus.

“Coming into Vancouver not knowing anyone was sort of scary. And so I found that community a really helpful and positive one.”

Al Shaibani wanted to become more involved with the residence community and applied to be a residence advisor. He spent his second and third years as an RA at Vanier, and his fourth year as a senior residence advisor at Walter Gage Residence.

“Through becoming involved with residence, I became involved with a few other things along the way. One of the things was the Student Leadership Conference.” In his third year, Al Shaibani was a part of the planning committee, and returned in his fourth year to manage the conference logistics. This year, Al Shaibani served as the co-chair, heading the planning committee.

A recent involvement for Al Shaibani has been the Collegia program, the ‘home of commuter students.’ “I thought that since it’s my fifth year and I wanted it to be a little different, I decided to live off campus. And so I thought, ‘I’m a commuter student, and I want to work with commuters,’ and so I became a Collegia advisor.”

Al Shaibani has also been instrumental in turning the Bike Rave into an annual tradition at UBC. “It’s a rave that moves around campus on bikes with lights and glowsticks and music. It all ends at the Buchanan courtyard where we have a dance party.” This year’s Bike Rave 3.0, delayed to and held on April 9 due to rain, was the biggest ever.

Although Al Shaibani greets many people while walking through the streets of UBC, not all of them are acquaintances acquired through involvements. Instead, most of them stop to ask Al Shaibani why he has donned a bow tie on a seemingly innocuous school day. The answer is simple: Al Shaibani always wears a bow tie. “It started as this random thing; it became a sort of a signature. It’s one of those things that gets people to start conversations [… and] opens up so many more conversations.” His closet now incorporates many, many bow ties. “I have 42 ties, but I never wear ties, and I have 13 bow-ties.”

One of the most important things that Al Shaibani has learned at UBC is that the right balance of school and life is integral to success. “You cannot manage your time, you can only manage yourself. UBC as a university has an equal focus on learning inside the classroom and learning outside the classroom. There are things that I did outside the classroom where I gained skills I would have never otherwise learned … public speaking, presentation or how to plan an event, … are really key skills that will help me later on that I don’t think memorizing microbes would have helped.”

Another factor that shaped Al Shaibani's degree has been the people he has encountered at UBC. “I’m leaving with this whole set of friends that I wouldn’t be able to imagine my degree without. I think it would have been very easy to go into my faculty, do my major, get to know my classmates, and leave. But through doing involvements and working on campus, you get to know people who are so, so weird and random and different from you, and I love that.”

Al Shaibani left this advice to students looking to get as involved as him.

“Apply for everything. Go put your name out there. There are a lot of people applying for different positions around campus, so it does get competitive, but if you apply for everything you will end up with something.”