July 24, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

Featured image from Google Images

(Summer’s half gone by now and the school year will start again soon, and thinking about the new batch of incoming students makes me reflect upon my own experiences in HKU as a non-local student. In light of this I’d like to share a piece I’ve written last October, which outlines my thoughts on the local-student/international-student debate.)

I didn’t have the best freshman year. I felt out of place, struggled with studies, and though I had a great circle of friends (very crazy people, might I add), I missed home constantly and wasn’t very happy.

Then it struck me. University life comes by only once, and some people don’t even have this opportunity. Was I going to throw away this great chance to record some of the best chapters of my life by sulking around because not everything was sailing smoothly? I shouldn’t even have the time to wallow in self-pity.

The annual debate held by HKUSU last week on whether HKU should reduce the maximum intake of non-local applicants gave me something to mull over. I do not want to comment on who’s right or wrong, as there are countless views on this matter. What I realized last Wednesday is a little different and more personal.

More than half of my friends are non-local students from many countries. Some voiced out during the debate and others took out time from their schedule just to be there even if they couldn’t understand what was going on. If my friends, who couldn’t understand a word of Cantonese nor Mandarin could care about this so much to skip lunch, take a break from preparing for mid-terms, rush over from the medical campus just to witness this discussion, what was I doing? I am a multilingual person and I understand Cantonese.

I am in what one may say a great position to try out so many things in HKU without the worry of any language barriers. One of my Mainland friends once told me, “If I were confident with my English, or Cantonese, I would make so many more friends from different countries.” But I wasn’t doing that. I was sticking to my own comfort zone, mingling with students from my own country because it was just easier that way. I am a non-local student here at HKU, yet one blameworthy of not making any effort to contribute to the diversity of this prestigious institution.

There was one recent post on the HKU Confessions page that caught my eye, and here is an excerpt:

“Koreans only hang out with Koreans, Malaysians with Malaysians, Mainlanders with Mainlanders… It’s a sad fact and something you can’t deny. What does it say about the international student body of HKU? It’s almost non-existent. People fail to understand that just by being in HK they are not becoming any more international than they would if they stayed back in their respective countries.”

I agree, and am ashamed to admit that I am guilty. I am sure we all are.

Change does not take place overnight. And if it were that easy, we wouldn’t be blaming each other in a century-old university. As the old Chinese saying goes, “Mountains are easier to move than a person’s character,” but change begins with us. This vicious cycle breaks with us.

What my friend said to me has really hit home. I no longer care where in the world you come from or what accent you have. If you’re sitting next to me on the shuttle bus, you’re a new friend.