/We need to think more united than we actually are. /

By Selena Liang

It was unusual for me to chat with a non-local, such that conversing with a non-Chinese student would make a day special. Except that I wasn’t conversing, I was interviewing. I started by recording and confirming his personal information—Chase Trung Fortier, year 1, Sociology Major, Chung Chi College, from Florida……

“Why did you decide to come to Hong Kong?” a real question finally, almost asked in confusion.

He explained that he grew up in a small town with lots of Chinese Americans, and in particular his best friend’s mum was from Hong Kong. For years he has learnt all the “cool stuff” there is to do in bigger cities like Hong Kong. After he arrived, well, he did experience the actual “cool” side of Hong Kong.

 

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Connecting and Disconnected

It’s true that Hong Kong houses quite a wide variety of international population. For Chase, he has formed a social circle with students from the UK, India, Indonesia, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Taiwan etc.

“We have a good mix of people and we all speak English as our one unifying language.”

Yet, Hong Kong is seldom a second home to international students. Chase himself didn’t feel integrated into the local student life. He did befriend some locals in class and in off-campus events occasionally, but other than that, he mostly felt isolated and neglected. The dorm and college events are often advertised in Chinese only, and the social disconnection is pretty common.

“I would like to have a local roommate one to get integrated more, two because I know they’ll go home at the weekends, so I can kinda have my own room for the weekend……but the locals already know who they’re gonna live with and pick each other beforehand……”

Such disconnection is not only present with the local-international boundaries, but also within the international students themselves. Recalling his experience in the ISA Ocamp, Chase felt as if he ‘made a mistake’ in befriending a number of students from ethnic groups that consist a larger population in the CUHK. Soon after orientation, many students  joined the association of their own nationality and formed their close and somehow closed social group. While for Chase, he can hardly feel a sense of community.

“I can’t speak for all of [the international students], cause’ there are the Taiwanese and Koreans that have TSA, KSA very large groups.”

As for Chase’s group, there’s about ten of them from different corners of the map. He expressed that it was a really good group, a “small enough group for close friendships”. He also knows few other accepting groups with people of diverse cultures and personalities. The problem is, they don’t have a “unifying Student Union” to pull a larger community together.

“I have a joke with my British friend and one of my Kazakh friends. I’m quarter Vietnamese, the British one is quarter Chinese, and the Kazakh one is quarter Korean. So we’re the ‘Quarter Asian Student Union’. But of course there’s only three of us, we can’t actually make a student society.”

Actually there’s the ISA (International Student Association) acting as a common union for all non-local students. Chase acknowledged that the ISA did an effective job with orientation as, for example, providing infographics for college comparison, instructing students in course registration, guiding students through the campus etc. However, Chase felt like the social and cultural events that came afterwards (including those organized by LCES, OSA and ISA) were infrequent or the promotions were insufficient. Although Chase has met few friends in the ISA orientation, his whole friend group was only pulled together with friends of friends in private gatherings.

“I haven’t really heard of [international] events. I thought the i-Lounge was just a room,” says Chase. The i-Lounge is indeed a place, but one for organizing activities that facilitate cultural exposure and exchange. Another similar program is the i-Ambassador Scheme. The “i” stands for internationalization and possibly integration.

“I thought the ‘i’ was just to make it like i-Phone, kind of trendy sounding,” Chase says, “They didn’t really promote it very much.”


Neglection and Representation

Other than issues of social (dis)integration, Chase also experience inconvenience due to some inadequate policies of the student bodies and the university enlarged. For instance, the CUHK Student Union—to which all local and international CUHK students pay membership dues—mainly operates in Cantonese. English information is only present in the “long mass mails that nobody reads”, and even absent in years of Student Press publication that most international students “cannot read”. Another example is that Chase was forced to move out of his hostel in May last semester, as the hostel was closed down early for renovation. It was during the finals’ season, and Chase was heavily disturbed.

Chase thought the fundamental problem is the lack of international representation, noting that a local student representative was involved in the decision of closing down the hostel early. While the locals could go home for the week or month, international students had to find housing on their own. The task was almost impossible even with refund, as Hong Kong has one of the highest rents in the world. Eventually, Chase stayed as a guest in a friend’s dorm, which costs him more than the refund.

“They are making these large decisions using my money……but I will not be partaken because of the language barrier and the lack of international representation”

The voices and needs of international students are often unseen, or maybe partially presented by a local reporter with her small telescope. For these students to be heard, Chase thought that international representation in unions or at least a common communicative platform is essential. He himself would like to get in touch with the Student Union and express his opinions to them. 


Voicing and Thinking in Union

Organizational participation is an important but not the only or daily way to be heard. Voicing and requesting in unfair encounters can be another way. For Chase, this also means considering for the whole international community. A week before the closing down of the hostel, Chase found the refrigerator cleared and the prior notice only printed in Chinese. Chase lost a rock of Himalaya black salt, which was brought to him by a friend from Nepal. He was very upset about it, and the hostel gave him a single offer of a couple hundred bucks.

“No, I don’t want you to pay me back. I want you to make this better in the future for other international students. Advertise these things in English, advertise your events in English.”

That was Chase’s reply, though he admitted that the hostel’s offer was appealing.

“But we need to think on a bigger scale, we need to think more united than we actually are.”

Chase hoped that international students could become a real and more powerful community through thinking about each other as a community. This can be actualized in multiple ways, such as joining the ISA and committing oneself to event organization and social integration, contacting the Student Union and participating in policy decisions, and voicing for one another in unfair situations.

To reiterate Chase’s statement, through considering more for fellow and future non-local students with a macro perspective, international students can tackle the problematic measures more efficiently and integrate more effectively—let it be the international or local community.

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