What does it take to be regarded as one of Hong Kong’s most outstanding students? Snehaa Senthamilselvan Easwari was one of nine to win an award calling her just that last month, and she put it down to her efforts to bridge the gap between ethnic minorities and local Chinese citizens.
Snehaa, 18, who was born in India but who moved to Hong Kong when she was five, is the first non-Chinese student to win the Hong Kong Outstanding Students Award. She told Young Post that she considers herself a local, though.
“Hong Kong has shaped me into the person I am today,” Snehaa said. Still, she added, as someone with an Indian heritage, she felt like she was a part of a minority community, which is why she wanted a way of connecting two parts of her identity.
Snehaa is heavily involved with charitable organisations in the city, was the chairperson of the Hong Kong Model United Nations 2018, and is the vice-president of Kids4Kids, a group developed to inspire young people in the 852 to take action and make a positive social impact. Her passion and dedication to this cause, which not only benefit her but many other young people, is what helped her to win the award over nearly 500 other applicants.
“Growing up, I went to an international school so I didn’t get much of a chance to interact with local Chinese students, even though I wanted to,” she said. “It is hard to interact with them if you don’t know Cantonese."
She realised it was even harder for those of a minority background at a local school. “After some volunteering, I realised most ethnic minority students can’t afford an international education. For them, it becomes much more difficult to integrate into Hong Kong society.
“Ethnic minorities don’t find local or international students approachable, and that’s where the problem arises,” she said.
Snehaa transferred from South Island School (SIS) to Li Po Chun United World College (LPC) for her IB diploma.
“SIS laid a foundation for me that I felt I could build on at LPC,” she said. “At LPC, I met so many people who are ethnic minorities, or refugees. It gave me a different perspective on life.”
The Outstanding Students Award winner also credits Young Post, to which she has been a contributor for six years, as something that has also helped her.
“Young Post has been a big part of my journey. They’ve given me so many opportunities to meet different people and to collaborate with,” Snehaa said.
Snehaa is planning to study business at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology next year, and hopes to combine her academic prowess with her own experiences helping minorities to start her own social enterprise.
Her goal is to give ethnic minorities the platform they so often lack, and teach them the skills needed to thrive here.
“I think what’s more important than donating money is teaching people skills that are ... transferable to society.”
Her advice to others who want to make a difference is to get out of their comfort zones. “It sounds clichéd but you’ll never know what it’s like until you actually do it,” Snehaa said.
“I’ve failed so many times for so many reasons, but I learned so much from my past experiences. It’s only through stepping out of my comfort zone and failing that I was able to improve.”