Jumping on the “starter pack” meme bandwagon, there is a particularly popular one here in North America: the “Chinese International Student Starter Pack”, as seen on Reddit. It lists out all the stereotypes of a young Chinese person studying abroad at university.
What is perhaps the most noticeable in this starter pack is the picture showing Chinese students only having Chinese friends. From what I have observed in three years at University of Toronto, this seems to be quite true. Many of the Chinese students here only interact using Cantonese or Putonghua, and you rarely see them hanging out with local students. There are numerous clubs and societies that are Hong Kong-based, and the network they have established is pretty impressive. Having made no friends from Hong Kong personally, I decided to speak with the President of University of Toronto Hong Kong Students’ Union (UTHKSU) to see the appeal behind connecting with students from the same hometown.
Magnus Leung joined UTHKSU in his second year to fill a void he felt in Year One. Meeting people who have the same culture and who are experiencing the same unfamiliar territory helped cure his homesickness. Leung says the organisation helped him meet his closest friends. To him, a Hong Kong student joining UTHKSU is almost a no-brainer.
But not everybody chooses this path. When I felt lonely in my first year, it only inspired me to actively seek out friends among the local students. In fact, I almost got offended when well-meaning people suggested that I join the Hong Kong society at my university. To me, that would almost be a failure because I have always associated it with not being “brave” enough to talk to local students.
But that’s just me. I chose to study in Canada because I have always identified more with Western culture, so spending time with local students makes more sense to me. There was no culture shock for me because that is how I was brought up. So instead of exploring Canada with Hong Kong friends, I would rather have locals introduce me to new places – although in retrospect, there were plenty of places in Toronto that I actually introduced my Canadian friends to.
While previously I might have judged people like Leung for sticking with Hongkongers, I realise there might be people who view me negatively and label me as a xenophile or a “fake ABC”. The truth is we choose friends based on the connection we have, and a shared culture is surely a big connection. We should stop being judged for who we hang out with. Your friends are your choice, and as long as you surround yourself with people who empower you, then it is the right choice.