One of the greatest benefits of studying overseas is the opportunity to connect with students from different walks of life. Conversations around the dinner table or in a cafe with friends from various ethnicities and backgrounds have given me new insights into the world around me and have also allowed me to exchange stories about growing up in Hong Kong.
Food from home was a fondly remembered topic, and friends from countries like Romania, Cypress, India, and Singapore would often describe to me their favourite meals and snacks. These conversations always ended with the someone saying, “I’ll bring you to the best places for food when you come visit”. That’s one of the perks of making friends with people from different countries – you’ll have people to visit around the world.
Throughout the term, I was able to taste home-made Thai, Nigerian, and Ghanaian cuisine. The latter, I learned, was traditionally eaten with your hands.
When Lunar New Year came around, it felt different because for the first time I was not eating with my family. Instead, I shared that meal with my university friends where I happily introduced Chinese dishes to students from Bulgaria and Russia who wanted to join the festivities. From this, I realised how much my country’s traditional food and cultural practices gives me a real sense of cultural belonging.
Beyond food, though, I learned a lot from the conversations I had with the foreign friends I made. My Muslim friends taught me what it is like to wear a hijab, and what happens during Ramadan. When the news came in about the recent mosque shootings in New Zealand, the emotional affect the event had on Muslim communities around the world, including those my friends were a part of, became clearer to me.
My British-born Yemeni friend shared with me how it felt for her to grow up in Britain, far away from the conflict in Yemen where some of her relatives lived. Conversations like this have showed me how valuable it is to converse with people from other backgrounds, as there is so much to learn about the world through their eyes.
I highly encourage all students to jump on any opportunity to meet and get to know people from backgrounds different from their own when they’re at university. Not only will it transform your view of the world, but it’ll also change how you see your own culture and identity.
Of course, it is also worthwhile to make friends with students from the same background as yourself – or any student, but you mustn’t miss the chance to talk to and learn from those from other cultures. You can teach them about your own culture in return.