The international student community on student protests at HKU

The international student community on student protests at HKU
Photo by Martin Ng / Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by Martin Ng / Flickr (Creative Commons)

A series of interviews with 50 members of the University of Hong Kong’s international student community revealed that while a majority of the students interviewed were aware of the besiege that took place in January at the HKU Council meeting, most of them did not think it was directly relevant to their university life and overall well-being.

On interviewing the university’s international and exchange students, a Lion Post reporter found that roughly 20% of interviewees were unaware of the controversy concerning the HKU Council meeting, while 70% claimed that they were aware of it, but did not think it was relevant to their welfare in HKU. The remaining 10% felt that it was an important issue that all members of the student body should be knowledgeable about.

The aforementioned HKU Council meeting took place on campus on Jan. 26, 2016. The meeting ended with approximately 300 students surrounding the exits, calling for reform.

The blockage was the culmination of a week-long class boycott, wherein students demanded that the newly appointed Council chairman, Arthur Li be removed, and for at least half of the Council members to be chosen by the University body. Additionally, they demanded that the current Council members appointed by the city’s Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying (CY Leung), be replaced by members selected by the Council itself.

Interviews with international and exchange students revealed that in-depth knowledge about the incident was lacking. “I know the basic facts about it but I lack the context or background information surrounding it. I have seen the clip being played on Campus TV but because of the language barrier, I don’t really understand what is going on,” said Michala Dahl Hansen, a third-year exchange student from Denmark majoring in Media Studies.

Claudya Nicky, a second-year international student from Indonesia studying Economics and Finance said, “I only know the students were protesting about the appointment of a pro-Beijing leader amongst the HKU Board of Directors. Many students fear that with the appointment, HKU, being an institution so rooted in the core of values of Hong Kong, will lose its voice.” As to whether the incident had become a topic of discussion among her friends, she said “Once we agreed that it [the situation] was ridiculous, we moved on to other topics.”

Most of the students interviewed were not deeply involved in the protests. “Personally, as an exchange student, I feel more like a guest. I think it’s the same for other exchange students as well, as we could feel like it’s not our conflict, thus it’s difficult to feel involved,” said Dahl Hansen. Nicky said her voice would be “already unheard amidst the clamour.”

On the other hand, second-year Malaysian student Mah Chee Kuan, also studying Economics and Finance, felt that the incident was relevant to him because he was planning on staying in Hong Kong on a long-term basis. While he said he understood why the students protested, and caused a blockage outside the meeting, he felt that there were better ways it could have been done without creating a large scale conflict. Like many others interviewed, he too had no strong personal feelings regarding the incident as “Hong Kong is not my homeland and I feel like I am only an outsider.”

The limited number of international and exchange students that were interviewed do not fully represent the opinions of the entire international student community. However, they do provide a closer look at how HKU student protests affect the non-local community and the sense of removal a portion of the students feel regarding the issues being discussed.

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